Life sciences: BioHub focal point for fruition

Dr Deborah O’Neill delivers a speech to delegates at last week’s conference. Picture: Phil WilkinsonDr Deborah O’Neill delivers a speech to delegates at last week’s conference. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Dr Deborah O’Neill delivers a speech to delegates at last week’s conference. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Dr Deborah O’Neill on how her organisation hones the entrepreneurial spirit in the sector for the north-east

Life sciences is one of the country’s fastest-growing industries. UK companies in the sector secured a record-breaking £4.5 billion investment in 2021. With a further £1.5bn in equity finance raised in 2022.

North-east Scotland is home to innovation-led enterprises tackling global health challenges, from neuro-degenerative diseases to cancer.

TauRX, a leader in Alzheimer’s disease research, announced an investment of $119 million in recent weeks, triggered by phase-3 trial results in October, adding to $64m raised in 2021.

In May, Elasmogen – a biopharmaceutical company discovering and developing new therapeutics using its unique soloMER platform – secured £8m to continue developing its pipeline of next-generation drugs through pre-clinical trials.

EnteroBiotix, a biopharma firm developing novel high-diversity microbial therapeutics, closed its $21.5m series-A financing in September 2021.

These businesses share a strong entrepreneurial drive and are taking novel research from the lab bench through to commercialisation.

Entrepreneurship is fundamental to the success of our sector in delivering health, social and economic benefits. Leaders in north-east Scotland’s companies, the University of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon University, and NHS Grampian share this belief.

As a region, we are embedding entrepreneurship in the heart of the Triple Helix of academic, clinical and research interests. Making transformational change happen and creating an environment for growth.

Seven years ago, the private sector, led by Sir Ian Wood, took a leadership role in diversifying north-east Scotland’s economy. Opportunity North East (ONE) was formed with a ten-year, £64m funding commitment, a team and resources to co-create, develop and deliver transformational projects, working on a co-investment basis with public and private sector partners.

Life sciences is a key sector. The region has research strengths in large molecules and an asset base, including the Scottish Biologics Facility, Rowett, and Institute for Medical Science, and a track record of spinouts and start-ups over decades, including TauRX, NovaBiotics, Elasmogen, EnteroBiotix, Sirakoss, and Vertebrate Antibodies.

The missing ingredient was a focal point and catalyst for commercialisation, business creation and growth.

ONE brought academics, clinicians, companies and researchers together and defined the regional ambition – to grow our company cluster with a transformational £40m investment to create BioHub Aberdeen.

This is a new and iconic location for life sciences innovation and commercialisation with a specialist entrepreneurial ecosystem to inspire ambition, give people skills and knowledge to turn research into businesses, and support them at each stage of the entrepreneurial journey.

BioHub – through the leadership and delivery of ONE – went from a concept to an industry innovation project in the Aberdeen City Region Deal. Securing co-funding from the UK and Scottish governments, Scottish Enterprise and ONE. Working with strategic partners, the University of Aberdeen and NHS Grampian.

Over the past five years, ONE has funded, developed and delivered dedicated pre-commercialisation and accelerator support, leadership programmes on commercial skills and created one of the most engaged life sciences networks in the country.

It also raised the region’s profile with investors, strategic partners and industry leaders in the UK and internationally.

Meantime, BioHiub progressed through design and procurement and entered its main construction phase. Fast forward to today. BioHub’s steel and glass structure rises above the city on the Foresterhill Health Campus.

When it opens next year, BioHub will provide laboratory, incubation and collaboration space, and custom accommodation over five floors, as well as specialist business support programmes, and access to expert networks and investors.

It will be home to up to 400 bio-entrepreneurs at full occupancy. BioHub tenants will be spin-outs, start-ups and scaling businesses bringing new drugs, treatments, therapies and technology to market. They will also create high-skilled jobs to drive economic diversification and sector growth.

It is a physical manifestation of the Aberdeen city region’s confidence in life sciences and its role in our future low-carbon economy.

Aberdeen’s story is one of extraordinary progress and commitment to realising the full potential of life sciences. The region has a strong life sciences cluster – BioHub will help to make more of it.

On behalf of ONE, BioHub and all the project partners, we hope to welcome you to Aberdeen in 2023 as we enter an exciting new phase of growth for life sciences in the north-east.

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