Promoting the interests of emerging R&D companies


A voice for emerging R&D companies

OBN has grown in influence since its foundation in 1999 and Membership has grown to include organisations in and around Oxford, Cambridge, London, Nottingham, Manchester and in Scotland. OBN lays claim to being the membership organisation supporting the interests of the UK’s innovative life sciences R&D companies. Increasingly, OBN is asked to contribute to regional and national-level initiatives and consultations relating to sector growth. For further information about OBN’s Advocacy activities, contact John Harris.

Championing emerging UK life sciences companies

Protecting Innovate UK’s Biomedical Catalyst in the Spending Review – Oct 2015

In October 2015 OBN co-ordinated a lobbying campaign calling on the Government to protect Innovate UK’s Biomedical Catalyst in the Autumn Spending Review.

Although there had been some concessions in Budget 2015, there remained uncertainty over a continuation of the Biomedical Catalyst, one of few measures which genuinely assists small and medium sized businesses. Were the 2015 Comprehensive Spending Review to deal a significant blow to Innovate UK, which delivers the BioMedical Catalyst, we feared it might have been closed indefinitely.

This letter was subsequently sent to the Chancellor, George Osborne, by OBN and a number of our Members. We subsequently received this response from the Treasury.

An Open Letter on Enhancing the Investment Environment for the UK’s Life Sciences SME Sector – Mar 2015

Representing the interests of emerging companies, OBN published an Open Letter on Enhancing the Investment Environment for the UK’s Life Sciences SME Sector.

The policy positions were reached by OBN’s Investment Special Interest Group (OBN iSIG), following input from the Members, including from responses to the OBN Public Affairs Survey, and include a number of positions already communicated to Government by OBN.

The positions reflected our Members’ support for the continuation of the BioMedical Catalyst, as well as reforms to SEIS, EIS, Entrepreneurs Relief and EMI schemes which we believe would enhance the investment environment for the UK’s emerging life sciences companies.

OBN iSIG is one of three new Members’ Special Interest Groups established by OBN in the last year, the others being OBN wSIG (Women in Life Sciences Special Interest Group) and OBN hSIG (Horizon 2020 Special Interest Group). You can read the contents of the letter here.

Economic impact of smaller R & D companies in the UK – Jan 2015

OBN contributed to a joint survey of smaller R & D companies together with the ABPI and run by the Office of Health Economics (OHE), yielding a good number of responses from OBN Members. The purpose of the survey was to gather hard evidence to support approaches to policymakers and asked for information on practices and sentiments. Specifically it looked at in-house/out-sourcing activity, expenditure on R & D, manufacturing and other activities, sentiments about future growth including employment, location of future R & D and manufacturing and exports. The conclusions of the survey will be posted here.

Innovate UK’s Biomedical Catalyst (BMC) scheme – 2014 Update

OBN has consistently championed the joint £180m Innovate UK and Medical Research Council BMC programme. This offers a source of funding to innovative SMEs and academics looking to develop solutions to healthcare challenges, either individually or in collaboration. Round 8, which closed in early 2015, offered a total of £30m. In spite of the scheme’s success, there has been no firm announcement on further funding available beyond February 2015. In advance of this, during October 2014, OBN wrote to the Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as to the Shadow Science Minister to lobby for the scheme to receive sustained funding of at least £50m per year for the industrial component, equally split between bioscience and medtech, for the full span of the government’s ten year Life Science Strategy. No firm commitment to support the scheme beyond the General Election has been received. OBN was the first organisation to call for an extension to this vital programme, combining our calls with a secretariat and support service for Member companies to lobby Ministers. In July 2013, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts announced a new £93.2m support package. Engagement activities with the Office of Life Sciences, TSB and others contributed to Member companies winning awards totalling £40m (as of April 2014). OBN has since offered the TSB constructive feedback from Members on the BioMedical Catalyst scheme processes.

OBN Investment Special Interest Group (iSIG) – Oct 2014

OBN appointed Shawn Manning as the chairman of its first Special Interest Group, the Investment Special Interest Group (iSIG), which began lobbying efforts during May 2014.  The iSIG has been established to provide the organisation with specialist focus and expertise to address macro-level financial and investment issues that may impact our members, and come to policy positions on behalf of the members. The group first met formally during October 2014, and meets quarterly. Further details will appear on the OBN Panels section of this website during Q1 2015.

Roundtable Business Forum with MP – June 2014

During June 2014, OBN organised a roundtable business forum with Nicola Blackwood MP and a number of our member company executives, as her constituency is within the historical core of our membership and she had expressed a strong desire to identify the key issues facing life sciences companies.   As a result of that meeting, a number of outline positions were reached on the reform of tax relief measures designed to stimulate investment in innovative R&D.  As a result of those initial discussions, OBN later set up an expert group to reach well defined positions on such measures.

OBN’s engagement with EIF on the InnovFIN SME Venture Capital instrument – May 2014

OBN hosted the launch of the European Policy Dialogue for Growth during May 2014 at BioTrinity, organising in partnership with LOGOS Public Affairs a meeting involving investment manager and member R&D stakeholders to discuss the best mechanisms for the European Investment Fund and European Investment Bank to invest in appropriate structures for equity financing of life sciences start-ups. Through ongoing engagement and representation of our members in a number of subsequent meetings in Brussels by the chairman of OBN’s Investment Special Interest Group, we lobbied for an additional equity-based financing mechanism for SMEs. OBN awaits an announcement in 2015 on the final shape of the InnovFIN SME Venture Capital instrument.

OBN’s input into the Science Capital Spending consultation – Q2 2014

OBN responded jointly with EMIG to the UK government’s Science Capital Spending consultation during Q2 2014, highlighting a lack of pre-fit laboratory incubator space in some of the UK’s key clusters.  In other activity, OBN continued with its support for infrastructure investment, initiating a project assessing the forward demand for pre-fit commercial laboratory space within the membership, and convening and contributing to discussions on the lack of availability of commercial lab space in key clusters.  OBN has now supported funding bids for infrastructure which have yielded £40m of public investment.

OBN and EMIG call on DoH to fund HRA single approval business plan – Q1 2014

In Q1 2014, OBN joined EMIG in a call for the Department of Health (DoH) to fund a Health Research Authority (HRA) business plan to deliver a single approval system for clinical research studies in England, so that there would be just one application, one assessment and one approval for all clinical research in the NHS in England.  DoH later announced they would fund the HRA’s plans.

OBN’s support for ongoing funding for the AHSNs – Jan 2014

In a joint action with EMIG during January 2014, we called on the Chairman of NHS England to protect the AHSN’s funding over their five year license period in response to a change in which they were funded which via an annual tapered reduction would hamper their chances of contributing to wealth creation successfully.

BioMedical Catalyst: a joint Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and Medical Research Council programme offering funding to innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and researchers developing innovative ideas with demonstrable potential to have significant positive healthcare and economic impact.

OBN was the first organisation to call for an extension to this vital programme, combining our calls with a secretariat and support service for Member companies to lobby Ministers. In July 2013, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts announced a new £93.2m support package. Engagement activities with the Office of Life Sciences, TSB and others contributed to Member companies winning awards totalling £40m (as of April 2014). OBN has since offered the TSB constructive feedback from Members on the BioMedical Catalyst scheme processes.

Single ethical and NHS Trust approval for UK clinical trials

The Health Research Authority, through its incorporation of the National Research Ethics Service (NRES), has dramatically improved the UK’s attractiveness as a place to conduct clinical research through proposals bringing together the currently separate research ethics committee and NHS Trust approvals into a single process. An appropriate level of funding is imperative to realise this vision and the budget for the single approval process is a critical component. With the Ethical Medicines Interest Group (EMIG) OBN lobbied the Cabinet Office for a rapid and positive opinion on the HRA’s business case for a single HRA Approval for clinical research.

NIHR Translational Research Collaboration

Together with EMIG, OBN engaged Members in consultation response actions connecting Members to potential collaborators in the new NIHR Translational Research Collaboration, and UCL Partners in the area of Neuroscience R&D.  A further call for partnership in 2014 will include a request from pharma for assets and capabilities in specific areas, providing a further channel for OBN Members to connect to licensing and M & A teams.

Stem Cell Patentability Consortium - Update Dec 2014

In December 2014 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) held that patents should be allowed on processes to harvest stem cells from human embryos provided that the organism was incapable of developing into a human being.  This landmark ruling paves the way for commercial developments in this highly promising area for medical development.


Background:  OBN  participated in the Stem Cell Patentability Consortium aimed at protecting the interests of life science companies working in the stem cell field. Stem cell based therapies hold much promise for the treatment of a variety of acquired and inherited diseases and for the formation of replacement organs.  The development of such products relies on the manipulation of human embryonic stem cells. Its commercial viability is currently in the balance as the European Court of Justice considers the meaning of the term “human embryo” in the context of patenting. As the law stood, a patent which included the use of a “human embryo” for industrial or commercial purposes could not be patented.  The Consortium, created and led by law firm Matthew Arnold & Baldwin LLP, was formed to support and argue the view that the use of pluripotent stem cells derived from an unfertilised embryo through parthenogenesis should not be regarded as “human embryos” as they are not capable of development into a viable human being.  The Consortium argued that patentability of this technology is crucial to the commercial viability of the embryonic stem cell research, the public interest for the treatment of human illness and the competitive position of the EU. A letter from the Consortium was lodged with the European Court of Justice and this may have contributed to the Dec 2014 ruling.

The innovation landscape

OBN was requested by the Oxford University Innovation Working Group  to conducted a survey of Members and other companies on their interactions with the University.  The survey probed the initial interaction, the knowledge exchange process and the perceived attitudes of the University and also invited respondents to comment on the process and suggest improvements.  This work was carried out in April 2014.