Collingwood recently joined Bionow, a not-for-profit association which offers business support products and services to the biomedical/life sciences industry in the North of England. As part of our latest Q&A series, Anna Jones Collingwood’s medical specialist spent time with Diane Cresswell, Bionow's Executive Director. Anna wanted to know more about Diane's background within the Biomed sector and her predictions for the future of the industry here in the North.
You have a strong academic background with a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Experimental Nuclear Structure Physics. What was the plan after leaving the University of Liverpool?
Physics was always my first love so I wanted to start my career in a role that would use my Physics knowledge. My first job was as a Scientific Officer working in the nuclear industry for UKAEA. While I was there I worked with complex, computer modelling codes but I missed the hands-on world of experimentation and problem-solving and for a while I considered returning to academia, but then spotted an opportunity with ILFORD Imaging as a process development physicist. This was the start of an exciting career starting with a strong technical focus but then building on this foundation with operations and people leadership and general management experience. Through this period, I discovered strengths and aptitudes that in my twenties I would not have recognised in myself.
Having spent 21 years with ILFORD Imaging what inspired your move to the North West Development Agency and back to the Public Sector?
The digital revolution in photography happened very quickly and the company went through a major restructure and downsizing. However I am delighted to see that ILFORD is still there today, now as Harman technology, still producing high-quality black & white photographic products. I left in 2005 and was looking for an opportunity to use my skills in a new way.
The NWDA, based in Warrington, my hometown, were recruiting industry people to support the 6 specialist sectors in the NW and I saw that the role would make use of my experience while giving me ample opportunity to learn new skills. There was also a great emphasis on networking and building new contacts in the role – which was ideal because after so long at ILFORD I needed to build a wider circle of professional contacts. I was assigned to lead Business Development in the biomedical sector. It seemed a longshot at the time but I quickly found that I had a lot in common with the site leaders of the pharmaceutical and healthcare companies and I worked with my 30 key account companies to identify threats and opportunities that the NWDA and public sector could help with.
Tell me about the journey from NWDA to Bionow, and the networking organisation’s primary purpose.
Bionow started in 2000 as the NWDA sponsored networking organisation for the North West biomedical sector. Biotechs and Medtech companies start off very small as spin-outs from universities or big pharma and they need to build a network of connections to other SMEs, service providers, academics and crucially, investors. While within NWDA, Bionow launched the Bionow Directory, the annual Bionow Awards Dinner in 2002 and the regular networking meetings. But in 2010 it was all change as the new coalition government closed down the regional development agency network in England. Some agency functions were transferred to other public bodies but many of us were redundant.
The Bionow team decided to stick together and spin out Bionow as a commercial, not-for-profit organisation to serve the North of England, no longer restricted to the North West. We started trading on 17 March 2011 as a membership organisation for companies and organisations in the biomedical sector. Our commercial partners offer support with recruitment, insurance, specialist procurement, partnering, specialist translation and financial services.
We have developed a series of major conferences and events including BioFocus, BioCap, BioInfect and the Bionow Annual Awards is now in its 15th year. The Bionow website is the portal to News, Events and Jobs and our BionowB2B website provides an online, searchable resource across all 1000 biomedical companies in the North (including the specialist supply chain).
You’ve been with Bionow for over 5 years, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen affecting both the North West and the Biomedical community?
The North West biomedical community has gone from strength to strength as tracked by Bionow’s Cluster Mapping reports with year on year growth in terms of number of companies, number of jobs and gross value added. The North West has an enviable offering in terms of specialist accommodation in Manchester, Liverpool, BioHub at Alderley Park and Sci-tech Daresbury. There has been a significant increase in specialist business space being developed in the last five years, complemented by innovative business support at the various hubs. There really hasn’t been any downside, although of course funding to develop and commercialise new therapeutics, diagnostics and devices is a perennial challenge.
Where do you see the biggest challenges and opportunities in next 5 years for the Biomedical sector?
The antimicrobial resistance (AMR) challenge is “one of the biggest health threats facing mankind” as set out in the O’Neill Review which was published on 19 May 2016. Lord O’Neill’s report highlights four critical interventions.
1. The need for a global public awareness campaign.
2. We need to reinvigorate the drug development pipeline - there has not been a new class of antibiotics for decades.
3. Clinicians must prescribe antibiotics much more selectively, ideally with a test to confirm the diagnosis and select the appropriate antibiotic – or none.
4. We must significantly reduce the use of antibiotics in agriculture.
New models of commercialisation will be needed so that the costs of developing much needed new antibiotics can be met – the established commercial models do not work for very expensive drugs that are only prescribed for short periods of time. AMR is a global health challenge, raising the spectre of untreatable infections for the first time since the discovery of penicillin. It is also an opportunity for the biomedical sector in the UK and globally to play a truly pivotal role in human health. The North of England is set to be the location of a new AMR Centre, based at Alderley Park, Cheshire expected to open later this year. http://www.bionow.co.uk/news/regiontobecomehubinkeyamrbattle.aspx
Digital technology and ‘connected health’ is another rich seam of opportunity in community healthcare and healthy ageing appealing particularly to the medtech sector.
What excites you most about this sector?
Although a physicist by training I have enjoyed gaining a working understanding of the science and technology within the life science sector. The best bit of the job is meeting biomedical companies, large and small, understanding their challenges and opportunities and identifying a way that Bionow can support their growth. The people in the sector are invariably keen to explain their offering and the issues and challenges they face recognising that Bionow’s role is to connect them to each other, to academia, to sources of funding or technical or business support companies – we can leave the actual science up to them.
Collingwood is really feeling the buzz around the Northern Powerhouse at the moment, given your time with NWDA and now Bionow, what are your views on the plans and the impact it will have on the North of England?
The North of England is home to around 500 life science companies with another 500 in the specialist supply chain. This compares favourably with the Golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge, London and the life science clusters in Basel, Munich and Singapore. The Northern sector is almost 25% of the UK sector as a whole, it is home to eight research intensive Universities and several very strong centres of clinical excellence. As such the biomedical sector is an absolutely key pillar of the Northern Powerhouse. The challenge is to get the message out, both nationally and internationally, to win key government and private sector investment and ensure that we the North moves from being good to great.
What does the future hold for you and Bionow?
My career has been a succession of transitions from experimental physics to technical manufacturing, people leadership, then into business development and helping to establish a small company. At each stage, I have been able to utilise prior skills while learning new skills in new environments. It has been very rewarding and I expect there is much more to learn and enjoy.
For Bionow the first five years have been exciting as we have developed the Bionow model of networking, conferences and a whole raft of valuable member benefits. Looking forward Bionow will be focusing on consolidating our position as the voice for the North in the sector while continuing to grow our membership and continually refining our value-added service offering. There is much to do – watch this space!