U.K. seeks to help startups by easing access to samples, data and disease models

A sign at the MDC's laboratory at the Warwick School of Life Sciences. (Image: The University of Warwick)

The Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) has detailed how it plans to help biotechs in the United Kingdom address their current pain points. Officials at the government-backed unit identified efforts to make informatics tools, preclinical models, data and samples available to startups as among the best uses of its resources.

Plans to embark on initiatives in those and other areas were sketched out in an MDC report that used the feedback it received from industry to plot out a road map for the organization. 

When asked how the MDC can use its resources to support discovery-enabling technologies, 43% of respondents advocated investments in improved underlying disease models. In response, the MDC has made the development and validation of technologies that humanize drug discovery one of its five main areas of focus. 

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The goal is to reduce the failure rate in drug development by improving the applicability of preclinical data to performance in humans. Technologies on the MDC’s watch list include “new cell testing systems,” “complex human-derived model systems” and “sensitive detection and quantitation of biomarker, transcriptomics and lipidomics.”
Some of the other barriers the MDC plans to clear are bureaucratic in nature. Notably, the Catapult wants to help biotechs unlock the value of resources held by the U.K.’s healthcare system by making it easier to access its samples and data. That idea has been knocking around for some time but the feedback the MDC received from industry suggests data and samples are still hard to access. 

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The MDC has a clear vision for how it can help to address some of the issues raised in its report. But in other areas it is harder to see how the organization can fix the problems faced by the U.K.

One such issue is the lack of senior management teams that have the track records to reassure VCs to dial up their bets, a group the report terms “credible, generalist series B investable talent.” Trade group the BIA thinks the U.K. is short 150 senior management teams.

The lack of a sizable pool of management teams that are recycled from one startup to the next, building up skills and credibility along the way, is one of the areas in which the U.K. and Europe as a whole lag behind the U.S. And the long-term nature of the problem means it is hard to see a quick fix.

“The critical talent is investable C-suite management. And by running on virtual for decades we’ve not renewed that talent pool. When you look around it is always the same faces,” a nonexecutive director for multiple biotechs told the report’s authors.

Some of the ideas proposed by the Catapult touch on the problem—one suggestion is to create a mentoring framework—but these aren’t initiatives the organization is equipped to lead. Nor are they likely to quickly yield the 150 senior management teams the U.K. needs to address today’s shortfall.