Santander is continuing to work closely with our partners and customers in the life sciences sector, many of which are in the frontline of the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. From protective personal equipment (PPE) supplies to testing and vaccine development, the UK’s life sciences sector has a key role to play.
The government recognises this and is now running weekly webinars for the sector on issues related to coronavirus. The latest of these sessions focussed on Pillar 3 of the National Testing Strategy, on mass antibody tests. The organisers asked that attendees should be familiar with two publications: MHRA Specification criteria for serology point of care tests and Professor Sir John Bell’s Trouble in Testing Land.
The government has launched a three-strand plan for PPE
On PPE, the government has launched a three-strand plan to ensure PPE gets to those who need it, with a dedicated PPE guidance hub now live. The plan includes the launch of a dedicated unit responsible for securing the future supply and distribution of PPE via local resilience forums; see here for more details.
Antibody testing have not proved to be sufficiently accurate
On antibody testing, the Association of British HealthTech Industries (ABHI) reports that those tests validated so far have not proved to be sufficiently accurate to be rolled out for public use. The government is now backing efforts to develop a home-grown test, in a similar project to its challenge to UK manufacturers to develop ventilators. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has set out detailed specification criteria for innovators, while the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Innovation Observatory is maintaining a list of diagnostic tests in the market or under development. Evaluation of tests from overseas providers are also continuing.
Elsewhere, the ABHI recently hosted a webinar to provide more information on how a wide variety of partners are focusing on meeting the coronavirus challenge – and to set out what further assistance is required. The session focused on the need to scale up testing for the virus.
Life sciences businesses may also find this online portal on gov.uk useful; it details specifications for the most urgent requirements. The government-backed group Innovate UK, meanwhile, has launched a £20m funding competition for business-led innovations to tackle the disruption caused by the pandemic.
The evolving environment for manufacturing
While the UK government has confirmed that its lockdown will continue, at the very least, for several further weeks, there are now signs that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) across Europe are planning to resume production. Hakan Samuelsson, the CEO of Volvo Cars, has in recent days talked about the need for the manufacturing sector as a whole to get going once again, even if coronavirus has not been entirely defeated. Samuelsson argues that even if restarts have to be phased, resuming production is crucial to supporting the global economy and kick-starting the recovery.
That message will resonate in the UK, where the supply chain remains focused on cash and liquidity issues. Business secretary, Alok Sharma, has in recent days published an open letter to those working in manufacturing and industry, paying tribute to the sector’s efforts to keep the economy going during the crisis. You can see his letter here.
This acknowledgement of manufacturers’ hard work is welcome. Earlier this month, Santander hosted a webinar with Stephen Phipson, the CEO of Make UK, to discuss the impacts of coronavirus; we’re now hosting weekly catch-ups with Phipson whose message is that the sector is rising to the challenge of maintaining complex supply changes. In the latest of these sessions (you can listen here), Phipson talks about manufacturers’ response to the pandemic, including on ventilators, testing kits and protective personal equipment, but also about future opportunities for the sector as we emerge from the crisis.