How life sciences remains a crucial part of Scottish Enterprise’s plans for growth

Scottish Enterprise has played a central role in driving forward life sciences in Scotland. Dr Andrew Howie, interim head of Health and Wellbeing, which includes life sciences, has big hopes for the sector.

Kate Forbes MSP at Natantis, Heriot Watt University, by Colin Hattersley Photography / MacAteer Photography

Do you think the life sciences sector has the ability to reach the £8 billion turnover target by 2025?

We’ve seen strong growth in the sector since 2010, putting it on track to reach the £8bn turnover target of the Life Sciences Industry Strategy for Scotland by 2025. This is down to a very close collaboration between industry, academia and the public sector, all working towards making the target a reality.

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We’ve seen this approach already yield new infrastructure wins for Scotland with the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, the Roslin Innovation Centre and the Industrial Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research in Digital Diagnostics (iCAIRD).

The launch of the Scottish Health Research and Innovation Ecosystem portal by Life Sciences Scotland will also help companies grow both their ambition and their prospects.

The new Ecosystem toolkit, developed by Scottish Enterprise and supported by NHS Research Scotland, includes a searchable database to simplify how businesses can identify and access collaborative working opportunities across NHS, clinical and academic facilities and organisations.

Most SMEs find access to funds the biggest challenge in scaling up. How is Scottish Enterprise helping them to bridge that investment gap?

The Scottish Investment Bank is one of the largest UK investors in life sciences, and the most recent performance figures show that the sector represented 19 per cent of all Scottish Investment Bank investments made. Scottish life sciences companies have raised in excess of £29m in equity investment since March 2019.

We currently have close relationships with over 150 life sciences companies and work with many more through our full range of business support products.

Our grant funding is also a key tool in helping companies access funding to grow. We recently announced £5m in regional selective assistance to Edinburgh-based Care Sourcer that will support the company’s rapid scaling ambitions and allow it to recruit 70 new staff. Almost £575,000 in high-growth spin-out funding was also awarded to the Natantis team at Heriot-Watt University.

Are Scottish life sciences businesses adopting more of a global mindset?

Scotland is a small market, so essentially all life sciences companies should have an international ambition. After a very detailed analysis of current export performance, current and future markets and comparable countries, the Scottish Government has laid out a detailed support plan for growing Scottish exports.

Its Trading Nation plan aims to increase exports to 25 per cent of GDP by 2029, achieving about £25bn of additional annual exports.

Life and chemical sciences are one of the key areas of focus and the plan details how segmenting business based on their nature and export experience will allow customised support and greater overall impact.

Scottish Enterprise, and our Scottish Development International presence of 30 offices in 20 countries, is here to support companies throughout their international expansion and help them find customers in international markets.

In addition, new developments like the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre will offer all companies, from start-ups through to multinational organisations, a unique service that can develop and adopt novel manufacturing techniques. By transforming processes and technologies, the speed of bringing new drugs to market will improve significantly which will have a significant impact on the competitiveness of our companies and our sector globally.

Are life sciences ventures embracing the digital agenda as fully as they might? How is Scottish Enterprise supporting this crucial agenda?

The digital opportunity is embedded throughout all sub-sectors of the sector and all aspects of product and service development, manufacture and use by patients. It’s fundamental to some of the key sub-sectors, such as medical technologies, and their ability to be linked with digital systems and e-health records.

The digital opportunity represents a significant change in delivering healthcare in the future, where we fully exploit health data to produce solutions and products that improve healthcare delivery and patient outcomes.

Some examples are: 4P Medicine (Predictive, Preventive, Personalised, Participatory). Healthcare is evolving from reactive disease care. The 4P approach is getting more recognition globally, and Scotland is well placed to lead this revolution.

Predictive and preventive. Smarter diagnostics will come from embedding Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms into health data to allow us to diagnose quicker and start to predict cohorts of the population that are more susceptible to disease. This may require the development of alternative medicines.

The £15m investment in iCAIRD focuses on the application of AI in digital diagnostics, ultimately enabling better and earlier diagnosis and more efficient treatment.

iCAIRD epitomises Scotland’s ‘triple helix’ approach to healthcare innovation and precision medicine by developing research and innovation in a pan-Scotland collaboration of 15 partners from academia, the NHS, and industry. Its work will deliver significant benefits for patients through the development of solutions for more rapid treatment for stroke; expert chest x-ray reading; rapid and more accurate diagnosis in gynaecological disease and colon cancer; and partly automated mammogram analysis for breast cancer screening.

Personalised (or precision/stratified medicine). The advent of precision medicine has the potential to transform our approach to healthcare, increasing effectiveness, efficiency and reinforcing sustainability.

In September 2018, Scotland’s Precision Medicine Summit heard from academics, clinicians and major industry partners and involved high-level discussions on how to ensure Scotland capitalises fully on its current strengths in the field. The First Minister announced £4.2m of investment to support these developments.

The Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS- IC) was formed by the Scottish Funding Council in 2013.

Participatory. Scotland’s Digital Health and Care Strategy

highlights how Scotland will use technology to reshape and improve services, support person-centred care, and improve patient outcomes. The Digital Health and Care Institute, an innovation centre funded by Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council, focuses on developing digital health and care innovations to key Scottish health challenges, supporting some aspects of 4P medicine, but also post-event care and independent assisted living.

Life sciences manufacturing and digital. A key enabler for the £8bn target will be the extent to which the sector embraces the digital revolution and the Industry 4.0 philosophy.

The ‘Demystifying Digital’ workshop, supported by Scottish Enterprise, helps companies learn about digital and the impact it could have on their business.

Topics included examples of technology that could be brought into a manufacturing environment, as well the culture change required to successfully implement these technologies.

Whether it is to increase quality, safety, productivity, save costs or time, major benefits can be achieved through the integrated use of digital technology without a high hardware cost.

Has Brexit affected the appetite for risk among life sciences businesses?

All sectors in Scotland will be impacted by Brexit, some more than others.

Under a no-deal scenario, UK regulations will be introduced to replace EU regulations and changes may take place, including the need for businesses to obtain new regulatory authorisations.

This could affect issues such as the assessment and certification of products and services as well as packaging and labelling.

We’re encouraging businesses to register for a quicker way to move goods to the EU.

Full information and tools to help preparations can be viewed at

This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Life Sciences 2019 supplement.