In my first four months as Finance and Commercial Director for Public Health England (PHE) I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the excellent work we’re doing in supporting local government to deliver its statutory public health responsibilities. I’ve also had the privilege of seeing some of the fantastic public health science that we undertake. This month saw us showcase an important aspect of our work that, understandably, receives less attention: our contribution to UK economic growth. The BioIndustry Association (BIA) and PHE for the first time presented a “public health” track at the UK Bioscience Forum.
As a Finance Director I usually look at things through two primary lenses; delivering great services for the public and ensuring value for the taxpayer. Given the scale and scope of the service portfolio at PHE, its great to have another perspective to take account of: our contribution to the broader economic growth agenda, which was very much at the forefront of our recent event.
Opened by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who took the Forum on a memorable tour of London’s contribution to life sciences over the centuries, the event was a very busy day for the PHE team. In the end, the Forum was a huge draw for the industry, attended by over 200 organisations and 350 delegates. The public health and innovation sessions highlighted the opportunities for the UK bioscience sector to contribute to public health, and for scientific advances made in public bodies and universities to contribute to UK economic growth.
Sessions presented by scientists and medical professionals from UK industry, government and academia addressed the important issues of tackling anti-microbial resistance and healthcare-associated infections, public-private partnerships, accelerating vaccine development and accelerating access to innovation and intellectual property.
This has been a very exciting few months for PHE’s Business Development community, as our spinout company Syntaxin has been successfully acquired by Ipsen and we have issued our first licence for PHE polio vaccine technology to GSK. On the back of that, this event was a chance for us to highlight the opportunities for PHE and the UK bioscience industry to work together to develop innovative medicines, diagnostics and vaccines that offer real improvements to health and quality of life, while contributing to skilled jobs and economic growth in the UK.
Our colleagues in industry were clearly impressed with the event. Steve Bates, Chief Executive Officer of BIA said, “Life science companies and investors were impressed by the expertise and the range of the science presented by Public Health England. For many it was the first opportunity to understand and engage with the new PHE brand. The vitality of the sessions demonstrated the level of interest in the opportunities for UK bioscience companies with PHE. The BIA and Ernst & Young published a report at the UK Bioscience Forum which demonstrates that the UK is the strongest biotech cluster in Europe. PHE is a major UK asset that will help maintain this standing in future.”
I know that some people might find it unusual that a government agency such as Public Health England is actively participating in an industry forum like this. Perhaps some may feel that involvement with industry in some way undermines our scientific integrity. However, I really do believe that public health, a strong life sciences sector and economic growth go hand in hand. We need industry to provide the innovative vaccines, diagnostics, medicines and other healthcare products that are so essential in keeping an ageing population fit and healthy. Additionally, we know that having a fulfilling job is one of the most important contributors to people’s health there is, so supporting the creation of new jobs has an extra public health benefit too.
As part of our priorities for 2013/14, I’ve committed to developing a Commercial Strategy for PHE that strikes the right balance between engagement with industry and retaining integrity and independence, that supports economic growth and innovation in the UK, delivers improved taxpayer value, but above all maintains a focus on maximising public health outcomes. I’d welcome your thoughts.