BIA calls on U.K. to do more for life sciences as Brexit looms

As the British government looks to set out its economic plan for the coming months, biotech trade group the BIA has added what it sees as key policies that need to be strengthened as the country, and business, prepares for Brexit.

As the country gears up to start the two-year process to leave the EU from March of next year--and noises from the government that this will be a “hard Brexit” that could lead to stricter controls on immigration and the potential for trade barriers with Europe--the BIA does not want the fundamental policies that nurture life sciences to be forgotten.

The trade group said it was a good sign that the new Chancellor Philip Hammond, who is in charge of the economy in the country announced that he will refill the so-called Biomedical Catalyst, which is designed to help fund early-stage companies, to make £100 million available for research projects in U.K. companies over the next four years.

On top of this, the BIA is calling for both the maintenance and expansion of the R&D Tax Credit scheme, which was introduced a few years’ back by the former Chancellor George Osborne, to “encourage business investments that will strengthen the UK’s economy.”

This, the group says, includes the purchase of R&D equipment and health data sets to “speed up the search for new treatments and R&D to increase manufacturing productivity in the U.K.”

It also wants a funded Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS) that provides reimbursement to SMEs supplying new treatments to NHS patients, so that more small biotech companies are able to take part in the scheme. Currently, it is the industry that has to pay up toward EAMS.

Other British biotech CEOs have also told FierceBiotech that EAMS, which has been in use since March of last year, could do with being a bit more daring--with only a handful approved using this system and many of these with later stage data, rather than midstage, reducing the impact of having an “early” access scheme.

It also wants to broaden the ability of individuals to invest--again another option should venture capital flow be hit by Brexit in the future--under a “Citizens’ Innovation Fund (CIFs),” that would work as a tax-advantaged investment product aimed at mid-net worth individuals.

This, it reckons, will “provide more opportunities to for the public to invest in innovative U.K. businesses to create an economy that works for everyone.”

And in a nod to potential immigration problems in the future, it also wants what it calls an “Investor Visa Fund,” which could raise £100 million per year to “support innovative U.K. businesses by specifying that Tier 1 (investor) visa holders invest 10% of the £2 million required to obtain the visa in knowledge-intensive U.K. SMEs.”

The BIA’s CEO Steve Bates said: “By adopting the BIA’s further proposals, the government can not only send another strong signal to the international life sciences community that it remains committed to this vital sector, but also demonstrate to all global decision makers that the U.K. is open for business and a primary destination for starting and growing an innovative business.”