An interview with Stephane Boissel, CEO, TxCell conducted by April Cashin-Garbutt, MA (Cantab)
What impact do you think Brexit will have on science and medicine in the UK and across Europe?
It's very difficult to say precisely, but certainly it will have an impact on collaborative work, especially for young companies and academic labs.
In Europe we have this system of funded collaboration when the academic labs and private labs from different countries collaborate on a research project. Depending on the theme of the project and on the nature of the research expenses etc., these are eligible to some form of European funding.
One of the first consequences could be that there will be academic labs or private labs from the UK that will be cut from those programs.
The second consequence I can see is that we have in France a research tax credit, known as Crédit d’Impôt Recherche (CIR), which enable us to get a rebate from the French government on any single R&D expense that we spend in France, but also in other EU countries.
The CIR works this way: every time we spend one Euro (or one pound or any non-Euro currency within the EU) in eligible research expenses in an EU country, the French government pays back 30 cents (in cash). That's, of course, a very strong incentive for us to collaborate with companies and academic labs not only in France.
I guess if the UK leaves the European Union, the money that we spend in the UK will no longer be eligible to that tax credit scheme.
What changes have you seen so far?
Nothing, it's too early to say, because the process is still unclear as the Brexit is not even officially triggered. There's a kind of ‘wait and see’ attitude, and it's fair to say that it has not changed anything for the time being.
How do you think Brexit will impact TxCell?
I think the most likely impact has to do with the two consequences that I mentioned before. I think it will have an impact on our EU-sponsored collaborative research programs, and it will certainly have an impact on our subcontracting activity.
With respect to subcontracting: if we can find a subcontractor in a country within the EU that gives the same kind of services as any subcontractor in the UK, and we can have a cheaper or less expensive access to the services in Europe, thanks to CIR, we will likely not select the UK subcontractor. Providing, of course, that there is the same quality of service.
With respect to collaborative programs: as partnerships last longer than two years, and the UK’s fate is uncertain, it potentially could influence the decisions now. However, since we don't have any such projects on the table right now, I see no immediate consequence for us.
But it's fair to say that if we had such kind of projects, definitely we will be carefully considering the partner to that project, and it's fair to say that we would be more reluctant to include a UK partner since we don't know what will happen.
Are TxCell less likely to team up with British researchers going forward?
At the end of the day, the good thing about the UK, and that will never change, is that the academic research is excellent and the biotech scene is vibrant. Therefore, I would never say that I will never work again with the UK. That would be completely wrong.
This is not what will happen and if we have an opportunity to work with one of your top scientists or key opinion leaders or any of your promising biotech companies, we will do so even if it is more expensive than doing the same thing with someone else outside of the UK.
In short, if money is not the key consideration in what we do, and money is not always the key consideration in our decisions, we will continue to work with this excellent UK research.
How do you plan to overcome the challenges ahead?
For instance, if we have to select a contract manufacturing organization, of course we will send a request for proposal to UK companies alongside German companies, Belgian companies, etc. We will look at the answer to the request, and we will go through our wish list.
This wish list, will have some money wishes, some quality wishes and other considerations. If money is a key criterion, this will make it challenging for any UK subcontractor to be selected. But if we cannot find the kind of services that we want outside the UK independently of the money, of course we'll select the UK contractor.
What positives do you think will come from Brexit for the science and medical communities?
I think the UK is resilient enough to reinvent itself outside of the EU. From a European perspective, I think this is a real shame, and that it is a bad message to send the rest of the EU. But, I'm not too worried for the UK or the research in Europe because I think ultimately, the quality of the research will still be there.
I just think that it's a shame because the consequences in the short-term will be uncertainty, and nobody likes uncertainty. Also, in the longer term it is likely to make our lives more difficult from an administrative viewpoint and it probably make doing research dealing with the UK more expensive.
Also if the UK starts to close its borders, they may prevent some good students or talented scientists from coming over, or make it more difficult for these people to come, which could have some long-term consequences for your domestic research effort. But it's too early to say, and we don't know what will happen to the immigration policy, this is all speculation.
What do you think the future holds for science and medicine in Europe post Brexit?
I still believe the future is rosy. There are good innovations in the pipeline in Europe both in the universities and private labs.
Short-term administrative orders, may have consequences on some collaborations, but the industry and the innovation are stronger than this kind of political decision. We will overcome it with some constraints definitely, but I'm not too concerned.
I'm an optimist by nature, so I believe that the common sense will prevail and that we will stay united, and that we will find a way to work with the UK, in or out. It will just make our life a little bit harder, but that's life and life can be tough.
Where can readers find more information?
About Stephane Boissel
Stéphane Boissel, Chief Executive Officer of TxCell
Stephane studied management and finance at the University of Lyon, France, graduated at Paris-Dauphine and obtained his MBA from the University of Chicago (Booth GSB), USA.
Stéphane is a highly capable executive with strong experience in both investment banking and the biotech immunotherapy space. In the early part of his career, from 1990 to 2002, Stéphane worked at PWC and then for the investment banking group Lazard, where he mostly worked in principal investment in France, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Thereafter, he worked at Innate Pharma SA from 2002 to 2010, firstly as CFO and then as EVP and CFO. From 2010 to 2014, he was Deputy-CEO of Transgene SA. During his tenure at both Transgene and Innate Pharma, he led several rounds of private and public placement and negotiated several international business deals.
Stephane was also a member of the Board of Directors of Erytech Pharma SA from 2005 to 2010. In 2014, he was CEO of Genclis, a molecular diagnostic company, before joining TxCell as Chief Executive Officer in April 2015. He is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Elsalys Biotech SAS.