The BIA sees a bright future for UK bioscience
Paul Tunnah interviews Nigel Gaymond
The BioIndustry Association
Nothing sums up the nature of the life sciences industry better than the notion of risk and reward. The risks involved in developing novel drugs, diagnostics and medical devices are significant, with enormous investment required to prove (hopefully) their value in treating disease. However, the rewards for those that succeed are significant, not just commercially but also critically in terms of improving the quality of life, or even length of life, for patients all over the world.
During times of economic challenge as the world is experiencing today, such development and innovation to produce medical advances must continue, even where funding is uncertain and there are budget cutbacks in many areas of healthcare. It is during such periods that the role of supporting industry groups that help coordinate activity across large and small companies, governments, healthcare providers and patients is even more important.
The UK’s BioIndustry Association (BIA) is one such organisation, playing a critical role in supporting the biosciences sector, engaging not just with big pharma but a whole myriad of companies across the sector. Speaking to the Chief Executive, Nigel Gaymond, pharmaphorum discussed the role of the BIA, the strength of the UK life sciences sector and how he hopes to shape that environment in the future. As a 25-year veteran of the US market, Nigel brings a fascinating new perspective to the role and is optimistic for the future.
PT: Hello Nigel. Can you start by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about the BioIndustry Association?
NG: I’ve been Chief Executive since the start of this year of the BIA, which has been around since 1989. Presently, it has about 250 plus members and growing, providing the kind of things you would expect from an industry body in terms of a lobbying capability to government and other external stakeholders, networking and services for members.
PT: What was your career path previously and how did the opportunity arise for you?
NG: I grew up in the West Country in Bristol and was originally a linguist at university, which is common with two or three of my colleagues, so there must be something about the link between languages and biotech! I was originally a teacher back in Bristol and then worked for IBM in major account sales – those two careers were very much driven by my desire to play first class rugby at the time. Then by a quirk of fate I moved to the United States in the mid 80s and ended up in Boston where I started working for the British Consulate, running the trade section. That was where I really discovered this new industry called biotech and launched myself into it, first with my work at the consulate and then afterwards with my own consulting practice, which was a lifestyle choice. So for 17 years after leaving the British Consulate in ‘92 I worked for myself with a variety of clients that spanned the whole spectrum of the life sciences area. Almost a year ago the BIA came a calling and got me to come back to the UK.
“We really cover the whole range of companies from small start-ups that are just coming out of university labs right through to the big boys like Pfizer, GSK, AstraZeneca…”
PT: What did you know about the BIA before they approached you and what was it that really attracted you to the opportunity?
NG: The BIA was something I had known since its inception when Louis da Gama was the original Chief Executive back in 1989, when the BIA linked with the US through our office and I was the point person there. So I have known the BIA throughout the years and had great relationships with each of the previous Chief Executives. The attraction of it was that in knowing what the organisation was about I felt that it was a great medium for me to return here to fulfil my passion for what the UK could become. I was thrilled when I was the one who was selected to be the new Chief Executive.
PT: How many members does the BIA have and what different types of companies are you representing?
NG: At the moment we’re somewhere north of 250 corporate members, about 120 of those will be involved typically in drug discovery and the remainder will be the various service providers who are so important to this community. We really cover the whole range of companies from small start-ups that are just coming out of university labs right through to the big boys like Pfizer, GSK, AstraZeneca etc. We’re looking to build that community right across the whole spectrum so that the small companies and the large companies have a forum for getting together.
PT: During these difficult financial times, how do you specifically support the smaller companies?
NG: Our reputation is exceedingly good with government and I think we’re seen as the voice of biosciences in the UK, so we look to use that relationship, established over the years and through the excellent work of my predecessor, Aisling Burnand, to influence progress and enable the connections that will help this industry going forward. Our role is very much to provide networks, the committee structure, events and provide discounts for the industry where we can leverage our critical mass to interact with government and regulators. We also look to extend the business development capabilities that we have and offer things like the fund map and regulatory maps to help companies through those mediums. The focus is to build on this notion of community for networking, exchanging best practice and build the sense of community within the life science industry.
PT: What kind of relationships is the BIA fostering outside the UK?
NG: As you would expect for somebody who spent 25 years outside this country, not only working in the US and Canada but also in other countries such as Sweden and New Zealand, I was very keen that we were linked internationally. It’s virtually impossible to build a bioscience company without taking stock of the international environment, so we are in the process of using a variety of reciprocal agreements with key trade bodies in some of those countries, for example arrangements with AusBio, NZBio, ABLE (The Indian biotech organisation) and BIOTECanada. We’re also looking to build our relationships with BIO in the US, which is obviously the biggest of our trade associations globally and we’ve already fielded an IP group from them this year. Partnership really is the way we’re all going to move the life science agenda forward in this country. But something that’s also dear to my heart is the notion of engagement with our ex-pat community, who really are at the most senior positions around the globe within the life science industry and within academic interests as well. I hope over the course of the next two years we will more aggressively engage with that community to really leverage an asset which has been under utilised by the UK.
“Partnership really is the way we’re all going to move the life science agenda forward in this country.”
PT: How would you say the UK stacks up in terms of being a centre for medical innovation?
NG: We actually stack up pretty well, as we have a certain competitive advantage in this country through our fantastic science base. The recent global university league tables highlighted that four of the top 10 universities in the world, something like 19 of the top 100, and around 30 of the top 200 universities are from the UK. That is an incredible asset and something that I hope government will take note of as they assess how much to cut into research budgets, so there’s no doubt we have a strong scientific heritage. We also have a number of other assets – obviously English as a language is a huge asset and also the status of London, not only as a financial centre but also as a cultural and business centre. Perhaps we need to do a more aggressive pitch on just how good the UK is in terms of life sciences as I firmly believe that we can be not only one of the best in the world, but also the best.
PT: What do you see as the biggest difference between the US and the UK when it comes to medical innovation?
NG: There has been much better access to capital in the US and historically America has had a very strong ‘can do’ attitude. But we certainly have the minds for it in the UK and a lot of clever people here! We’ve got the second biggest biologics pipeline in the world after the US, we’ve certainly got a better and more experienced pool of management talent in this country that’s gone through some tough experiences. Talking to the CEO of a major UK biotech recently that had experienced clinical disappointment, it was interesting to hear about the fundamental difference in attitude between the US investors in that company and the European investors. There was a lot more ringing of hands for the European investors, whereas the US investors typically looked at the downturn in the valuation in the company and recognised the upside which that offered, so a very different way of looking at things.
PT: You must become aware of lots of new emerging technologies, so what areas do you find most exciting at the moment?
NG: I guess the two areas that are attracting a lot of attention and really fire up the imagination at the moment would be regenerative medicine and the personalised medicine space. We’re seeing a convergence between various sub-sectors of the life sciences industry such as devices being coated with drugs and diagnostics being tied to the taking of personalised medicines. But at the end of the day I think what really excites people is that there’s nothing like being reminded about what the end game is here, which is about positively impacting people’s health. That’s why we all find it such a socially redeeming industry to be involved in.
PT: For you personally, what’s been the biggest challenge in this role so far?
NG: Everything in life is challenging but I never see a challenge as something that negatively weighs on me, just as a great task to take on. I’ve certainly noticed the improvements in the UK environment after being away for 25 years, but I also consider the continuing challenges as opportunities.
PT: Is there one key highlight so far for you?
NG: I come back to this spirit of collaboration, this spirit of partnership that is something I believe we can build on. Certain points in movies impact you and mine was a movie called ‘Starman’ with Jeff Bridges. I always remember the alien saying “you humans are curious, why is it always that you are at your best when things are at their worst?” In some ways this spirit of working together is really engendered from the predicament that we find ourselves in at the moment. I hope it continues, because speaking as an ex rugby player it’s a lot more fun to do things with a team than it is to do them individually.
“…there’s nothing like being reminded about what the end game is here, which is about positively impacting people’s health.”
PT: What keeps you busy outside the world of bioscience and pharmaceuticals then?
NG: Well, I’m looking forward to my wife finally joining me at the end of this week from the States – we have a son who had to get settled in college so she had to stay for a while. So I will have a daughter at college in Boston and a son at college in Santa Barbara, which will certainly test the telecommunications infrastructure of the US! So outside the BIA it is all about my family and perhaps the opportunity to re-engage with a couple of my other passions, one being rugby and another being jazz.
PT: And finally, do you have a favourite quote that you like to live by?
NG: I’ve come to the realisation that life is about managing other people’s agendas while furthering your own. Sometimes one of our weaknesses as people is that we don’t step outside our box and look at the world through other people’s eyes so that’s something I try to live by. I always try to look at the alternative viewpoint, listen to it and embrace it.
About the interviewee:
Nigel Gaymond became the Chief Executive of the BioIndustry Association (BIA) at the start of 2010. A native Bristolian, following a period in teaching and then sales and marketing with IBM in the UK, Nigel moved to the US, working at the British Consulate in Boston where he ran the Commercial Department in assisting the UK’s biotechnology, healthcare and agriculture exports.
His consultancy practice, Gaymond International, was established in 1992 after Nigel left the Consulate, in order to provide business development and advisory services to life sciences organisations across the globe. His work with clients led him to work with the complete continuum within the industry. Thus, he has worked with universities and research institutes, companies large and small, biotech incubators, government agencies and financing groups, while also working with geographies as far apart as Sweden and New Zealand. This has afforded him an extensive global network of high-level contacts.
Nigel has also worked at the healthcare and technology development company Mosaigen and the corporate and transaction adviser Tranziger. He is a Trustee of the Forsyth Institute, the world’s leading independent dental research institute in Boston, and also sits on the UK’s HealthTech and Medicines KTN Strategy Board, the MRC Pharmaceutical Forum, the New Zealand Beachheads UK Board of Advisers, and the Senior Industry Group of the UK government’s Office of Life Sciences.
Nigel has a BSc in Linguistic and International Studies from the University of Surrey, and a post-graduate degree in Education. He is a former first class rugby player and one-time semi-professional jazz drummer.
About the BioIndustry Association
Established in 1989, the BIA (BioIndustry Association) exists to encourage and promote a financially sound and thriving bioscience sector within the UK economy and concentrates its efforts on emerging enterprise and the related interests of companies with whom such enterprise trades.
With over 250 members, the BIA supports a wide range of sectors, majoring on the human health benefits of the technology and represents the interests of these innovative companies to a broad section of stakeholders from patient groups to politicians, advancing its members interests both within the UK and internationally to create a healthy UK bioscience sector which benefits society.
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