A timetable of notable Covid-19 events for Scotland's life sciences sector

David Lee looks back at the notable dates for the Scottish life sciences sector over the past year or so – entries that are unsurprisingly dominated by one unfolding story...
Picture: MBLifestyle/ShutterstockPicture: MBLifestyle/Shutterstock
Picture: MBLifestyle/Shutterstock

31 December, 2019 China alerts the World Health Organization (WHO) to dozens of cases it has recorded of “viral pneumonia” in the Wuhan city region.

10 February, 2020 Public Health England rolls out coronavirus tests to 12 UK laboratory sites.

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11 March, 2020 The World Health Organisation declares Covid-19 a pandemic.

Covid-19 lateral flow test kit. Picture: Simon Burt/ShutterstockCovid-19 lateral flow test kit. Picture: Simon Burt/Shutterstock
Covid-19 lateral flow test kit. Picture: Simon Burt/Shutterstock

23 March, 2020 UK goes into lockdown.

23 March, 2020 Roslin researcher Dr Kenneth Baillie is announced as the lead on a £5 million study to examine the effect of coronavirus infection on the human body.

Researchers will collect samples and data from 1,300 Covid-19 patients in the UK.

April, 2020 Scientists from the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian join a UK consortium analysing the genetic code of Covid-19 to map how it spreads.

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine "comirnaty" ampoule. Picture: Daniel Chetroni/ShutterstockPfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine "comirnaty" ampoule. Picture: Daniel Chetroni/Shutterstock
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine "comirnaty" ampoule. Picture: Daniel Chetroni/Shutterstock

8 April, 2020 The University of Glasgow announces it will host a major Covid-19 testing facility, at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Campus, in collaboration with the Scottish Government and industry experts from BioAscent Discovery and the University of Dundee’s Drug Discovery Unit.

16 April, 2020 Alva-based medical diagnostics company Omega announces it has signed a memorandum of understanding with three other UK companies, in conjunction with the University of Oxford, to form the UK Rapid Test Consortium - which will jointly develop and manufacture a Covid-19 point of care antibody test as part of the UK Government’s five pillar national testing strategy.

16 April 2020 Lamellar Biomedical, the Motherwell-based company pioneering new approaches to respiratory diseases and complex lung disorders, announces the launch of a programme to address the potentially fatal consequences of Covid-19 on respiratory function.

22 April, 2020 The Lighthouse Laboratory in Glasgow – a major new Covid-19 testing facility – becomes operational. It is part of what will be the biggest network of diagnostic testing facilities in British history, alongside other Lighthouse Lab sites in Milton Keynes and Alderley Park. The lab will test samples from regional centres where NHS staff and frontline workers with suspected Covid-19 infections are tested. It is hoped the lab will quickly move towards processing several thousand tests per day, before scaling up to tens of thousands of tests per day.

Picture:  Seda Yalova/ShutterstockPicture:  Seda Yalova/Shutterstock
Picture: Seda Yalova/Shutterstock
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4 May, 2020 Scientists at the University of Dundee and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) publish online some of the largest and highest resolution images recorded of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The images were collected by a consortium of researchers in the Netherlands. They show the formation of SARS-CoV-2 particles in a tissue model of the human gut, as viewed by an ultra-powerful electron microscope.

12 May, 2020 The Universities of Glasgow and Dundee are awarded £225,000 to rapidly screen for potential Covid-19 treatments. The project is funded by the Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard, to speed up the response to the pandemic by funding the identification, assessment, development and scale-up of treatments.

28 May, 2020 St Andrews-based Pneumagen (Holdings) announces a£4 million investment to allow the clinical development of Neumifil for the prevention and treatment of Covid-19.

The investment is led by Thairm Bio with additional funding from the Scottish Investment Bank.

2 June 2020 The University of Dundee’s Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) has received €5 million (£4.2m) of funding to develop antiviral treatments for Covid-19 and future coronaviruses.

The investment, by the Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, enables DDU scientists to begin work on identifying novel anti-coronavirus agents.

The three-year project will focus on identifying safe, orally-dosed drugs with the potential to tackle acute infections and reduce transmission in the general population.

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16 June, 2020 The University of Dundee leads the clinical trial of a new anti-inflammatory drug designed to reduce instances of severe lung damage and death in Covid-19 patients.

Researchers from the university’s School of Medicine will work with drug development company Evgen Pharma to test whether the drug, known as SFX-01, improves outcomes for Covid-19 sufferers.

This study is supported by a grant from the medical research charity LifeArc.

19 June, 2020 A new consortium to monitor the safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines is formed by the Medicines Monitoring Unit (MEMO Research), University of Dundee and the Drug Safety Research Unit (DSRU) in Southampton.

Developers of vaccines are required to demonstrate quality, safety and efficacy for their products before members of the public start receiving them.

22 June, 2020 Stirling’s Symbiosis Pharmaceutical Services announces it has signed a supply agreement with AstraZeneca for sterile manufacture of the Covid-19 recombinant adenovirus vaccine for company sponsored clinical trials.

Under the agreement, Symbiosis will provide AstraZeneca fast-track access to sterile vaccine drug product manufacturing capacity for clinical trial supply.

2 July, 2020 Glasgow biotechnology company TC BioPharm confirms it is commencing initial clinical trials on an experimental therapy designed to kill Covid-19 infected cells.

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TCB is the leader in clinical use of gamma-delta T-cells, the first line of defence in viral infection and pre-programmed to target a wide range of diseases, including many cancer types.

14 July, 2020 E&O Laboratories in Bonnybridge lands a deal worth up to £7 million with NHS Scotland after creating a chemical solution to aid the Covid-19 testing process. The approach is designed to make testing turnaround more efficient and improve safety.

16 October, 2020 Aberdeen clinical-stage biotechnology company NovaBiotics secures £1 million in funding from Innovate UK, allowing the company to commence clinical studies for Nylexa, a potentially game-changing therapy for the treatment of Covid-19.

28 October, 2020 A multi-million pound research project is announced to help scientists across the UK access the data they need more easily to help develop potential therapies and treatments for Covid-19. Experts from the universities of Dundee, Edinburgh and Nottingham, along with Public Health England, will build the infrastructure for CO-CONNECT, a £4 million UK-wide initiative to support research into the Covid-19 antibody response, by connecting Covid-19 data derived from patient blood samples.

2 December, 2020 The UK became the first country to give approval for use of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine.

8 December, 2020 The first vaccine is rolled out in the UK with Margaret Keenan, 90, receiving a dose in Coventry.

30 December, 2020 The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is approved for use in the UK.

8 January 2021 The Moderna vaccine becomes the third vaccine to be approved in the UK.

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12 January, 2021: Unique lateral flow technology, relevant to Covid-19 testing, developed and proven in Scotland, is submitted for UK patent protection by Glasgow-based firm Coronex.

The technology has been demonstrated to detect SARS-CoV-2 antibodies specifically and sensitively, and it can be adapted rapidly to detect antibodies to any new SARS-CoV-2 viral mutations that arise.

28 January, 2021 French biotech Valneva announced it had started manufacturing a Covid-19 vaccine at its plant in Livingston, West Lothian, a month after starting clinical trials.

The UK Government initially ordered 60 million doses of the VLA2001 vaccine and then increased the number to 100 million.

19 March, 2021 A simple test to identify patients at increased risk of death from Covid-19 receives a funding grant made by the University of Dundee.

Professor James Chalmers, from the university’s School of Medicine, is awarded £32,000 to develop a test to measure levels of calprotectin, a potential indicator in Covid-19 mortality.

28 May, 2021 The Janssen vaccine became the fourth such treatment to be given the green light in the UK.

13 September, 2021 The UK Government cancels its contract with French biotech Valneva for 100 million doses of vaccine.

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Whitehall said there had been a breach of agreement, which the firm strenuously denied.

15 October, 2021 The Office for National Statistics states that the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 in Scotland continues to decrease.

In the week ending 9 October, 2021, the department estimated that 66,600 people in Scotland had Covid-19, equating to about 1 in 80 people.

This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Life Sciences 2021 supplement. A digital version can be found here.