Belgian deal boosts life sciences sector

SCOTLAND’S life sciences sector will receive a boost this week when a second major deal is signed with a pharmaceuticals company to develop medicines at Edinburgh University.

Belgian biotechnology company Galapagos will work with researchers at the Edinburgh Cancer Discovery Unit (ECDU) to come up with new anti-cancer treatments.

The deal comes hot on the heels of last year’s partnership agreement between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Britain’s largest drugs company, and Edinburgh BioQuarter, a joint venture between Edinburgh University, NHS Lothian, Scottish Enterprise and US property developer Alexandria.

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The BioQuarter runs a science park and commercialisation team based near the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh at Little France.

GSK and Edinburgh University are working on ways to treat acute pancreatitis, which kills more than 1,000 people in Britain every year.

The latest deal will reunite the Belgian firm with Scotland’s life sciences sector after a break of six years.

In 2006, Galapagos bought French drugs developer ProSkelia from Borders-based peer ProStrakan for £30m in shares.

ProStrakan itself had been formed in 2004 through the merger of Galashiels-based Strakan and ProSkelia. At the time, private equity house Warburg Pincus held stakes in both companies. Since then Galapagos has grown into a major drug development outfit with 820 staff and revenues of ¤113 million (£92m) in 2011.

The company has grown through a series of acquisitions, including British firms BioFocus and Inpharmatica, and has signed drug development partnerships with major pharmaceutical firms, through which Galapagos stands to earn ¤2bn in royalty payments.

Mike Capaldi, commercialisation director at Edinburgh BioQuarter, said: “Following on from the collaborative agreement with GSK at the end of 2011, this new partnership with Galapagos demonstrates the industry’s growing awareness of the depth of world-class research being undertaken in Edinburgh.

“It’s also further evidence of the strength of partnership we enjoy with both the Edinburgh University’s research community and the bio-pharmaceutical industry.”

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Dr Neil Carragher, principal investigator at the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre, said: “Working with our team, Galapagos will be able to access a wide range of advanced cancer models and technical capabilities established within the ECDU.”

Edinburgh BioQuarter is understood to be working on several similar deals that would help to commercialise the research being carried out at Scotland’s universities.

As well as turning scientific discoveries into drugs and devices, the BioQuarter has helped to launch start-up and spin-out companies from Edinburgh University.

Alexandria Real Estate had intended to construct and run a building to house life sciences companies at the BioQuarter but scaled back its plans in 2008 following the financial crisis. Instead, Scottish Enterprise stepped in to build the “incubation” centre and in February signed up its first tenant, Fios Genomics, which analyses data to help scientists develop drugs.