Phil Jackson from MedCity leads a UK trade delegation to the LSI Forum in Saint-Petersburg, Russia - Interview

We are keen to present to you the full text of an interview with Phil Jackson, Projects Director at MedCity cluster.

On 9-10 November DIT organised a UK trade mission to attend the “Life Sciences Invest 2016”- an annual business partnering event in Saint-Petersburg, Russia.

Phil Jackson was invited to speak at an international clusters panel along with colleagues from Finland, Germany and Russia. In his talk he was adamant in calling for the creation of a new paradigm in drug discovery – “away from walled compounds of solely in-house development” to the environment where academia, IT and biotech start-ups cohabit alongside medium and large pharma in dynamic open settings.

“These days the biotechnology industry is global – we routinely deal with researchers and companies from all over the world. The most innovative Russian companies will be looking beyond the boundaries of Russia to collaborative research across the rest of Europe and Asia, to inward and outward licensing of products, tools and research”. – Phil Jackson

In early November, you participated in the partnering forum Life Science Invest which is held annually in St. Petersburg. What can you say about the forum and its participants?

It was an honour to attend Life Science Invest in St Petersburg. The event was well organised and attended. There was certainly a broad range of participants and presenters. Speaking on the international bioclusters forum it was very useful to catch up with work underway in Finland and Germany but especially in some of the newer clusters beginning to form in different regions in Russia. In biocluster development, it is important that clusters in different parts of world share ideas and approaches, because this is not an area of development where there is one single model and we can all learn from the experiences of others.

During the forum you got an idea of the Russian pharmaceutical industry. What direction do you think it will take?

Certainly the forum gave me exposure to a wide number of Russian Pharma, contract manufacturing and generic pharma production, primarily for the domestic market, were well represented. In conversations with several of the companies in attendance, there was an increasing interest in entering more fully into the area of new drug discovery and research and development. With the depth of science that is clearly in place in the well known science universities and research institutes – maximising the ability to do translational research, to bridge between ground breaking science and actual new products and cures is clearly a goal. A number of companies did talk about expanding their R&D – obviously the challenge for all of us is creating the incentives and pathways to get great science out of the universities and to the bedside – but actually doing this is the key – it is different from manufacturing a cure developed by somebody else – finding and marketing your own science, your own cure is the key to advancing medicine and science.


What is the potential of the Russian pharmaceutical market?

Certainly there is no reason to believe that the market cannot grow internally. Obviously there are real challenges that exist with the economic situation and the decline in purchasing power

And recognising that publicly funded care everywhere has real cost constraints – but with the science base that Russia has, there is no reason that the market cannot grow overseas and also diversify. The government emphasis on import substitution is understandable in the present context – but even with these constraints, the industrial base exists, the scientific base exists to do much more – both within Russia – but critically beyond.

These days the biotechnology industry is global – we routinely deal with researchers and companies from all over the world. The most innovative Russian companies will be looking beyond the boundaries of Russia to collaborative research across the rest of Europe and Asia, to inward and outward licensing of products, tools and research.

What is the secret of successful innovation?

Creating the incentives at the academic level and the process support that can aid small start-ups to grow. This means creating bridges between academic science and commercialisation. It means supporting junior researchers pursuing an idea, with mentorship and practical business support. It is never simply a flashy building and cash – though cash is always helpful. Innovation comes from people having the time and support to pursue promising breakthroughs to the next level. This requires finding the capital even small scale capital to support new startups – what we call Angel funding. But most of all innovation comes from creating the space, the atmosphere which allows for open cooperation, is dynamic and based on shared and open science. Finally the secret of successful innovation is often the ability to overcome failure and learn from it. This is especially true in the pharma field where the challenge is intense and the science evolving. For every ten or twenty innovations with potential – perhaps one will make the market.

In your speech at the forum, you talked a lot about collaboration between Pharma and IT-industry. Could you tell us how this works in the UK?

The boundaries between the modern biotechnology industries and the IT-industry are completely breaking down in new and exciting ways that we have rarely seen before. In Biotechnology now the cost of advanced DNA sequencing continues to get cheaper and cheaper, the technology more and more advanced and faster. Making sense of these mountains of information demands major computing power and advanced analytical tools. Out of this need alone computing and the laboratory medicine have already converged. On the other side of this the major technology firms from Google to Samsung to Mitsubishi are making immense investments in both health research and bioanalytics. As one concrete example of this, clusters are more and more seeing the co-location of the IT industry with laboratory based medicine. In the Euston Road area of London we have the Francis Crick Institute, the largest genomics centre in Europe, right next to the Alan Turing institute for Big Data Analysis. Across the road is Google and down the street is University College Hospital and the Wellcome Trust, the largest health charity in Europe.

Did you manage to get interesting contacts during the forum? With whom did you talk?

Yes, it was extremely useful to meet with representatives of other clusters from across Russia and some from Finland. I met with multiple companies, both representatives of multinationals with partnerships and a presence in Russia, but also companies such as bioeq, Glorincor, PSC the pre-clinical study centre from Moscow and a number of CROs.

Based on your experience, what mistakes can be avoided by the St. Petersburg cluster?

I cannot pretend at all to be an expert on the St Petersburg cluster. But I would say based on seeing numerous clusters around Europe, North America and Asia – there are some very clear lessons on how NOT to think of a cluster as it is developing. 1. Don’t think of it as first and foremost a matter of buildings and lab. A cluster is an evolving science and engagement hub first, and real estate very very much second. 2. No matter how cheap the lab or the land, clusters grow in proximity to capacity – firstly academic capacity, be that MIT in Boston, Imperial, UCL and Kings in London, Cambridge and Oxford – drawing in solid scientific research. 3. A major pharmaceutical player practicing open science is a potentially major attraction for smaller companies to form around them. 4. Link the financial sector wherever possible into that cluster. This takes time to grow and is hard, but it is essential to build small companies into larger ones.

What are Russian pharmaceutical companies missing in order to be actively present on the European pharmaceutical market?

Well, the European Legislative framework and regulation around drug approvals and sales are, as far as I understand, not fully aligned with the comparable legislation and regulations in Russia. This potentially raises certain challenges of inconsistent requirements for larger companies working across Europe. Probably the next most significant thing is the relative weakness of the domestic market in overall size (though I note how rapidly it is growing) as a launch pad to marketing Europe wide. Finally the encouragement of import substitution within the Russian market. Naturally what is produced and what is reimbursed – this quite naturally must shape what companies produce. That said, the longer term possibilities lie in innovation and new science applied to medicines.

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