UK government programme for biotech start-ups not supporting translation of high quality science

24 Nov 2020 | News

Freedom of information request shows Biomedical Catalyst is backing only 4% of applications assessed as worthy of funding


Fewer than 4 per cent of projects that were ranked as worthy of investment received funding from the UK Biomedical Catalyst, a key government programme for early stage biotech companies in 2019 - 20, down from 31 per cent in 2014 -15.  

This is putting the UK’s pipeline of future biomedical innovations at risk, according to the BioIndustry Association (BIA), a lobby group that got the information from the national funding agency, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which runs the programme. The response showed that over the last three years, research project applications with a total value of over £530 million have not been funded despite passing the quality threshold.

“The Biomedical Catalyst is a key source of early stage funding for UK bioscience companies, to help them scale scientific ideas into products and therapies,” said Steve Bates chief executive of BIA. “It is not acceptable that its budget is only sufficient to fund less than 4 per cent of deserving applications.”

The revelation should be read against the government’s stated ambition to become a world leader in the life sciences, supporting the sector with effective regulation and investment, whilst promoting the adoption of new therapies.

The high quality projects that were not funded could have leveraged approximately £2.5 billion in private investment, according to a recent independent analysis showing the Biomedical Catalyst leverages over £5 of private investment per £1 of public expenditure. The programme has enabled companies in receipt of grants to increase employment by 11 – 15 per cent over 3 - 5 years.  

BIA says the data, obtained through a freedom of information request, demonstrates the budget for the Biomedical Catalyst is not big enough to support the number of high quality applications it is receiving. It is calling on the government to increase the annual budget to £100 million in an upcoming spending review that is intended to boost economic recovery.

“This tried and tested success story of industrial policy, which has resulted in increased private investment and R&D expenditure, needs a significant annual budget increase to keep in line with demand,” said Bates.  

The history of UK biotech is one of dozens and dozens of innovative start-ups emerging from the excellent science base and then having a hand to mouth existence, before being acquired or quietly fading away.

“With healthcare a global priority, the risk is that UK ideas and early stage companies could be purchased and developed overseas, removing future benefits for the UK economy, taxpayer and patients while at the same time reducing the country’s preparedness for future pandemics,” Bates said.

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