By Andy Round – Investment Director
Interest in the life sciences sector has exploded over the past 12 months, with efforts to reduce the levels of bureaucracy within the space finally proving fruitful. And while this shift has been underway for some time, it’s clear the pandemic has supercharged matters.
But COVID aside, the one word those of us with experience in the space keep coming back to is democratisation. In short, this covers the need to provide easier access to healthcare, fairer costs for treatments, more convenience and greater choice.
Examples of the shift towards further democratisation are taking place across our Praetura Ventures portfolio. One example is Maxwellia’s recent launch of Lovima – a progestogen-only contraceptive pill that can now be bought over the counter in stores and pharmacies after 60 years of being prescription-only.
In this case, democratisation is giving women the freedom to buy the pill when it suits them, as opposed to taking time off to go to the GP – which may not always be viable. Again, this is another example of better access, brought about by regulatory changes.
Another portfolio company that’s paving the way is Ostara Biomedical, which is on a mission to help more women get pregnant with its Evie™ IUI device. IUI, if you’ve not heard the term, stands for intrauterine insemination – a less costly and less invasive fertility treatment compared to IVF, which can total between £5,000 and £10,000 per cycle.
As those familiar with IVF will tell you, there’s no guarantee that one or several cycles will work, meaning those taking part in IVF can soon rack up bills in the high thousands, making it a greater struggle for lower income households to foot the cost.
This is why democratisation is so key. With the amount of technological progress that’s being made in the life sciences sector, there’s no reason why people should continue to be priced out of fairer healthcare or have to jump through hoops. Regulatory changes are making this possible, but so too are greater levels of investment in the space.
In fact, the UK BioIndustry Association’s figures show that a record £4.5bn worth of public and private finance was raised in 2021, which is 60% (£1.7bn) more than 2020’s figure. As a result, many are hailing this a golden age for the space – helped on by the success of the COVID-19 vaccine, which was developed and rolled out in record time.
If the vaccine programme has taught us anything, it’s that major scientific leaps can be made in this sector when there is a greater appetite for innovation, which is key to democratisation. After recent events, it’s clear the appetite is there – among clinicians, life sciences experts and the general public but also investors and VCs like ourselves.
– In 2020, the UK’s life sciences industry employed 260,000 people across 6,330 businesses, generating £88.9bn of turnover in 2020 [UK Government]
– The UK’s life sciences sector saw over £6.6 billion worth of investment in the first 10 months of 2021 – a tenfold increase from 2012 [UK Government]
– Globally, the HealthTech sector alone reported over £38.1bn worth of investment in the year leading up to November – a 280% increase on 2016 [mobihealthnews]