Life Sciences: On target to achieve ambitious objective

Life sciences in Scotland is in a great place, but must use its position of strength to show global businesses they can do things “faster, cheaper and better” here.

That’s the view of Mark Cook, new co-chair of the Life Sciences Scotland (LSS) Industry Leadership Group (ILG), and an enthusiastic and optimistic advocate for the industry.

Cook’s early weeks as successor to Dave Tudor as ILG co-chair (alongside Holyrood Business Minister Ivan McKee) were positive. New statistics showed Scotland’s life sciences sector is on course to hit its target of being an £8 billion turnover industry by 2025.

The figures, released at the LSS dinner and awards in mid-May, showed the industry reached £7.4bn by the end of 2019, the most recent figure available.

Image: Leo Wolfert

“We’re very well on our way to this £8bn target by 2025,” says Cook, who was previously director of government affairs at Medtronic, the world’s largest medtech company, and is also now chair of ABHI (Association of British Healthtech Industries) Scotland, as well as the LSS ILG.

He adds: “The expectation is we will beat it considerably. The unknown is what’s going to happen with the 2020 and 2021 numbers, because these figures are pre-Covid, but I’m very positive we will exceed £8bn, hopefully a couple of years ahead of time.”

Cook feels the sector rose successfully to the enormous challenges presented by the pandemic, putting it in a much stronger place for the future.

“Covid has been a national tragedy and an enormous challenge, but I think it has created an appreciation and understanding of what life science is – obviously in terms of vaccines, but also PPE, pharmaceuticals, health technology.

Mark Cook pictured by Lisa Ferguson

“It’s been positive, both in what we’ve managed to deliver, but also in raising awareness and I think young people are now probably more aware of life sciences.”

Around 41,000 people are employed in life sciences in Scotland and Cook wants to stress that the industry is a broad church.

He says: “Just because you weren’t good at chemistry, or didn’t like tinkering with test tubes, that doesn’t mean life sciences isn’t for you. We need everything – marketers, distribution people, and scientists too, of course – because it’s a full service industry. There’s something for everybody; it’s a high-value sector with great careers.”

Cook recognises he is stepping into big shoes as ILG co-chair by succeeding Dave Tudor, a long-serving GlaxoSmithKline executive and now managing director of the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Renfrewshire.

“Dave’s done a great service to life sciences, and leaves us in a place of collaboration,” says Cook, who was previously ILG vice-chair. “We’ve got a unified voice for life sciences. Dave led the 2017 refresh [of the LSS Strategy], which gave us the £8bn target for 2025. He’s strengthened the Life Sciences Scotland brand locally, but also within the UK and internationally.”

Cook says the defining period of Tudor’s tenure was the pandemic response: “He led on co-ordination of the life sciences industry in many areas, including testing supply, and built strong links on vaccine development and repurposing pharmaceuticals.

“We achieved so much during the pandemic because we had to, but we must keep the learning and mutual trust and respect we built up. The collaboration between academia, industry and the state has served us incredibly well.

“We need to remember that we all worked together incredibly well in a crisis. Just think what we can do when there’s no crisis if we continue to get people working together in this way.”

As Tudor prepared to exit his leadership role, he said his successor would need “resilience, credibility, and an ability to support the diversity of the sector, and to build relationships and partnerships”.

Does Cook have those skills?

“I hope so – and I went through an external appointments selection process to ensure I was a good fit. Being vice-chair gave me experience and visibility on the ILG and I see myself as facilitating collaboration and being an ambassador in Scotland and the UK, but also globally.

“What’s critical is not only exports, but also stimulating inward investment, because Scotland is such a great place to do research.

“I’m passionate about this, and I get fed up when international companies come to the UK, see the ‘Golden Triangle’ [London, Oxford and Cambridge], then go home. These people need to come further north; Scotland can offer everything the Golden Triangle has. I want to be an evangelical activist to make people come and see what we’ve got – because we can beat them.”

How have Cook’s career experiences prepared him for his new leadership role?

“I’ve worked very closely with the key sectors and led the implementation of two screening programmes in Scotland which rolled out across the UK, in partnership with the NHS and health boards. That gave me a very good oversight of where the opportunities are, where we can make things stronger.”

“That’s the health technology side. But I also chaired a start-up pharma company based in Glasgow, so I’ve had experience in two key sectors.

“I haven’t had the depth of experience in AAA [Animal Health, Agritech and Aquaculture], which is critical to Scotland. I’m working very hard to better understand AAA so I can be as big an advocate for that as I can be for pharmaceutical and healthtech.”

How does Cook propose to address the perennial problem of turning innovative start-up businesses into bedrocks of the life sciences economy, providing employment and growth?

“[Economy Secretary] Kate Forbes’ economic strategy recognised life sciences as a key sector for Scotland, which is going to bring further recognition and support,” he says. “The focus on sustainability is perfect for life sciences, offering tremendous opportunities to start-up and spin-out companies.

“The Campbell Report [a roadmap to investment for health innovation, life sciences and healthtech] makes some excellent recommendations that the ILG, Scottish Health Innovation Partnership (SHIP) and the Scottish Government will take forward to strengthen our business environment. This can support the early steps of companies into the marketplace so they can use Scotland as a springboard to the world.

“We must also play to the strengths we have in data and digital. The ILG has a strong data and digital subgroup, led by Professor George Crooks, which will make a tremendous difference and plays directly into supporting start-ups.”

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In full: The Scotsman's Life Science 2021

So what will define whether Life Sciences Scotland can make the global impact Cook wants?

“Other countries don’t have a body like SHIP, which is now recruiting senior NHS consultants who will be paid to find ways of embedding innovation within the NHS,” he says. “Scotland has some unique infrastructure and levers that will work for the benefit of our own people and companies, but will also attract companies and people from across the world. That’s critical.

“We can organically grow and will exceed our £8bn target, but I don’t understand why people from the rest of the world aren’t saying, ‘This is the place I need to come to get this done faster, cheaper and better than I can anywhere else.’

“Once we get more substantial inward investment coming into the country, that’s going to be awesome – for the Scottish population, but also in terms of building a knowledge economy with our tremendous academic centres and our willingness to collaborate.”

So how does that translate into a vision for the future?

“The overarching goal is that Scotland cements its place as one of the global destinations for life sciences research and development. Hopefully, I and the ILG will be able to play a substantial part by continuing the collaborative, can-do attitude in Scotland seen over the past couple of years.”