Scotland wins share of £169m drug discovery drive

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Scotland’s life sciences sector is to share in a 196 million euro (£169m) European Union-funded drug discovery programme that will examine 500,000 chemical compounds to see if they can be used to make medicines.

Dundee University will send researchers to BioCity Scotland – the incubator centre created at the former Merck drug factory at Newhouse, in Lanarkshire – to study the compounds, 300,000 of which are being donated to the project by seven major pharmaceutical companies, with a further 200,000 coming from universities and small businesses.

The project – dubbed the “European Lead Factory” by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), which has launched the programme – will bring at least £16.3m of research funding to Scotland, with a further £3.5m worth of support coming from the Scottish Funding Council and the Scottish Government.

BioCity Scotland will host one of the screening centres for the compounds, with TI Pharma, a not-for-profit organisation in the Netherlands, hosting the second site.

Glenn Crocker, chief executive of BioCity Group, which operates the Newhouse site, said: “For me, the exciting aspect of this project is the opportunity it provides to discover novel drugs through the collaboration of seven large pharma companies and an open call to academics and industry across Europe.

“On top of that, there is the potential to build on this platform, extending it into new screening technologies or wider compound collections. We are very pleased it will be based at BioCity Scotland.”

Dundee University professor Andrew Hopkins, who is director of the Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance (SULSA) added: “The addition of the European Lead Factory to the Scottish Life Sciences community seals our growing international reputation as one of the most dynamic and innovative hubs for academic drug discovery.

“We will use the opportunity provided by the IMI project as a spring- board to win further investments in the field of drug discovery innovation to benefit not only academic research but wider economic and societal benefits for Scotland.”

First Minister Alex Salmond welcomed the announcement. He said: “Congratulations to BioCity Scotland, the University of Dundee and to SULSA on bringing such a huge and valuable piece of work to Scotland.

“This provides enormous opportunities for Scotland’s life sciences sector and it is fantastic recognition of the talent and expertise of Scotland’s life sciences community.

“In particular, this shows the combined strength of our universities and commercial experts.

“Working together, they have been able to secure the biggest ever IMI contract of its kind for Scotland, putting Lanarkshire and Dundee at the forefront of drug discovery in Europe for many years to come.”

News of the investment comes ahead of tonight’s Scottish Enterprise life sciences dinner in Edinburgh, a key date in the industry’s calendar.

Earlier this week, four further tenants moved into Edinburgh BioQuarter, the science park next to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.