Opinion: Building a Global Presence on Both Sides of the Pond
Pictured: U.S. and U.K. flags linked_Oleksii Liskonih, iStock
Developing novel medicines that improve human health has been the focus of my work for over three decades. As a bench scientist, serial entrepreneur and corporate executive, I’ve had the opportunity to work on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean with extraordinary people who share my dedication to science and medicine and my passion for helping patients and families.
My experience has also given me a 360-degree perspective on the dynamic challenges of the U.S. biopharma industry and the major value drivers for long-term company success. I became chief executive officer of Vaccitech, a United Kingdom–based T cell immunotherapy company, in 2019. In doing so, I was able to draw upon my firsthand experience of the U.S. market to create a blueprint for the company’s global expansion efforts, and in the spring of 2021, we launched our U.S. market entry with an IPO on the NASDAQ. Soon thereafter, we acquired Avidea Technologies, providing us with a U.S. R&D and operational arm from which to grow.
Our company is not alone in this cross-Atlantic journey, and there are many good reasons for that. While the U.K. is Europe’s leading biopharma hub, with a robust early-stage and growth capital pipeline, the U.S. has much to offer. To navigate the increasingly competitive global landscape and best translate unique intellectual property and innovative drug discoveries into life-changing medicines for patients, many U.K. biopharma companies are establishing a presence in the United States as a critical pillar of their future growth.
For our company, in particular, the leap across the pond was motivated by the emergence from the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Vaccitech developed a COVID-19 vaccine that was licensed to AstraZeneca and used to save millions of lives around the world. As we emerged from this public health crisis, we aimed to expand our focus on novel T cell immunotherapies to treat and cure chronic infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases and cancer. In so doing, we recognized that a U.S. footprint was critical to executing our mission. The value drivers that led to our U.S. entry included:
Building Our Bench. Although there is an extraordinary pool of world class scientists and biopharma industry professionals in the U.K., the U.S. talent pool is larger. As the competition for top talent intensifies on a global scale, a local U.S. market presence becomes essential to recruiting and staffing success. Most importantly, the ability to draw from a larger pool affords us the opportunity to hire the very best people for our business. The acquisition of Avidea brought us an outstanding bench of scientists and researchers in the U.S. that we are now building our talent infrastructure around.
Culture as a Catalyst. While culture can be a challenging consideration in geographical corporate expansion, I personally believe culture can also be a catalyst for value creation for biopharma companies. This is especially true when it comes to increasing an operational footprint beyond the U.K. and into the U.S. By recognizing and respecting the differences in work style and life balance factors throughout U.K.- and U.S.-located teams, companies can create a more transparent and empowering environment on a global scale that supports collaboration, cross-functional decision-making and retention of top talent.
Follow the Money. I’m not the first (or the last) biopharma CEO to note the benefits of U.S. financial markets. They are the largest and most sophisticated in the world. By operating in the U.S., biopharma companies can be closer to where the money is. A local market presence is helpful to building relationships with U.S. investors that can drive the funding needed to launch key clinical development programs and provide the cash runway to advance those programs through major milestones. Global financial conditions have taken their toll on the IPO market, currently making it a difficult path for biopharma companies to gain growth capital. Despite this volatility, private funding sources are still robust. According to the National Venture Capital Association and investment market research company Pitchbook, investments for U.S. biotech and pharma start-ups totaled $30.7 billion in 2022.
Science Wins. For those of us whose life’s work is dedicated to developing medicines that treat disease and improve lives, the COVID-19 pandemic reaffirmed our belief in the power of science. Indeed, science wins. Fueled by world-class universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London, and sustained by U.K. biopharma companies and their drug development partners, science is thriving in the U.K. By entering the U.S. market, U.K. biopharma companies can build on this extraordinary base and access a host of new, innovative resources and valuable partners to support groundbreaking scientific and clinical research programs.
Reaching More Patients. The United States is the largest healthcare market in the world. Establishing a U.S. footprint helps support relationships with U.S. regulatory bodies on new drug filings and approvals, and empowers the success of commercial and business development programs that enhance patient engagement and increase access to new medicines by the people who need them most.
U.S. market entry is a natural evolution for U.K. biopharma companies looking to increase their global reach and impact. By operating on both sides of the pond, they will be in a better position to translate the work of the brightest minds and industrialize the best ideas into transformative therapies for patients that count on this important work.
William “Bill” Enright is the CEO of Vaccitech, a U.K.-based company focused on developing T cell immunotherapies. Reach him on LinkedIn.