Frank O’Donnell: collaboration key in driving forward life sciences growth

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A year is a long time in life sciences – and in Scotland, the last 12 months have seen some incredible progress for the industry.

Last November, this supplement and the conference which followed brought the life sciences community together around the new sector strategy and its four key pillars. A year on and the strategy is delivering for Scotland.

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The most tangible development was the announcement in July that the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (MMIC) is coming to Renfrewshire. We can talk forever and a day about collaboration, but this is a great example of collaboration made real. Public bodies in Scotland and the wider UK (Scottish Enterprise and Innovate UK) have provided a combined £28 million to kick-start the project – an excellent example of cross-border collaboration to deliver a fantastic facility.

Yet this collaboration goes much deeper, with industry in the form of GSK and AstraZeneca pledging a combined £14m to the project. There is the promise of much more to come in future from the private sector as the centre starts to deliver on its pledge to bring vital drugs to market much more quickly and efficiently.

You can read more about the MMIC – and many more examples of progress in life sciences in Scotland – throughout this supplement.

Superb collaboration continues, especially in innovation centres such as Stratified Medicine Scotland, a joint effort between four NHS health boards, four universities and industry partners. This three-way alliance, often called the Triple Helix, is leading the world in precision medicine – tackling chronic disease more effectively by using complex analysis 
to give the right patient the right treatment at the right time.

From the Triple Helix to the refreshed skill strategy to the new Innovation Landscape map (to help young and growing life sciences businesses access the support they need), momentum is gathering. But that momentum will not gain pace by reflecting on what has been achieved, but by concentrating on what comes next – and that’s the really good news.

Life Sciences Scotland is building closer links with Scottish Development International to strengthen overseas trade development and inward investment. The next generation of young leaders is being recruited for the next Life and Chemical Sciences Leadership Master Class programme. And Academic Health Science Partnerships are being reviewed, with the aim of creating a uniform approach across Scotland.

What does all that mean? It means a more joined-up approach to export markets, a clear pipeline of new and hungry industry leaders and greater collaboration between academia, the NHS and industry at a regional level.

Everything comes back to those two key words: momentum and collaboration. That’s why this year’s conference – a joint venture between Life Sciences Scotland and The Scotsman – is called Moving Forward Together: To 2025 and Beyond.

2025 is the date chosen by Life Sciences Scotland to reach its ambitious annual turnover target of £8 billion. How far we are down that path will be revealed soon, with the forthcoming release of the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics.

But as Carina Healy of CMS says in this supplement, it’s not just about the metrics, it’s about a mindset of growth.

That attitude has become embedded even more deeply in Scotland’s life sciences community over the last 12 months.

Much has been achieved – but there is also much more to do. Brexit brings undoubted challenges to both the life sciences sector and to the wider economy but there is an underlying strength to life sciences in Scotland, and a shared purpose to rise to challenges and meet them head-on.

This means working as Team Scotland, but also understanding that there are times when a UK-wide effort can deliver greater results.

The Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre illustrates this perfectly – and as contributors to this supplement remind us, it also shows us that Scotland needs to focus on its real strengths in life sciences but also work with its UK neighbours where appropriate.

Collaboration is deep and wide. Momentum is strong and gathering speed. So let’s all redouble our efforts to make sure that, in another 12 months, we can reflect again on another terrific year of progress.

Frank O’Donnell is the editorial director of The Scotsman.