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Round one: reflections on the Biomedical Catalyst

Steve Bates (Copyright: BIA)

Steve Bates (Copyright: BIA)

Steve Bates, Chief Executive of the BioIndustry Association, the UK trade association for innovative bioscience companies, explains why he’s impressed with the MRC/TSB Biomedical Catalyst, from its straightforward application process to the encouraging signs already seen from investors.

The announcement this month of almost £40 million research funding under the first full round of the Biomedical Catalyst, which aims to accelerate research through the ‘valley of death’ and deliver new therapies to patients, is a welcome boost to the UK bioscience sector.

Of that figure, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) awarded almost £30 million to 22 business-led projects aiming to develop products and technologies in areas where there is unmet medical need.

By backing companies in this way, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to the bioscience sector and helping to attract additional private finance for medical research. Now that the awards have been made, with MRC money going to academic-led projects and TSB money to industry, there is an opportunity to take stock, examine how the process has worked and look ahead to the future awards. First and foremost, I think the efforts of the MRC and the TSB, as the joint administrators of the Biomedical Catalyst, should be recognised. It can’t be easy to bring together two separate organisations, one focused on academia and one on industry, each with their own processes and application guidelines, to set up such a programme in such a short time frame.

There was an encouraging number of applicants from industry-led collaborations in the first round (125) and I think this will only improve as the life sciences sector gets used to the process.

I have been impressed by the willingness of both the organisations to reach out to educate industry, and their openness to feedback. This spirit of partnership has led to a quicker and more efficient application process, which is a real positive for small, time-pressed bioscience companies. We are also pleased to see that the scheme, in essence, is always ‘open for business’.

It is for these and other reasons that feedback from BIA members has been largely positive. In many ways the coming together of the MRC and TSB in this way simply reflects what is happening in the bioscience sector. Research and development is a collaborative exercise with academia, industry, public funders and private investors all involved.

Science Minister David Willetts is right to be considering this model for other sectors. And by supporting small and emerging research-intensive bioscience companies the Government is helping to de-risk private investment in this space.

These latest awards have brought significant private finance into the sector, boosting the overall value of projects to around the £63 million mark. Because private investors have faith in the rigour and calibre of the process and assessors, a successful Biomedical Catalyst application can act as a ‘stamp of approval’ for a company project.

Finally, I would stress that there is always a need to keep the application process under review to ensure it remains fit for purpose. There is still a significant amount of Government funding available and we need to constantly communicate that to the sector. The BIA is helping to educate the industrial sector, in part by coordinating a series of events to explain the dos and don’ts of the process.

For those who think they have a project that fits, I strongly recommend putting in an application. Reach out to the BIA and we can help you with your questions. Ultimately, it is behoven on the sector to make this funding work for patients, companies and the UK economy.

Steve Bates

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