NHS patient data at the heart of Scottish life sciences innovation

The life sciences sector in Scotland could have an extremely positive future
The life sciences sector in Scotland could have an extremely positive future
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There is no shortage of vision for the future of life sciences, with collaboration at the heart of it. David Lee delves into the two main strategies.

The life sciences sector in Scotland has an extremely positive future if it can build on existing strengths and use them to expand into new sectors, capitalise on the opportunities to collaborate with the NHS – and work with its neighbours to promote the UK as a vibrant market for research.

Carina Healy of global legal firm CMS

Carina Healy of global legal firm CMS

That’s the view of Carina Healy of global legal firm CMS, who has analysed the strategies for the life sciences sector in Scotland and the UK, both published last year.

“They are two different beasts,” says Healy. “The Scottish strategy is high level and aspirational, based around four themes: business environment, innovation and commercialisation, internationalisation and sustainable production. The UK Life Sciences Industrial Strategy is more detailed and talks about fostering a growth strategy and creating life sciences clusters.”

Yet Healy thinks the strategies can be aligned successfully, enabling Scotland to build on its existing strengths, based on academic research excellence, innovative businesses, talented people and NHS collaboration.

“It is much easier to collaborate with the NHS in Scotland [than UK] as we have a more unified health service and far better electronic health records,” says Healy. “Careful collaboration between the NHS, academia and industry brings huge benefits to life sciences businesses, the NHS itself and, critically, Scottish patients.”

In particular, Healy says, Scotland is much better placed than the rest of the UK to access and release the untapped potential of that single pool of NHS data: “We can use this data and deep collaboration to disrupt life sciences and healthcare and develop a world-leading industry fit for the 21st century –
especially in areas such as big data, AI, genomics and precision medicine. These opportunities could be transformational for the life sciences industry in Scotland.”

She sees the Scottish innovation centres as a flagship model for building future industries, including the Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS-IC), a collaboration of four NHS trusts, four academic institutions and two industry partners.

Healy also sees more opportunities for cross-collaboration between innovation centres like SMS-IC and The Data Lab, suggesting such connections can put Scotland in “a fantastic position to become a world-leader at the intersection of life sciences, healthcare and data”.

Whilst some in the sector have been vocal about the challenges of complying with data protection legislation, she urges the sector not to see this as a block on progress. “Lots of people talk about data protection as a barrier. I see it as an opportunity,” Healy says. “GDPR is a shift in mindset about how people approach and use data. It’s important to ensure data protection is baked in to collaboration and to product and service design.

“This is really important because access to patient data is crucial to drive innovation and better healthcare outcomes. However, to achieve that, public trust in how you access and use the data is really important.”

Healy says there is good UK-wide co-operation in this area through the Health Data Research Institute, which has a Scottish hub in Edinburgh, and which aims to develop cutting-edge data science approaches and harmonise data standards. She also highlights the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (MMIC) as a great example of the convergence of the UK and Scottish life sciences strategies.

“Both strategies put an emphasis on high-level, sustainable production and in July, we had the announcement that the MMIC was coming to Renfrewshire. That was an important statement and a big investment by the public sector, through Scottish Enterprise and Innovate UK, alongside the private sector.”

Healy identifies wider sources of funding for growing businesses as another crucial factor to take the life sciences sector forward.

“We have some great funders in the life sciences sector in Scotland, including Epidarex, Scottish Investment Bank and Archangels. But we need more, particularly for scaling up successful start-ups and academic spin-outs.”

Healy adds that while other parts of the UK have more ready access to funding sources, Scotland needs to take ownership of this issue: “Scotland needs to have the belief and confidence to tell its success stories to the world. There are lots of great stories about Scottish companies, such as Nucana, which has raised significant money on Nasdaq (its Initial Public Offering was $114 million in 2017). Businesses like ProStrakan, now part of Kyowa Kirin, and lots of other companies have grown in Scotland and managed to attract funding. It can be done.

Healy sees a role for the UK and Scottish governments here: “They need to create the environment which will encourage patient capital – and create mechanisms to bring investment into areas like life sciences which have great potential but where the rewards are further away.”

She believes innovation centres are an example of where a longer view is required: “Sometimes we expect these sorts of initiatives to work very quickly, but we need to support them for the longer-term and embed them as part of the life sciences infrastructure. Many benefits of the innovation centres are intangible and it’s unrealistic to think they will be self-sustaining in five to ten years. That’s where we need long-term government support to build the ecosystem and bridge that funding gap between great innovation – which we’ve always been good at – and commercialising innovation to take it to market.”

In addition to government funding, Healy identifies a role for venture philanthropy and charitable funding, citing the Dementia Research Institute (DRI) as an example of one approach. The Medical Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, has joined forces with Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK, to provide up to £250m of funding for the DRI to develop new treatments and approaches to dementia using cutting-edge innovation.

So how should the Scottish life sciences strategy dovetail into the UK plan; does Scotland need its own strategy? “We have a devolved government in Scotland looking at specific industries and how they can drive the economy – and our own enterprise agency and real life sciences strengths,” says Healy. “Scotland goes to market as a single cluster, so it is appropriate that Scotland has its own strategy. We need to be clear about its strengths and focus on specific opportunities.

“However, we have excellent resources and opportunities throughout the rest of the UK. Scotland can market itself as a single cluster but we also need to leverage the talents of our neighbours by working together with other parts of the UK.

“On a UK level, we are a small market. We need to make the whole of the UK an attractive place to do life sciences research, particularly in the light of Brexit. The MMIC is a great example of common opportunities and common needs for investment. The UK is seen as a single life sciences cluster by the world and where it makes sense to work together, we should do that.”

So can Scotland hit the £8bn turnover target by 2025? Healy says: “It’s all about ensuring the life sciences sector in Scotland is fit for the 21st century and making the most of the opportunities for disruption. Growth takes a lot of time and lots of things need to happen. It’s not just about the metrics, it’s the mindset of growth – about people coalescing behind the strategy to move the dial. Momentum is more important than measuring targets and the Scottish life sciences industry is in a great position to build momentum in the coming years.”

Life Sciences Strategy for Scotland 2025 Vision: Accelerating Growth, Driving Innovation

Published: February 2017 Length: 17 pages.

Purpose: To update the 2011 Strategy: Creating Wealth, Promoting Health. It said the 2011 vision “remains the same: to make Scotland the location of choice for businesses, researchers, healthcare professionals and investors, while increasing Life Sciences contribution to Scotland’s economic growth.”

Key messages: Four strategic themes and priorities were identified to drive growth: the business environment; innovation and commercialisation; internationalisation; and sustainable production.

Numbers: Turnover of £4.2 billion, 37,000 jobs.

Key target: Create £8bn turnover sector by 2025.

Life sciences: industrial strategy: A report to government from the life sciences sector

Published: August 2017 Length: 75 pages.

Purpose: To show the potential of life sciences to contribute to the UK Industrial Strategy and put the UK in a “world-leading position to take advantage of the health technology trends of the next 20 years through the establishment of the Health Advanced Research Programme (HARP).”

Key messages: It was based around seven themes: the HARP proposal; reinforcing the UK science offer; growth and infrastructure; NHS collaboration; data; skills; and regulation.

The numbers: £64bn turnover, 233,000 scientists and staff.

Key target: Create four companies valued at more than £20m (market cap) by 2027.

For more information, visit https://cms.law/en/GBR/