Kate Bingham: the grande dame of venture capitalists

The success of Britain’s vaccine strategy is largely down to one woman – Kate Bingham, a biotech expert for a venture-capital firm. It’s not the first time she has thrown herself head first into a big challenge.

When Britain’s former vaccine tsar ran into trouble over the size of a PR bill last November, it was seized upon by critics as further evidence of the current government’s “chumocracy”. Kate Bingham is married to Treasury minister Jesse Norman, her links with Boris Johnson’s clan were shown to stretch back to Oxford (where she was a contemporary of the PM), and beyond. To the world-weary, a further allegation – that she had given away sensitive information to private investors at an investment conference – seemed par for the course.  

Playing a blinder

It says something for Bingham, who has now returned to paid work in civvy street, that a legion of colleagues in finance and medicine sprang to her defence. But even detractors must now concede she has played a blinder in the race to secure the Covid-19 jab for the UK, says the Daily Mail – identifying the most promising candidates early on and then securing supplies. The current chaos in Europe is a reminder it could all have been very different. “It’s not a given that the UK – given its record – would have ended up where it is now without her,” Professor John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford, told the Financial Times. “She downed tools and did the due diligence and she was really effective and… ruthless and really tough.” 

A biochemist and venture capitalist, Bingham, 55, has spent three decades honing her drug discovery skills, mostly at SV Health Investors, which was spun out of Schroders in 2001 and, as of 2017, had $2bn under investment. “Think of me as being a sort of grande dame of the biotech venture community,” she says. “My entire life is saying: ‘What great new ideas are there and how can we turn them into drugs that will have a really significant impact on patients?’ It’s the world’s most exciting job.” A woman of apparently irrepressible energy, for Bingham the glass is “always half-full”, notes The Times. When the health secretary, Matt Hancock, approached her in May to build “a portfolio of coronavirus vaccines”, she knew it was going to be “incredibly difficult” because 90% of all clinical trials fail. As things turned out, the hit rate for Covid-19 vaccines “surprised everybody”, she says. “It’s just been crazy hard work, absolutely round the clock, evenings, weekends...”.

The world’s 19th-best bog snorkeller

Bingham arrived at Christ Church, Oxford, precociously early at 17, at a time when the male to female ratio was 5:1, says The Guardian. Part of a college clique known, semi-ironically, as “the mafia”, she played lacrosse and partied hard, before turning “almost overnight” from “a dozy layabout” to a “rather embarrassingly keen student” in the third year and taking a first. She completed her education at Harvard Business School. 

In person, Bingham has “a no-nonsense manner and a straight-talking style…rattling off facts and figures, barely pausing for breath”, says The Times. But while her stamina has been known to test the less hardy, friends point out she is a great listener, kind and generous to a fault. And whatever the challenge, Bingham throws herself in head first. One of her prouder boasts is competing in the world bog-snorkelling championships and coming 19th. Forget conjuring one of the few UK success stories in this pandemic – that’s really something to be proud of.

Recommended

The after effects of the gas-price shock
Economy

The after effects of the gas-price shock

In the wake of the recent spike in the natural gas price, we can expect slower growth, an industrial recession – and a newly assertive Russia, says Ma…
17 Oct 2021
The charts that matter: bond yields slip while bitcoin tops $60,000
Economy

The charts that matter: bond yields slip while bitcoin tops $60,000

Cryptocurrency bitcoin soared to over $60,000 this week, while government bond yields fell back. Here’s how that has affected the charts that matter m…
16 Oct 2021
Whistleblower allegations – where now for Facebook?
Tech stocks

Whistleblower allegations – where now for Facebook?

The social-media giant has come in for some fierce criticism following revelations from a former employee. Just how much damage has been done?
16 Oct 2021
Inflation, energy crisis, strikes – have we gone back to the 1970s?
Investment strategy

Inflation, energy crisis, strikes – have we gone back to the 1970s?

Merryn and John talk about rising prices, productivity and the state of the labour market, plus are bond investors really the adults in the room, and …
15 Oct 2021

Most Popular

Why the world’s most important economic data release has unnerved markets
US Economy

Why the world’s most important economic data release has unnerved markets

The US added only 194,000 jobs in September, far shorter than the 500,000 that were expected. John Stepek explains why markets didn't react as they no…
11 Oct 2021
How to invest in SMRs – the future of green energy
Energy

How to invest in SMRs – the future of green energy

The UK’s electricity supply needs to be more robust for days when the wind doesn’t blow. We need nuclear power, says Dominic Frisby. And the future of…
6 Oct 2021
Inflation is still one of the biggest threats to your personal finances
Investment strategy

Inflation is still one of the biggest threats to your personal finances

Central bankers and economists insist inflation will be gone by next year. We're not so sure, says Merryn Somerset Webb. So if you haven’t started to …
1 Oct 2021