How do we make life sciences a £8bn Scottish economy sector by 2025?

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We asked the sector’s leading figures what they think

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, regius professor of medicine, University of Glasgow

University of Glasgow. Picture: TSPL

University of Glasgow. Picture: TSPL

There are many opportunities but our greatest strength is in the triple helix: academia, industry and the NHS, working hand in hand and becoming a strength which we can propagate around the world.

We have a number of research-intensive universities in Scotland – in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen – and they add tremendous value.

We have real strength in our SMEs across biotechnology, precision medicine diagnostics, smart health data and medtech and they are ready for great success in Scotland.

It’s this collaboration between the universities, SMEs and the NHS that gives Scotland a huge advantage – but we need an extra push.

We need to boast, to tell our story better, to get people to come here and buy what we have.

The excellence of the Scottish life sciences sector is not yet well-known enough globally.

John Mackenzie, chief executive, Roslin Innovation Centre

Animal health, agriculture and aquaculture (A3) make up three of the seven sub-sectors of Scottish life sciences. Scotland punches well above its weight internationally in life sciences. Easter Bush already has the highest concentration of animal health expertise anywhere in Europe.

With an extra 2.7 billion people on the planet projected by 2050, the market drivers are clearly there for Scotland to innovate in food security, which with environmental security and cyber security make up the three biggest challenges and threats for our generation and generations to come.

With Roslin Innovation Centre as the gateway to Edinburgh University’s Easter Bush Campus, in the Midlothian Science Zone, Scotland is uniquely placed to be world leading in this specific Triple A category.

By taking advantage of this opportunity and realising such an ambition, A3 will be contributing its own fair share towards reaching Scotland’s life sciences sector £8bn goal by 2025.

Clive Badman, executive director, University of Strathclyde

There is a huge opportunity to introduce new manufacturing technology and ways of working to attract global companies to Scotland – by setting up a Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (MMIC).

I’m working for Strathclyde University, with the Centre for Process Innovation based near Middlesbrough, to make submissions to Innovate UK and Scottish Enterprise to create that centre.

A £13 million bid to Innovate UK will be considered in December and we are working on a £15m submission to Scottish Enterprise.

To be successful, we need to match that £28 million with the same amount from industry. If we succeed, we have a shortlist of sites and the MMIC could be built by 2020.

It would be a game-changer for Scotland, offering world-leading facilities to make the process of manufacturing medicines and fine chemicals on an industrial scale quicker, cheaper and more efficiently.

It will also mean fewer drug shortages for patients.

It would offer industry an opportunity to de-risk its investment and manufacturing process – and could lead to global businesses coming to Scotland and creating a hub around this centre.

Hans Möller, director, Edinburgh BioQuarter

Edinburgh BioQuarter is a unique health and science campus and is ideally positioned to take advantage of many opportunities in the life sciences sector.

We have fantastic researchers and academics from Edinburgh University, award-winning entrepreneurs and, from 2018, two of the UK’s busiest and best hospitals.

Big minds and big ideas all in one place.

Health informatics is a clear area of growth and we are lucky to be ahead of the game in that regard with Edinburgh University’s Usher Institute and Farr Scotland both based here.

It is vital that we nurture a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem and you need innovators and thinkers but also support in order to take advantage of ideas: business coaches, investment capital, strategy development, intellectual property.

In my experience as an innovation director, we established a super-network – a network of networks, if you like – designed to propagate cross-sector ideas.

If you think of game-changing disruptive innovation, the greatest enabler is often mixing people from completely different backgrounds, so the network was designed to harness that and act as a catalyst for new types of collaboration.

This is the type of approach Edinburgh BioQuarter is really well placed to achieve.

Ken Sutherland, president, Toshiba Medical Visualization Systems

Toshiba Medical operates a software research and development centre in Edinburgh focused on imaging and healthcare data driven clinical decision support solutions.

We see substantial opportunities in the new Life Sciences Strategy for Scotland because we want to grow our business here and deliver more innovation to the global healthcare market through our parent company in Japan. We see Scotland gaining credibility as a preferred location for life sciences companies and academic researchers and this increased momentum for the sector in Scotland will help us to attract and retain the super-talented people we need to drive our business forward.

The focus on life sciences and healthcare innovation from both Scottish and UK governments and the willingness of NHS Scotland to engage with industry will also help us to bring more global R&D to Scotland and the development of new SMEs and scale-ups will give us new opportunities for collaboration and access to innovation.

Dr Siobhán Jordan, director, Interface

News of Edinburgh’s BioQuarter extending to accommodate a burgeoning number of life sciences businesses is a positive reminder that this is a thriving sector with big ambition.

Innovation and commercialisation were key strategic themes in Life Sciences Scotland’s strategy for further growth launched earlier this year.

In our experience, businesses that innovate make a valuable contribution to the economy and job creation.

Tapping into academic expertise allows every business and our public health providers to be highly ambitious in developing new technologies, from diagnostic tools and life-enhancing medicine to medical instruments and treatments to tackle health issues.

Combining knowledge and ideas from business and academia is producing exciting solutions which boost health and wellbeing to a level well beyond the imagination just a few years ago.

Businesses which we’ve supported such as snap40 and CM2000 have combined technology with data analysis to improve patient care while saving time and money.

In both cases Interface found the right academic expertise to turn good ideas into reality.

Ian Archer, technical director, IBioIC

Synthetic biology has the potential to change healthcare through the development of new therapies based on our increased understanding of biological systems of “omics” technologies from genomics to metabolomics. Scotland has a wealth of expertise in this area, with several companies that are world-leading in their technologies and customer base.

Edinburgh University hosts the UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology and the Edinburgh Genome Foundry for the development and manufacture of new biological systems while Glasgow University hosts Glasgow Polyomics – which provides advanced analysis of living systems.

IBioIC has funded multiple industry-led projects with both institutes linking Scottish companies Ingenza and Synpromics – and supporting the commercialisation of world-leading academic research.

These projects will enable better predictability and control in key therapeutic areas, from production of new biologics drugs to cell and gene therapies required for the transformation of our approach to healthcare.

Scott Johnstone, chief executive, Scottish Lifesciences Association

I recently hosted my counterparts from the life sciences sector in the US states of Kentucky and Indiana – and signed a memorandum of understanding with both.

Fundamentally, they want (and I want) to partner, to co-develop, to create solutions to health issues. There are real opportunities with devices, diagnostics, drugs and digital health – and if we solve problems together, that will create jobs. We share a goal of delivering better healthcare – it’s very exciting when you get it right. It’s all about joining the dots. Companies in Indiana and Kentucky are doing things we can help with and if Scottish businesses want to go to the US, Kentucky and Indiana are as good a landing zone as anywhere else.

It’s not as busy, competitive or as high-priced as somewhere like Boston – and it’s a more straightforward way into the US market, especially in terms of devices and diagnostics.

Pawel de Sternberg Stojalowski, managing director, Aseptium

My company, Aseptium, researches and develops new products for medical device decontamination and infection control.

Here, as in most life sciences, new solutions are found based on scientific research and cross-industry collaboration.

This happens because most complex problems affect various disciplines and require different disciplines of science and engineering to work together.

It is this ease of access to wide expertise that makes Scotland special. You create environments for testing ideas. This was the main reason for bringing Aseptium to Inverness: we met people keen to share resources, knowledge and open doors that made development of our technologies quicker.

Adoption of new concepts is critical for innovation and here NHS Scotland can play a critical role of becoming a testbed for new products that get further deployed globally by co-creating solutions and capturing value of the latest tech.

All we need to do is to work closer together.

Robert Strutt, research & development and Patent Box manager, Leyton UK

Companies are always looking at ways to improve, innovate and stay ahead of the competition and government help is an important element of this.

Incentives such as R&D tax relief or Patent Box can support companies in the various stages of innovation, from development through to commercialisation.

In addition, grant funding from both UK and European bodies is available to help R&D projects get off the ground and to enable companies to take the steps into full-scale commercialisation/production once a successful R&D project is complete.

These incentives are too good to miss: with good advice, they can be very valuable to a company as it seeks to improve its products and services or take its bright ideas out of the blue sky.

Dr Alasdair Mort, chief executive, MIME Technologies

‘Invention’ conjures up images of lab-coated ‘boffins’ discovering the next big thing.

Think Edison and the lightbulb, Stevenson and the steam engine.

But innovation can mean anything involving a step-change.

Our view is that we will see greater convergence of future technologies, such as combining artificial intelligence with augmented reality.

It’s not about always having to invent 100 per cent of a product.

For MIME Technologies, we focus on developing software to support anyone remote – in time or distance – from professional medical care.

This market is rapidly expanding as demands rise on public and private healthcare services globally.

The medtech sector will continue to rise, driven by the sheer demand from our ageing population.

And as a university spin-out we hope to see more academic intellectual property delivering high-growth commercial potential.

Alix Mackay, inbound marketing consultant, Quantify Life Sciences

The way in which businesses select suppliers and partners has changed dramatically.

For the forward-thinking and the customer-oriented, this represents a golden opportunity to reach a much wider audience.

That’s because, nowadays, up to 70 per cent of a business’s buying process is carried out online; decision-makers are educating themselves and forming their own opinions through online research, reading blogs and engaging with their online professional networks.

By prioritising the customer and the problems they are researching, by providing insight and experience and by adopting innovative and enabling technology, Scotland’s life sciences enterprises can seriously scale their customer base – way beyond their existing network and geographical boundaries.

Professor Ian Megson, head of health research and innovation, University of the Highlands & Islands

Despite our rapidly increasing reliance on digital technologies in our day-to-day lives, the healthcare sector is lagging behind in integrating technology into systems and patient care.

There is an urgent need to overcome the cultural and regulatory barriers to enable us to embrace such technologies to improve the quality of healthcare at reduced cost, not least in our remote and rural communities, while ensuring the highest standards with respect to patient confidentiality and safety.

Scotland’s life sciences sector is ideally placed to take advantage of our excellent pedigree in clinical research to test novel technologies at distance.

Our remote and rural communities are an ideal test-bed for innovations such as virtual clinics to reduce patient and/or clinician travel time, while maintaining quality of service.

Not only do such innovations represent a substantial cost saving to the NHS, they are readily exportable to other countries with widely dispersed populations.

Dr Neil Wilkie, chief operating officer, Mironid

Scotland undoubtedly has a globally competitive academic base in the life sciences sector which should be the foundation of multiple new business opportunities.

Our challenge has always been translating the research excellence into high-growth and scalable companies.

The building of unified experienced technical and commercial teams, as well as appropriate global advisers, around a targeted business proposition is key.

Early stage support to allow the teams to define target customers, create and test the value proposition and build a plan that can withstand market scrutiny provides these companies with the strong foundations required to grow and scale.

These first steps are critical to life sciences companies which typically face challenges such as long product development cycles and time to revenue, which means long-term ambitions need to be thoroughly validated by strong industry engagement.

Life sciences is a global market so founding teams also need to think and be global from the outset.