Life Sciences 2022: Inspiration for sector firms to go international

Scotland’s burgeoning life sciences industry is growing even faster than expected – and now has the opportunity to expand significantly into international markets.

That will be the central theme of Growing Global, as The Scotsman’s annual life sciences conference is held in person later this month for the first time since 2019.

The event, which has the Scottish Government as headline sponsor, will hear about the latest developments to support home-grown businesses to export their products and services.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Alix Mackay, who will host the event at the Technology and Innovation Centre at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow on Thursday, 24 November, says there are huge opportunities for Scotland.

Image: Adobe StockImage: Adobe Stock
Image: Adobe Stock

One of the big areas of opportunity is pharmaceutical services, where the country is especially strong in offering innovation in early-stage testing.

Mackay says there is real potential to develop Scotland’s strong offering to big pharma and high-growth biotech companies that want to adopt cutting-edge, high-quality techniques during the early phases of drug discovery.

“The US market is incredibly compelling because of both its size and growth, particularly California and Boston,” she says. “The very agile and fast-moving nature of the drug discovery business means there is a real appetite for collaboration and for outsourcing. That’s where Scottish companies can benefit.”

Mackay, board advisor and founder of the Life Sciences Marketing Academy, is certain that Scottish companies looking to export could thrive further if they create systematic sales and marketing strategies, rather than relying on a single person or small number of people on the ground in overseas markets.

Alix Mackay. Image: Lisa FergusonAlix Mackay. Image: Lisa Ferguson
Alix Mackay. Image: Lisa Ferguson

“We recognise there is a life sciences talent challenge, as the industry is growing faster than expected,” says Mackay. “That means it’s difficult to find enough people with the scientific capabilities to move the industry forward at pace.

“However, it’s not just about that scientific capability – it’s also about data and digital skills, as well as commercial skills and business acumen, and building an entrepreneurial community.

“We need to embed a culture of business ambition, and a really disciplined approach to sales and marketing. It’s vital not to default just to scientific capability as there is a much broader requirement if we really want to grow Scotland’s life sciences sector globally.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The conference will hear via video-link from Dr Bill Pennie, part of the GlobalScot programme and someone with more than 20 years’ history of working in pharmaceutical research and development leadership with AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Takeda.

Mackay says: “We want the conference to offer inspiration to businesses from like-minded companies to help the whole of Scotland’s life sciences community increase revenues and its international client base. A big part of that is to inspire companies who are exporting based on their reputation to be more proactive in their approach – to get them thinking, ‘We are doing well but imagine how much more impact we could have across the world’.

“There is a way to do sales and marketing that de-risks your reliance on one well-paid, skilled salesperson ‘on the ground’ in a foreign jurisdiction. It involves using sales and marketing throughout the business. You run it from headquarters, creating a systematic approach to raising awareness and capturing interest in targeted markets, using high-quality online educational content, appearances on influential platforms and making contacts on social media – all leading the reader to your website which is aligned to their context and challenges. That leaves the high-value salesperson on the ground to focus on what they do best.”

Part of the conference will focus on peer-to-peer learning in break-out sessions, with one – Empire State Of Mind – focused on export opportunities for suppliers in the pharma, biotech and drug discovery industries. Speakers include Sarah Lynagh of Fios Genomics, Mike Piper from BioAscent and Ishani Malhotra from Carcinotech

Other break-out sessions will focus on healthcare technology and medical device innovators, with a focus on the differences in reimbursement and regulations between the US, UK and Europe, as well as the “3 As” –Animal Health, Agritech and Aquaculture.

The conference will also feature a “fireside chat” between Mackay and Scotland’s new Chief Scientist (Health), Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, and a welcome address by Mark Cook, co-chair of the Life Sciences Scotland Industry Leadership Group. Cook will be followed later in the day by one of his co-chairs Ivan McKee, minister for business, trade, tourism and enterprise.

As McKee, a long-time supporter of the sector, writes elsewhere in this supplement: “Exporting is a gateway to growth for Scottish companies. It opens the door to lucrative global markets, allowing firms to scale up in the process.

“Scotland’s reputation as an innovative nation is well-documented in emerging technologies and none more so than in pioneering fields of medicine, drug discovery and sustainable manufacturing.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We continue to deliver and build on our international ambition, striving to increase investment and prioritising streamlining access to new markets through our suite of international strategies.”

The conference will also address the need for additional infrastructure to cope with the faster-than-expected growth of the industry. “We need to create the infrastructure to allow Scottish companies to grow and scale,” says Mackay, who praises the work in the Aberdeen area, led by Opportunity North East (ONE) in embedding an entrepreneurial culture in life sciences.

Mackay concludes: “It’s a really exciting time for life sciences in Scotland and this event reflects that. The sector is growing fast, but we need to focus our energies on where we can do more – and by doing that, we can create the conditions for further growth at home and really get motoring in terms of exports.”

The Scotsman’s Life Sciences Conference is also sponsored by CPI (Centre for Process Innovation), CGT Catapult; Opportunity North East; Digital Technologies Group, the SULSA Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance, and Bouygue ES.

Book your place online at and access the most up-to-date running order at