Can UK science survive post-Brexit? | FT

The life sciences sector makes £70bn a year for the economy. But the industry relies on international talent, funding and markets and there are widespread concerns over the impact of leaving the EU. FT science editor Clive Cookson meets the scientists tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the planet.

British bio scientists are tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the planet how to make clean energy how to develop the next generation of medicines and how to prevent disease but some on the front line are worried about the future of their research especially after brexit i think it’s no secret that universities are really not in favor of brexit as a

Company now over half of all of our team from outside of the uk if the funding become uk national only that will restrict our ability to expand our work the main problem at least for my work is regulations we don’t know what’s going to happen i’m gate to examine the health of an industry that generates seventy billion pounds a year for the uk economy and employs

Almost a quarter of a million people across the country but first read i suppose all the cheese in it this is personalized shopping with a difference both of those yes i can go with the chickpeas i may be shopping in the london supermarket but i’m also trying out the latest high-tech weapon in the fight against the big killer diseases in modern society the device

I’m using is synced with an app on my phone which is matched to my dna it can tell me if i’m at risk of obesity hypertension will even type 2 diabetes and more than that it can tell me which foods are likely to increase these risks and lud’s me towards healthier alternatives in real time it’s inventor chris to mizu is on hand to explain why the app is happy for me

To buy some foods but not others read the other one i picked out of the bars was this snickers and that’s green okay mars out snickers in yes let’s see why mars mars got 60 grams of sugar sure that was bandung me whereas snickers has got 44 grams so maybe 15 grams more sugar so in fact you were quite low with things like your obesity gene things like fat you were

Quite low with so effectively you are being nudged to walk towards things that are a lot more appropriate for your heart putting personal health in the hands of shoppers could help prevent chronic diseases that cost the nhs billions but so far few products like dna nudge have made it out of uk labs and onto the market after the united states britain produces more

Cited life sciences research than anywhere else in the world but in 2017 the uk ranked 12th out of 18 comparable countries in the value of its medical technology exports sanson innovation clusters across the country are trying to change that imperial colleges white city campus is the latest example it covers 23 acres of west london and cost 2 billion pounds we

Face huge problems in society at the moment huge global challenges and the idea of this campus is to bring different people together bringing together different cultures obviously brings together a diversity of thinking and it’s only with that international linking and collaboration that will solve these problems with that in mind how do you view the prospect of

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Brexit i think it’s no secret that universities are really not in favor of brexit we’re really worried that the students will no longer come from europe because they bring a fantastic intellectual dimension you know without these brilliant young students from from europe i think will be a lesser place the ultimate goal is to get researchers and businesses working on

The next generation of products together as lab and office space for startups 6-fold bioscience is just one of 70 companies already on campus so we are in biotechnology company developing novel drug delivery systems for cell and gene therapeutics and what you can see here today is our r&d team six-fold is working on new ways to deliver therapies that will fight

Diseases like cancer by fixing faulty genes or reprogramming living cells so if we add more of this protein to these cells we can increase the efficacy of our drug delivery thank you the scientists on their team get to use cutting-edge equipment at imperials nmr lab and measurement suite but more than that the cluster gives six folds founders the opportunity to rub

Shoulders with entrepreneurs funders and potential collaborators for you personally as funders of a biotech company what does the opportunity to interact with all these what does it give you just having a great space to do science 2x here on the science then to discuss that with your peers they want to come with me us that we want to meet them and i think it’s a

Really good a good place to do that we are also allowed to do is actually share our experience with people that are even earlier during their entrepreneurial journey to share our struggles and hopefully allow other companies to progress even even faster and have a smooth journey it goes further than just having companies there’s a lot of academics and there’s a lot

Of like larger pharma companies that are also in the area that makes it a unique environment i would say we can be there london and of course it’s a very international space for an international company as you are do you see any threats to that internationalism as a company now over half of all of our team from outside of the uk we also work a lot with people in the us

With other areas of academic excellence and maybe the government could be forced into positions making it easier for those people to come to work and that’s something i think is you know maybe a potential avenue your opportunity for us the number of new startups across all industries in the uk fell by 12.8% in 2018 and researchers blamed economic uncertainty caused

By brexit on average london’s startups are far better than those in other parts of the country but even here the government has been keen to help new life sciences businesses find their feet that’s because the field is so specialized it is immensely difficult actually to find the right research expertise the right operational infrastructure and the right types

Of patients to recruit into clinical studies med city was launched five years ago to help businesses find collaborators and industry i could in government the project is co-founded by the mayor of london london is proud to host the largest investor base in europe and some of the best universities in the world but of course there’s little bit tiny whiny economic

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And political uncertainty in the country at the moment and but i want to take this moment to say to all of you that i remain very very confident come what may london will continue to thrive as a great city in which to do business i think in a post press it warned us it’s even more important that we focus on some of these sectors and i remain fully confident of

London’s future and uk’s future in in life sciences it’s the innovation the entrepreneurship that has kept london going there is political uncertainty but i think what we’re seeing is that the interest of industry coming to london in the greater southeast is really borne out of the strength of the scientific excellence and talent there is and that definitely is

Not changing uk based biotech companies attracted 2.2 billion pounds of investment in 2018 almost twice what they managed in 2017 in the same year foreign direct investment in uk life sciences more generally reached 1.1 billion pounds the highest it’s been in the past eight years but there are warnings from some of britain’s top research institutions the scientific

Excellence that’s so attractive for investors could be under threat the francis crick institute is britain’s biggest bias and slur it has 1,200 staff and scientists here come from over 70 countries we couldn’t really be closer to continental europe than the creek what does that mean to you personally i suppose personally being french cities and i can jump in the

Eurostar in 10 minutes and i’m in the 22 and a half hour i mean central paris so it allowed us to really get people from france but also close by belgium netherland now and germany 70% of my lab are non british but in general i think the proportion in the whole and still is probably more than 50% and with a high majority of eu citizenship from you know laboratory

Support technician to group leaders what about international funding particularly eu funding what would happen if we were cut off from that in 2018 i think the institute altogether get 12 million euro from these eu or his own a framework if the funding become uk national only that will restrict our ability to expand our work the uk’s annual share of eu research

Funding has fallen by almost a third or four hundred million euros since 2015 and there’s been an almost 40% drop in british applications to one of europe’s biggest funding schemes horizon 2020 many researchers feel the prospect of brexit is already having an impact on their work and we don’t know what’s going to happen with brexit but what are the effects that

You were afraid of if it goes badly the main problem at least for my work is regulations we don’t know what’s going to happen but in the event of a hard brexit where there is no agreement between the rest of europe and the uk if i’m trying to run a multinational trial for example how can i do it if there is no agreement in that the sharing how can i develop a

Medical device within the uk regulations if i don’t know the europe will accept the uk regulations and vice versa changes to regulation could be particularly problematic for fields like cell and gene therapy where scientists use a patient’s own cells to develop a living treatment just for them to give an idea of how rigorous the process is we filmed in stevenage


Some 30 miles north of london at the manufacturing centre of the cell and gene therapy catapult the cells arrive at the centre by special courier and assigned off before they can be taken inside once logged they’re cross-checked before the package can even be opened more paperwork before they can be transferred to cryo storage they’re signed out and checked again

Before being taken into the lab nothing gets in without being cleaned and prepped only now can the scientists get to work in real time this whole sequence of events takes place over days or weeks and it’s only a small part of the process the clinical trial phase testing and final delivery of cell and gene therapies are all governed by strict rules and regulations

To develop any new treatment is a huge undertaking there is no other eco system for developing this end-to-end anywhere else in the world that really as far on as we are and that’s not just because we’ve addressed the manufacturing issues it’s because we’ve also simultaneously looked at how the regulatory system was reformed the approval times have gone down from

Over a year to under 60 days to get into clinical trial and we’ve seen several products already start in the nhs and start to be used really early and that’s kind of unheard of the uk already is a world leader in these therapies and providing that we can keep reinforcing investments it’ll continue to be a world leader in these therapies cell and gene therapy is

Expected to become a 2 billion pound industry in the uk by 2025 supplying a global market that could be worth almost 10 billion buy them right now europe is by far the biggest market for uk medicines more than 40% of our medicinal products go to eu countries if brexit limits our access to that market it could leave the life sciences vulnerable yet industry leaders

Are keen to see the opportunities in brexit as well as the challenges best and worst-case scenarios for uk life science in the coming years i think a more dependent on what happens globally then be seeing solely through the prism of brexit if the chinese market opens up in shanghai becomes a source of capital for uk businesses that would be fantastic if nasdaq

Continues to have the experience in the next five years it’s had in in the last five that would be fantastic those for me are the the global parameters into which the uk sector will succeed and fail bricks and the outcome a brexit played a small part within those global perspectives the life sciences sector relies on talent and funding from overseas it depends on

Streamlined regulation and easy access to international markets it is also at the heart of the uk economy how it performs after brexit could be a guide for other industries and even for the country as a whole

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Can UK science survive post-Brexit? | FT By Financial Times

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