Ivan McKee: Scotland is strengthening its position as a life sciences world-leader

The Scottish life sciences sector continues to make great progress towards our bold target of increasing turnover in the sector to £8 billion by 2025.

Since last year’s Scotsman Life Sciences Conference there have been a number of major and exciting developments.

In May, the University of Glasgow announced plans for a new Innovation Campus, including the Precision Medicine Living Laboratory which will strengthen Scotland’s position as a world-leader in the field.

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That same month, the deputy first minister opened a new £4.5 million life sciences building, Solasta House at the Inverness Campus, to support the growing demand for laboratory and office space for life science companies.

The Inverness Campus is a prime example of the triple-helix approach, encouraging collaboration between industry, academia and the NHS, all of which have a presence there.

Life sciences firm ODx is establishing a new medical research and development centre in Solasta House, benefiting from investment of up to £1.75m from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Health and wellbeing are at the heart of our ambitions for Scotland and we continue to position ourselves as a global centre of excellence for developing modern solutions through the NHS, industry and academia.

The NHS is supporting innovation by developing test beds for life science companies to develop their projects, giving them the clinical experience they need to take their products to market.

To accelerate personalised care opportunities, the Scottish Government committed to establish Precision Medicine Alliance Scotland in our recent Programme for Government.

This initiative will deliver targeted treatments, particularly in diseases that disproportionately affect those from disadvantaged backgrounds. It will also result in savings for the NHS.

The Scottish Genomics Partnership, which includes Scottish Government funding, continues to pioneer Scottish research in genome sequencing.

Dundee University is now third in the UK for biological sciences, as recognised by the Good University Guide 2020.

We recognise that advancing our drug discovery research and manufacturing capabilities will also strengthen Scotland’s precision medicine eco-system.

Scotland is also leading the way in the application of artificial intelligence (AI) to healthcare. The Industrial Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research in Digital Diagnostics (iCAIRD), based in the University of Glasgow’s Clinical Innovation Zone, is bringing partners from across industry, including SMEs, together with the NHS and academia to harness artificial intelligence (AI) to solve heathcare challenges more quickly and efficiently.

This is of huge importance and in September my colleague, digital economy minister Kate Forbes, announced the development of the Scottish Government’s first AI strategy – our ambitious vision for how the nation can unlock AI’s social and economic potential.

Staying ahead of the game in new technologies is imperative to attract international partners and investors to Scotland. In the UK Attractiveness Survey 2019, published by EY, the country retained its position as the leading foreign direct investment destination in the UK outside London.

We want that investment to grow, which is why the Scottish Government has committed to publish a four-year Investment Growth Plan by next summer. This will ensure that the government is setting the direction on the most effective ways foreign investment can be attracted to Scotland.

As the minister responsible for trade, I am leading our efforts to grow exports and open new markets for Scotland’s businesses.

Our ambitious export growth plan – “A Trading Nation” – was published in May, and aims to increase the value of Scotland’s exports as a percentage of GDP from 20 per cent to 25 per cent over the next ten years.

We will invest an additional £20m over three years to support the plan. The life sciences sector plays a key role in these ambitions.

In these challenging, uncertain times, Scotland remains an outward-facing and forward-thinking nation with a well-established culture of innovation and collaboration. Our life sciences sector is at the forefront of this, and I am confident we can carry forward the momentum of the past year to ensure the sector goes from strength to strength.

Ivan McKee is Holyrood Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation.

This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Life Sciences 2019 supplement. A digital version can be found here.