Opportunities in the UK for Indian Biotech start-ups

The biotech ecosystem in the UK is one of the most advanced in the world and has emerged from prior strength in pharma and life sciences through home-grown companies like Astra Zeneca, GSK and a range of specialists and National Health Service (NHS) clinicians and is a leader in developing and taking to market novel biotech formulations, such as the category defining Monoclonal Antibodies.


The UK’s thriving R&D infrastructure is supported by funding from government, non-government, and industry sources. Indian and international businesses can utilise this funding and infrastructure to pursue their innovation challenges in the biotech sector that can be commercialised through the collaborations with pharma companies in the UK and international markets.


The UK biotech and pharma sector, referred to as Core Biopharma sector by the UK government’s annual life sciences stats, contains 770 businesses, employing 66,500 people, with a turnover of £40.7bn in 2020. The largest segment by turnover is Small Molecule therapeutics (£34.9bn) followed Therapeutic Proteins, Antibodies and Vaccines which collectively have a turnover of (£4.7bn). These four segments account for 97% (£9.2bn) of Core Biopharma turnover.


As referred to elsewhere, the UK has one of the best ecosystems for funding in biotech research, led by the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). For the year 2021-22, R&D allocations for Biopharma through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) was £364m for Research and Innovation and £65m for Science Infrastructure Capital and another £98m for Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation.


This funding landscape is further augmented by medical research charities and National Institute of Health Research in the earlier stages of the R&D. Further along the commercialisation journey, funding from Angel and VC Investors is available to perform late-stage R&D, clinical studies, get regulatory approval and take the products to market.


According to the 2020 Annual report on the UK Life Sciences sector competitiveness, spending on health research and development by Government was £2.3bn ($3.3bn). Non-industry players such as medical research charities, Medical Research Council and National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) collectively spent £2.5bn ($3.5bn) in 2018 for research and development. Pharmaceutical sector spent £3.5bn ($4.5bn) in 2018. The amount of R&D spend is second only to the USA when compared with other developed and emerging nations.


As covered in our earlier related article, venture funding activity, from public and private sources, hit an all-time high of £4.5bn in 2021, £1.7 billion (60%) more than in 2020, as per the UK Biotech Financing in 2021 Report, published by the BioIndustry Association (BIA) and Clarivate. Of this total, Venture capital financings totalled £2.5bn, an increase of 81% from 2020, Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) totalled £1.3bn, an increase of 434% from 2020 and other public financings raised £684 million. The report states that, 2021 marks out the number and scale of IPOs as distinctly different from what went before, with listings of UK companies in the UK and USA markets suggesting an ecosystem reaching maturity.

In this dynamic and thriving ecosystem, notable companies that attracted investments include Oxford Nanopore whose £195 million fundraise prior to their £350 million London IPO was the largest amount raised in a biotech company’s listing on the London Stock Exchange and Vaccitech, the Oxford University spin-out setting out to commercialise the technology platform behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, also raised a large series B round of £118 million prior to its IPO on NASDAQ.


As stated in our earlier article, Indian Pharma and Life sciences companies have viewed the UK life sciences as a rich source of innovation and have invested into and/or bought UK companies outright. India's prominent Pharma company, Dr Reddy's Laboratories, made its first ever overseas acquisition when it bought two small British generics companies, BMS Laboratories and its subsidiary Meridian Healthcare in 2003. More recently, the UK India research collaboration has extended into the anti-microbial resistance (AMR) space with five projects starting in September 2020, to tackle AMR that could lead to important advances in the global fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria and genes.


The UK-India Tech Start-up Accelerator, currently run by the Triple Chasm Company, is a key component of continuing collaboration between UK and India to support commercialisation of novel technologies developed in India. The current cohort comprises Biopharma startups such as OmniBRx Biotechnologies Pvt Ltd, developing single-use bioreactors with unique DBR technology for biologics production and stem cell therapies; Ayur.AI, Realizing Evidence based Ayurveda for Personalized Health,Wellness & P4 Medicine and NeelAgil Technologies Ltd, developing a platform technology to encapsulate protein therapeutics in a coating agent to be taken orally.


To learn more about the accelerator programme and its methodology, please visit the UK India Tech Start-up Accelerator and The Triple Chasm Company websites.