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Vaccine win highlights need for UK rapid scale up funding

By Future Planet Capital Executive Chairman, Douglas Hansen-Luke



Britain demonstrated yet again this week that the medical research in our universities and academic institutions can make a global impact.

The World Health Organization on Monday approved the use in children of the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine developed by Oxford University’s Jenner Institute.

It means we can save many more of the 600,000 lives lost each year to this terrible disease.

For the man behind this work, Professor Adrian Hill – the Director of the Institute – this isn’t the first time he’s achieved such a gargantuan feat.

He was the man who co-founded Vaccitech, a company which spun out of Oxford University and helped develop its ground-breaking Covid-19 vaccine in partnership with AstraZeneca.

And his work doesn’t stop there.

He’s also founded a company called Neovac, spun out of Tel Aviv university, which is working on ways to improve the effectiveness of all kinds of future vaccines.

My company, Future Planet Capital has invested in both of these outstanding biotech companies – and effectively the work that has come out of the Jenner Institute – because we look for businesses that are set to have a meaningful impact on the challenges humanity faces, not least those in the health sector.

We are well aware that many of these medical innovations have in the past required partnership and finance from both the public and private sectors to get off the ground and become successful health solutions.

In the case of the R21/Matrix-M vaccine, Oxford University partnered with US biotech company Novovax, using use its technology to enhance the body’s immune system response.

The privately-owned Serum Institute of India will manufacture and scale up its production.

Indeed, such public-private partnerships have become increasingly important to support the development of developing-country diseases such as malaria because they combine private social impact finance – which prioritises the benefit to society – with the expertise and infrastructure of public research bodies.

This model contrasts with drug development solely by large pharmaceutical companies which often results in expensive products that may not be distributed quickly or evenly to the communities that most need them.

However, while this public-private partnership model is the way forward, in the UK we need a much better system to make this deployment of private funds more effective.

Too often, companies that might become the next successful health venture get off the ground but then struggle to get the funding they need to scale up.

I believe we need to create a British Co-Investment Fund combining domestic and international private capital, endorsed by government but not requiring public funds, which stands ready to invest in companies scaling up to commercialise cutting-edge research in all fields.

It would need to have close links with the UK’s top universities and research centres to tap into the most promising spin-outs.

Such a fund investing in the health sector would be able to deploy scale-up capital quickly in the best of Britain’s early-stage companies, which will already have benefited from public funds from the likes of the British Business Bank.

This would allow biotech startups, for example, to scale up faster and roll out their products more quickly.

The fund could have partnerships with private UK companies that can not only research and develop treatments for the most challenging diseases, but also manufacture and distribute them rapidly and efficiently.

The end result would be more cost-effective health solutions delivered quickly and effectively to the communities that need them wherever they are in the world.

And most importantly, it would boost the chances that UK companies would be able to partner with our world-leading academic researchers to create the next big vaccine breakthrough.

Now that’s a healthy outcome for all.

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