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2 October 2015

HOK’s London Office Hosts Event to Build a Better Future for UK Science

STEM Carleton University

Earlier this year, HOK hosted an event at the Royal Society of London for science leaders and officials across the UK.

Key policymakers joined representatives from the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical technology industries as well as leading university scientists, estate directors, NHS partners, investors and commentators to explore best practices for improving innovation, skills and growth in the sciences.

The panel of experts that met to discuss how to build a better future for UK science included:

  • George Freeman, MP – Minister for Life Sciences
  • Sir Gregory Winter, CBE, FRS – Noted biochemist
  • Jim Smith, FRS – Deputy CEO and Chief of Strategy at the Medical Research Council, Director of Research at the Francis Crick Institute
  • Bryan Morton – Life Science Entrepreneur
  • Dame Bridget Ogilvie, FRS – Australian and British Scientist (moderator)

Participants debated how to create a better investment framework for research, innovation and skills while optimizing physical and political environments to facilitate scientific advancement. All agreed that science and innovation are crucial to solving the great challenges of the world with regard to food, energy, health and medicine. They acknowledged that the UK is a world leader in the sciences and must strive to be at the forefront of scientific research, development and innovation. A deep commitment to science is a critical component of the country’s innovation economy.

Participants reached four main conclusions:

1. Encourage and Train Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs in the sciences will expedite the translation of and activities in science. Scientists with great ideas don’t always recognize the translational opportunities of their work or know how to move ideas forward. But they can partner with entrepreneurs, who think in different ways and can become key instruments of translation. These collaborations will help scientists gain access to individuals with the skills they need to translate their own inventions.

Different models exist to translate blue sky research to academic settings and from monopoly technology transfer companies to scientist-controlled processes. Speaking to people who have knowledge about translation should be an integral part of the scientists’ training and professional development. The Crick’s “entrepreneur in residence” idea is one initiative that could be expanded and developed.

KAUST

2. Create More Links and Public Private Partnerships 

There should be a drive to create more opportunities for connecting pharma, biotechnology, universities, research institutes, healthcare and investment funds. Tech spotting roles could support the discovery of opportunities to link academia and commercial entities. The opportunity to learn or have access to investment finance skills would be a tremendous asset.

Though the connection between science and clinical care should be fundamental, this will require a change in the culture of the NHS to better embrace innovation and become a test bed for experimentation. Academic and clinical structures need to become more streamlined so that combining research strategies with industry investments can improve clinical outcomes. The structure should allow for parties to raise more funding in fewer rounds. Practices in the USA and UK should be simplified so that public funds are more readily accessible and the markets should recognize and reward ideas with mechanisms such as stock programs.

3. Reward Innovation

The UK does not capitalize on enough of its ideas and knowledge. UK industry is not always willing to engage and take risks in the funding and start-up of innovative small companies. Universities need to explore how much equity they are prepared to give to scientific entrepreneurs and how translation can encourage, rather than deter, innovation.

While intellectual property should be invested in the scientist as well as the university, this balance needs to work in favor of the scientist. VAT mechanisms, real estate costs and capital gains tax environments are all less competitive in the UK than in the USA. As a result, there are more barriers for innovation in the UK.

Crick 640

4. Inspire and Educate the Public

It will be important to encourage popular support to attract, maintain and increase funding for UK science. Without broad public backing and acceptance, the opportunities to translate will be more difficult.

Science-focused events should allow the public to engage with the material and encourage a sense of pride in the important work that is being done by UK scientists. Scientific information should be presented to residents with a fun, interesting and family-friendly approach. Academic institutes can engage with their local population as well as media organizations to help link, educate and build support. The Royal Society’s public lectures and science summer exhibition are important examples of successful public engagement activities.