How the UK life sciences industry is rising to the challenge of Covid-19 by Kate Bingham

in SV News

Crisis is the mother of invention and Covid-19 is no exception. But amid all the gloom are signs of a nascent revolution in how we create and develop new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics. The UK life sciences industry is rising to the challenge by using technology and its in-depth knowledge of virology to develop drugs, vaccines and diagnostics at breakneck speed.

This unprecedentedly rapid ramping-up of research and development will help the UK to not only find the solutions to this pandemic, but also help us to prepare for the next one and lay the foundations for a new life science industrial strategy.


Oxford University’s Jenner Institute encapsulates the success of the UK life science industry. It is at the head of the global race to develop a vaccine, dosing its first subject last week.

This success is no happy accident. It is the result of extensive and urgent collaboration between scientists at academic institutions as well as pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies along with charities, government and clinical research organisations.

The UK Vaccine Task Force epitomises this cross-industry, government and academic collaboration. The UK BioIndustry Association (BIA) is playing a central role, assembling experts and companies throughout the UK to accelerate the difficult challenge of scaling up production of a viable vaccine.


The UK’s centralised NHS has an existing national clinical trial infrastructure, which enables rapid roll out of new clinical investigations. The RECOVERY trial, which is testing the efficacy of existing therapies in the treatment of Covid-19, recruited 7,000 patients in only four weeks.

Regulators have shown remarkable flexibility with the Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approving the Jenner’s Institute Covid-19 vaccine trial in seven working days.


Scientists are finding new ways to find ways to tackle the virus. Biotechnology companies, including two SV oncology portfolio companies are re-tooling their drug discovery platforms to discover new Covid-19 drugs. Bicycle Therapeutics is using its unique macrocycle platform to find new drugs for Covid-19 while Alchemab is looking for protective antibodies in convalescing Covid-19 patients using cell sequencing and machine learning to aid that search.

The UK has a unique ability to share large amounts of data digitally, which makes it easier to share real-time information about the disease and treatments internationally so it can be reviewed and compared.

Industry bodies are working together to develop new antibody tests to give greater information about how many people have had the disease. And healthcare companies are working with artificial intelligence firms to launch monitoring apps which will help to relieve pressure on the NHS by slowing the outbreak.


Pharmaceutical and biotech companies want to get drugs and vaccines to patients as quickly as possible to relieve the burden of this disease. Many are making significant investments without profit as their primary motivation. Academic institutions such as the Francis Crick Institute are adapting their academic labs to run large-scale Covid-19 diagnostic tests.

The extraordinary pace of funding provided by the government & charities such as the Wellcome Trust means the best projects have access to cash enabling them to scale up fast.

Building the future

The rapid progress triggered by the Covid-19 crisis will have a lasting impact. This has the potential to inspire a younger generation to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, many of whom are enthusiastically printing 3D PPE equipment in their bedrooms. STEM has never been so valued. The entrepreneurs and scientists of the future are being shaped by such efforts

It is data and science which will help us to combat this pandemic and restart economic activity. The success of science in defeating this disease should encourage further investment in education, academic institutions and healthcare companies.

The UK should take the best practices which emerge from this crisis and build on them for the future. That includes allowing UK biotech and pharmaceutical companies to speed up the process of taking drugs from the lab into clinical testing to change and save the lives of patients.

The adage “To go fast, go alone; to go far, go together,” has never been more appropriate. The UK is currently working with unprecedented unity and goodwill. Over the long term it will need to work with the rest of the world to deliver the therapeutics and vaccines humanity needs both now and in the future.

About SV Health Investors

SV Health Investors is a leading healthcare and life sciences venture capital and growth equity firm. Organized by sector, SV invests in innovative science across biotechnology, medical devices, and healthcare services and digital health. Their strategy is sector specific: targeting early-stage opportunities in biotechnology, of which approximately two thirds are in new companies created in-house, early-stage and revenue-stage opportunities in medical devices, and growth equity investments for later-stage businesses in healthcare services and digital health. SV Health Managers LLP is fund manager of the Dementia Discovery Fund, a specialist venture capital fund focused entirely on funding the discovery and development of novel, disease-modifying therapies for dementia patients, as well as the International Biotechnology Trust plc, publicly listed on the London Stock Exchange under the ticker IBT LN.

SV Health Investors has offices in Boston and London. For more information, please visit

Media contact:
Hannah Maunder
SV Health Investors

Investing in Women Code Logo

We invest in talented innovators. We strongly adhere to the view that diversity, including under-represented groups, strongly adds to success. If you are an entrepreneur seeking investment and a partner who can help you to build your business, we would love to hear from you. Please get in contact with our team.