Frank O’Donnell: Scotland leading the world in life science research

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Life science in Scotland is in an exciting place. Genuinely world-leading research is taking place in our universities to find solutions to the most challenging health problems of the 21st century.

Whether that involves new drugs, improved devices or more sophisticated diagnostic tests, it’s all happening here.

The future is challenging but Scotland can provide solutions. Picture: Craig Stephen

The future is challenging but Scotland can provide solutions. Picture: Craig Stephen

Last month, Dundee University was named the world’s most influential scientific research institution in pharmaceuticals for the decade to 2016. Not Scotland, not UK; the world.

Edinburgh BioQuarter has the largest concentration of stem-cell scientists in Europe, while the Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre in Glasgow is at the forefront of modern drug prescribing, using complex analytics to stratify patients to identify how best to treat chronic diseases.

This is cutting-edge stuff happening right on our doorstep. And new life sciences companies are constantly springing up – whether spun out from universities or created by Scotland’s army of entrepreneurs – to find answers to the toughest questions life science has to ask.

With NHS Scotland the final partner in the “triple helix” of life sciences, the future is bright, with an ambition to grow an industry with a combined turnover of £8 billion by 2025.

It’s a tough target, but there is clearly a will to deliver from all parties – as evidenced by the commitment to excellence and success running through this supplement.

The Life Sciences Scotland strategy published in February has created a clear vision for the future – and The Scotsman is delighted to be part of developing and delivering that vision.

We have worked with the Industry Leadership Group at Life Sciences Scotland to create an exciting conference at Strathclyde Univerity next Tuesday, when Scotland’s life sciences community comes together to start mapping a route to that 2025 vision.

Delegates will take part in discussion groups to identify specific action points to move towards the 2025 vision, the £8bn turnover industry and job numbers of potentially 50,000 and beyond.

We don’t yet know what some of those jobs will look like, as technology and innovation takes us to new and unimagined places.

But we do know that the next generation will need a new skill-set to fill those jobs. That’s why our universities, colleges, schools and centres of excellence have a crucial role to play in educating our young people.

As Julia Brown of Scottish Enterprise says, it’s about telling school pupils what “life sciences” actually means.

It’s about bringing in school pupils and the local community to hear from a stem cell researcher about their exciting work at Edinburgh BioQuarter. It’s about making it real to a new generation.

And if we succeed, we can create real jobs, real economic growth and real solutions to the healthcare challenges of the future. That is a very exciting prospect for all of us, and for Scotland. n

Frank O’Donnell is

editorial director of

The Scotsman