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ALEX BRUMMER: Why were life sciences firms left out of the loop?

Spam Spam Spam (2020-09-17)


Having set itself the arbitrary target of 100,000 Covid-19 tests a day, the Government reached it with hours to spare.

What Britain's fight against coronavirus has demonstrated is the monolithic approach of Public Health England at the outset of the crisis was a terrible error, which frustrated the medical research community and left Britain's leading-edge life sciences companies and research universities out of the loop.

It is in the nature of these things that the scientists and pharma giants chose not to get involved in a shoot-out with government when lives and the health of the nation are at stake.








Laboratory technicians scan test tubes containing samples taken from people tested for the coronavirus at a new facility at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow


Only Nobel prize-winning geneticist Sir Paul Nurse, 온라인슬롯머신사이트 who is chief executive of the disease research centre, the Francis Crick Institute, chose to lift his head above the parapet with some pointed criticism as the virus raged after lockdown.

Only then was engagement with the great research-based universities Cambridge and Oxford stepped up and did we start to hear more from GlaxoSmithKline and Astrazeneca, the UK's top pharma groups.






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The delayed involvement seems extraordinary. AZ is in the midst of opening its £1billion open access medical research centre in Cambridge with huge resources and facilities. 

GSK is the world leader in vaccines, has been deeply involved in work in previous global medical scares and creator of groundbreaking vaccines such as Shingrex for shingles and Cervarix for cervical cancer.

Once the resources of our life sciences were released, the firms moved into hyper-drive. AZ and GSK co-operated with Cambridge University labs to ramp up a testing initiative. 

Astra's chief executive Pascal Soriot revealed the company was collaborating with partners on developing a monoclonal antibody treatment for Covid-19 which could halt the disease in its tracks, providing a bridge towards a vaccine.

GSK spent £200million on an investment in Vir Biotechnology with the goal of speeding up work on a coronavirus antibody. 

In a highly unusual move, chief executive Emma Walmsley signed an accord with rival in vaccine development Sanofi to come up not just with an inoculation programme, but the production capacity to make hundreds of millions of doses.

AZ also put its manufacturing expertise, science and testing capacity behind an early stage Oxford University vaccine contender.

Among the reasons that Germany has had so much better outcomes on testing and preserving life than the UK is that from the very start it involved Swiss pharma giant Roche, with big German facilities, in meeting the challenge.

In the last few days AZ and GSK have unveiled strong financial results for the first quarter in contrast to other suffering sectors of the economy.

The value of life sciences in this pandemic and beyond in the Brexit era has been there for everyone to see.

Indeed, the UK's other health and hygiene giants, notably Reckitt Benckiser, also have risen to the occasion, producing stonking results amid the detritus elsewhere.





The outcomes of the UK's fight against the pandemic might have been much more impressive had the power of university labs and our life sciences behemoths been fully utilised much earlier.

Hot air

Michael O'Leary sounding off is such a familiar occurrence that there is a tendency to ignore him. When it comes to his criticism of EU responses to the grounding of airlines due to coronavirus, he does have a point.

His own carrier Ryanair is planning to cut 3,000 jobs and aircraft orders. BA is going for even deeper job cuts and pulling out of Gatwick. 

And Richard Branson is finding it hard to get the finance he needs to keep Virgin Atlantic flying.

Yet EU flag carriers have reportedly received up to £26billion of state aid. Similarly, funds have been lavished on US airlines.

Britain staunchly believes in free markets. But simply rolling with the punches and allowing a robustly competitive industry to be destroyed should not happen irrespective of Branson's impenetrable tax arrangements.

Loan champ

Alison Rose has done an excellent job in making sure RBS small business customers are looked after in the age of Covid-19 with £1.6billion of government-backed loans.

First quarter RBS profits were hit by provisions of more than £800million bringing the total loan loss set aside by the five biggest banks to £6.9billion.

The going is tough but at least there is honesty about the headwinds.






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