What is life sciences and how big is the industry in Scotland?

Roslin Innovation Centre Easter Bush.
Roslin Innovation Centre Easter Bush.
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The life sciences industry in Scotland is a broad church, covering a very wide range of disciplines. It is a complex matter to categorise all the different businesses, which employ more than 25,000 people in Scotland [the oft-quoted 37,000 jobs includes those working in areas like Higher Education, innovation centres and enterprise agencies who focus on life sciences.]

Of the business sub-sectors, pharmaceuticals and medtech take most of the limelight, perhaps understandably as they make up 72 per cent of employment and 70 per cent of turnover.

Three areas which have to shout a little louder for attention are the so-called Triple-A – Agritech, Animal Health and Aquaculture.

Triple-A businesses employ almost 2,300 people, based on the latest available figures, from 2015. [The 2016 figures are imminent]. This makes up 9 per cent of total life sciences business employment but, interestingly, 14 per cent of the sector’s turnover.

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SECTOR BREAKDOWN

Employment: 25,300

Agritech 9%

Connected health 1%

Medtech 35%

Other Sector 10%

Pharma Services and Contract Research 23%

Professional Services 8%

Pharmaceuticals and therapeutics 14%

Turnover: £4,011m

Agritech 14%

Connected health 1%

Medtech 35%

Other Sector 9%

Pharma Services and Contract Research 19%

Professional Services 6%

Pharmaceuticals and therapeutics 16%

Ivan McKee MSP, the Minister who covers life sciences, captures the importance of the Triple-A in describing how Scotland is a world leader in so many fields of life science. It is, he says, “continuing at pace to lead the way in areas such as animal health, regenerative medicine, digital health, cancer research, food sustainability and medicines manufacturing.”

Dave Tudor, Co-Chair of the Life Science Scotland Industry Leadership Group, says: “The life sciences sub-sectors are doing very well across the board. Pharma, pharma services and medtech are doing well. There is some fantastic growth in animal health, aquaculture and agrichem. None of the sectors are stuttering, which is great.”

That “fantastic growth” in one of the Triple-A, animal health, is based around Easter Bush, close to Roslin in Midlothian. Everyone knows about Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell (at the Roslin Institute) and Roslin remains a key hive of activity. The Institute helps to generate annual productivity gains of £247 million through its breeding and genetic research, with an impact report suggesting it generates £12.87 for every £1 of investment.

“I’m excited about the opportunities for animal health in Scotland. It’s a niche but a growing niche and one where Scotland excels – and Easter Bush is the epicentre,” says John Mackenzie, chief executive of the Roslin Innovation Centre, part of the Easter Bush Campus, which has the highest concentration of animal health activity in Europe.

“I see this area as a Silicon Valley for animal health in five-ten years,” says Mackenzie. “An international asset is taking shape around us.”

The Roslin Innovation Centre opened opposite the world-renowned University of Edinburgh Dick Vet School in August 2017, bringing together clinical teaching, research and enterprise activities - targeting “companies undertaking strategic, commercial and 
collaborative research into the animal and veterinary sciences, agritech and One Health industries.”

One Health aims to achieve optimal health and well-being for people, domestic animals, wildlife and the environment; the Edinburgh International Conference Centre will host the global One Health conference in 2020.

“The area has a huge history and tradition of innovation in this space,” says Mackenzie. “It’s 20-plus years since Dolly the Sheep [born in July 1996] and that’s led through to the stem cell research of today. Roslin is synonymous with Dolly, but we want to find the next big one – maybe linking in with gene editing, which can make a big difference to people’s as well as animals’ lives.

“However, I don’t want Roslin to be too dominant – it’s a world-leading hub, but we want to build the industry across Scotland. There are global market-drivers; it’s often cited that we expect the world’s population to grow by two billion by 2050 and they need to be fed. We have a real sweet spot here and now – to innovate and to showcase exciting young companies.”

A business based at Roslin Innovation Centre was praised for its excellence last month by Life Sciences Scotland. Kate Cameron of Cytochroma, which turns ethically sourced stem cells into liver cells (in the form of mini livers) to predict the safety and toxicity of new drugs, was named as a Rising Star by Life Sciences Scotland and described as “an inspirational young scientist”.

Mackenzie, who is embedded in the wider life sciences community as co-chair of the LSS ILG’s Marketing and Communications Group, is keen to develop more of the same at the centre: “We have big ambitions, including setting up an ‘ag-celerator’ programme to allow young businesses to fast-track their ideas.”

Aquaculture, described by Mackenzie as “ a busy, growing space”, has its own innovation centre, based in Stirling. The website of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre says the sector has a “current estimated value” of £1.8 billion per year.

Hard, up-to-date statistics are rare for the Triple-A, although Scotland has more than 1,000 active researchers in bioscience and aquaculture, one more the largest cluster in Europe.

There is crossover between the Triple-As, especially in the work at Roslin and at another world-leading centre, the James Hutton Institute (JHI) in Invergowrie, Dundee (and Aberdeen) which specialises in crops, soils and land use and environmental research.

Colin Campbell, chief executive of the JHI, said: “There is a lot of crossover between what we do and animal health and life sciences – biotech, gene modification and gene editing and so on. Currently, there is real interest, and government investment, in a programme called Transforming Food Production – and there’s a lot of life sciences in that.”

One project attracting interest is a full-scale demonstration of ‘vertical farming’ by Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) at the JHI in Invergowrie – effectively, intensive indoor farming where plants or crops are grown on different ‘floors’ stacked above each other, with the exact lighting and environmental conditions necessary for plant growth provided.

“It’s tricky to predict what will happen,” says Campbell. “We know this is already happening in the United States with basil and high-value herbs and there is a lot of activity in the far-east but nothing commercial yet in the UK. We need to demonstrate them and show that the economics can work.”

The JHI is at the heart of two large agritech bids as part of the Tay Cities deal – one for an International Barley Hub (with a bid for £40m from a total project cost of £68m) and a £28m Advanced Plant Growth Centre.

“These projects and our work in general are about increasing productivity, but serious investment in agritech could also help de-risk the impacts of Brexit,” says Campbell. “There is lots of expectation on agritech to deliver, in a short space of time, by tackling areas like import substitution and the impact of trade agreements.

“There is a ton of innovation going on out there – but how do we accelerate that into core products?”

Life sciences statistics

2015 figures for private sector only.

Employment: 25,300

Agritech 9%

Connected health 1%

Medtech 35%

Other Sector 10%

Pharma Services and Contract Research 23%

Professional Services 8%

Pharmaceuticals and therapeutics 14%

Turnover: £4,011m

Agritech 14%

Connected health 1%

Medtech 35%

Other Sector 9%

Pharma Services and Contract Research 19%

Professional Services 6%

Pharmaceuticals and therapeutics 16%