CEO Update by

John Harris, CEO, OBN

It goes without saying that 2020 has proven to be very challenging on many fronts with repeated lockdowns and restrictions impacting individuals, companies, and the economy as a whole.

There does, however, appear to be some optimism, especially with the great news today that the UK is the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine which can start to be used as early as next week. There are also two other vaccines waiting for approval and so one would hope that the roll-out of these vaccines will enable the country to return to normality. The Life Sciences community has performed magnificently to progress these novel technologies at unprecedented speed.

Preliminary data from the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine trials show it can prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19. The vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have been raised. The companies applied for emergency approval to use the vaccine at the end of November.

Moderna has reported similar performance data from their mRNA vaccine.

The Oxford coronavirus vaccine has been shown to trigger a robust immune response in healthy adults aged 56-69 and 70+. The data suggest that older groups most vulnerable to serious illness and death from COVID-19 could build immunity. Subsequent information suggested 90% efficacy from a half / full two-shot regime.

Coming on top of this is further evidence that Covid-19 infection stimulates a strong immune response, with one study observing a robust cellular (T cell) immune response against SARS-CoV-2 at six months post-infection and another recent study from the Karolinska Institute & Fondazione I.R.C.C.S. Policlinico San Matteo Pavia has concluded that post Covid-19 infection, whilst the serum levels of anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies started to decline, virus- specific T and/or memory B cell responses increased with time and were maintained during the study period (6-8 months after infection).

This provides encouragement that immunity post-infection, and via vaccine treatment, may be achievable and sustainable for a reasonable period of time to build Population Level Immunity.

During the pandemic, the OBN Team has worked very hard to continue to support our membership and provide genuinely worthwhile collaboration opportunities. OBN has gained a significant number of new members and sponsors over the summer, and our non-events related activities have performed very well. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that over the course of the last month or so, many service providers in particular are seeking to increase their membership status with OBN, recognising that presence and visibility are key to recover and grow their business going forwards.

We were perhaps fortunate that we delivered BioTrinity at the start of the pandemic when enthusiasm levels were high and there was novelty value attached to digital events. The knowledge and technology we acquired from being the first to deliver a fully digital conference has stood us in good stead as we presented a comprehensive range of digital events throughout the course of the pandemic, maintaining quality interaction with our membership and community.

We also introduced the REMO platform, which generates a networking experience that is as close to physical networking as is practically possible. We’ve found our regular digital presentation-based events, combined with informal networking using REMO have been very effective and served our sponsors, members, and network very well throughout this year.

I do think though that digital fatigue is now setting in. There is still a taste for a BioTuesday-style event of around an hour with good theming and credible speakers but the demand for larger digital events has definitely waned.

The excellent news is that as from December, business events of up to 1,000 are now permissible.

I’m sure that we are all extremely keen to get back to physical events as soon as practically feasible, so I wanted to share OBN’s plans for how we plan to deliver our monthly and cornerstone events in 2021.

Firstly, our monthly events such as our CEO Briefings, BioThirstday networking events, BioTuesday and other Member Briefing events will continue to be delivered digitally during the early part of 2021, although we are planning on introducing a small test Senior Executive Breakfast event in London, and will communicate details of this soon. 

When it comes to our Cornerstone events, I’ve summarised our position on delivery below:

1)  BioSeed® – OBN’s Early Stage Life Sciences Investment Event, will be delivered DIGITALLY on Thursday 21 January 2021.  After consultation with our sponsors – Lonza, Swiss Business Hub and Innovate UK, digital delivery was by far the preferred choice at the current time.  We have a brilliant platform in development and a packed-house of exciting seed stage R&D companies already lined up, so if you are an investor keen to come along or a company wishing to present in one of the last remaining slots, email [email protected] for more information or visit www.bioseed.co.uk

2)  OBN Awards® – the 2020 event at the Royal Lancaster in London was postponed to Thursday 25 February 2021, and we are delighted to confirm that this event WILL be taking place as planned, in-person.  In accordance with UK Government guidelines, the event will run at a 50% capacity, with all necessary social contact rules in place.  Find out more and book your place at www.obn-awards.com

3)  BioTrinity® 2021, our largest annual conference designed to inspire growth and create opportunity across the life sciences industry, will take place AS PLANNED, in-person on Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 April at etc. venues Bishopsgate in London.  We have some great rates currently available – including an extra discount for delegates who supported our 2020 Digital BioTrinity event, so take a look at www.biotrinity.com for more information, or email [email protected] to discuss multiple ticket options or supporter packages

4)  Finally, we come to BioForward®, our ‘Roadmap for Growth’ life sciences event, postponed from 6 October 2020.  This event will be going ahead in its original format in-person on 17 June 2021 at the King’s Centre in Oxford, visit www.bioforward.co.uk for booking and further event details.

We hope that our evolved offering to members has further highlighted the true value of being part of a life sciences network like OBN.  Our events portfolio is complimented by a suite of other benefits to members, such as BioLearn® – our specialised training courses, the OBN Purchasing Consortium, where members save huge amounts on their regular business spending and OBN Ventures® - our specialist investment platform for R&D companies seeking seed / early-stage funding. 

When combined with a whole host of other support and consultation services offered under our OBN Intelligence umbrella, if you haven’t joined as OBN Members yet, consider it a Christmas present to your company and get on board.  Take a look at www.obn.org.uk for more information or drop a line to [email protected] to find our more.

Stay safe and we look forward to meeting up again under better circumstances in the New Year.

Best wishes

Dr John Harris

CEO, OBN