Scotland’s life sciences sector on track to become £8bn industry

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When the life sciences sector in Scotland announced a turnover target of £8 billion by 2025, some thought it was a step too far.

Was it over-ambitious to think the 2017 baseline of just over £4bn could be almost doubled in just eight years? With new figures from the Office of National Statistics imminent, we’ll soon have a better idea – but there is optimism in the air. “I’m confident about the £8bn target,” says Julia Brown, who leads on life sciences for Scottish Enterprise. “We really struggled to make sure we got the target right and I think it’s achievable.

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“Why? Well, the global market for life sciences is very strong and there has been a great response from our businesses, researchers and clinicians to the target. The life sciences community has come together very strongly. There is a buzz about the sector with regular positive announcements about research projects and additional funding.”

Ivan McKee MSP, who took on life sciences in June as part of his job as Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, is also upbeat: “Despite the many challenges it faces, including the significant threat of an extreme Brexit, there are many life sciences companies based in Scotland with a high potential for growth.

“While reaching an £8bn turnover over the next eight years is unquestionably ambitious, I am confident this can be achieved with the Team Scotland approach. The continued passion and determination of the life sciences community will keep the momentum going to make our vision a reality.”

Dave Tudor, vice-president of Global Manufacturing and Supply at GSK and co-chair of the Life Sciences Scotland Industry Leadership Group (LSS ILG), thinks the industry – which employs around 37,000 people – has built on the foundations laid by the strategy document last year. “There have been some really positive developments,” he says. “Momentum has picked up, especially in the last four months.”

The headline 2018 announcement [in July] was that the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (MMIC) was coming to Inchinnan, Renfrewshire.

There was some unhappiness at the selection of the site ahead of the life sciences cluster in Irvine, North Ayrshire but supporters cite the proximity to Glasgow Airport and the National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland as key reasons for the choice.

“Scotland worked very hard with colleagues at Westminster to bring that project forward and base it in Scotland,” says Brown. It was supported by £15 million from Scottish Enterprise and £13m from Innovate UK. The MMIC, which should be up and running by 2020, aims to reduce the time it takes for new drugs to reach the market, by offering pharma companies a service to develop and adopt new techniques into their own manufacturing processes.

GSK and Astra Zeneca have committed £7m each to the project, with Julia Brown convinced that more big business will follow.

Beyond the headlines, the ‘bread and butter’ work needed to take life sciences towards the £8bn target continues apace – across the four key themes of the strategy (see panel on Page 7).

“The Life Sciences Scotland ILG has aligned its strategy with SDI to support both overseas trade and inward investment coming to Scotland,” says Tudor. “I think that will be really profitable.”

Exports from the life sciences sector in Scotland are already worth £1.1bn, with £495m going to the European Union and £605m to the rest of the world.

And McKee is keen to develop the global outlook of Scotland’s life sciences industry. He explains: “The life sciences sector is fast-moving, continually evolving to meet the business needs of a global market and we cannot afford to stand still. This ethos is at the heart of the strategy and fully embraced by the Scottish Government.

“We look to encourage and equip companies so they can adopt a truly international mindset, to ensure the pipeline of skilled staff is available and to create the business environment that continues to attract foreign direct investment and enables our indigenous companies to prosper and grow.

“My ambition is to see more companies investing, expanding and exporting, so that the life sciences community in Scotland remains a collective force recognised as a global leader.”

Tudor also highlights the new “Innovation Landscape” map as a way of making the system more easily navigable for small businesses, as well as the progress of the Health Innovation Partnerships programme and a drive for a uniform approach to Academic Health Science Partnerships in the three regions of life sciences strength in Scotland [East, West and Tayside & North].

He adds: “The new skills plan has come out, which is very comprehensive and has won a lot of praise, and we are into our third cohort of the course to develop young life sciences leaders.

“Overall, it’s really quite positive. Looking at individual company investment, we have seen good announcements by different companies, including GSK.

“We have seen some big numbers coming through in terms of the typical average capital spend – but it takes two years before you really see that reflected in the statistics. However, it is all trending in a positive way towards that £8bn goal.”

At last year’s conference, Professor Dame Anna Dominczak, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Glasgow, urged Scotland to “relentlessly pursue” key areas of life sciences excellence rather than trying to do everything.

How does she think we are doing? “We have particular strength in medtech, pharma services and precision medicine and related areas like genomics,” she says.

“By concentrating on areas where we are strong, we are seeing increasing engagement with big industry names – ThermoFosher, Philips, AstraZeneca, Canon. The magnet created by collaboration in Scotland is really attracting industry.”

Dominczak adds: “I think life sciences has progressed extremely well. Bigger companies are coming to Scotland and we expect the Science & Innovation Audit on Precision Medicine in Scotland [publication imminent] to confirm Scotland as one of the largest life science clusters in Europe.”

Dominiczak thinks there is a huge opportunity to bring together Glasgow’s expertise in precision medicine with Edinburgh’s growing data science powerhouse. “If we can bring that together into a pan-Scotland strength, I really think we can be the best in the world,” she says.

Dave Scott, a member of the ILG and senior director of Tepnel Pharma Services, agrees with this assessment. He is a strong supporter of taking the Team Scotland message to new markets as a way to drive inward investment.

“The Triple Helix relationship between academia, the NHS and private industry is in many ways unparalleled across the globe,”

Scott says. “Scotland’s size, inter-connectedness and ability to do things in a seamless manner is a big deal and people around the world like that.

“We often say Scotland punches above its weight on the global stage, but we have every right to say that.

“We need to go a step further and make it happen because the objective of the strategy is to have it all in Scotland; to capitalise on all the great R&D and innovation, build up the manufacturing side and then sell our products into global markets.”

Tudor agrees that collaboration remains at the heart of Scotland’s life sciences opportunity: “Where Scotland can really succeed is if we harness the connectivity in the sector and work in partnership – proving to the world that our innovation is world-class and that our ability to turn it into economic benefit for Scotland is just as good.

“We cannot all be fighting for our piece of the pie, we have to work together and that includes strong cooperation between health boards and academic institutions right across Scotland.

“We need to move away from 
academic competition and look
at how to compete globally in 
specific areas, such as precision medicine in Glasgow, diabetes in Dundee and respiratory medicine in Edinburgh.

“I have been a big champion of 
Academic Health Science Partnerships involving health boards, academia and business. They are working well in Greater Manchester and in Tayside and I’d like to see them across Scotland.”

So what is Tudor’s vision for life sciences in the next year?

“Driving a digital strategy for life sciences will be a real focus area,” he says.

“We must develop the Academic Health Science Partnerships and push on with MMIC. These could all be game-changers for Scotland.

“If we succeed in positioning 
ourselves as a world-class life sciences cluster, with an attractive package of benefits, we can knock it out of the park.”