How Govan became a hub for life sciences in Scotland

The £842m Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow's newest landmark, dominates views of the city when looking south across the River Clyde.

Workmen look through Scotlands first ultra-powerful 17.5 tonne 7 Tesla (7T) MRI scanner as it is installed at the new Imaging Centre of Excellence (ICE) on the site of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

It stands on the site of the former Southern General in Linthouse on the western edge of Govan. This district was once a hub of shipbuilding and heavy marine engineering. Now it is home to Europe’s largest hospital campus.

But this vast complex does much more than treat patients. At its heart is the Clinical Innovation Zone, a Scotland-wide academic collaboration with industry.

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It was created as a world class centre of research, innovation and commercialisation in precision medicine, with the development led by the nearby University of Glasgow.

The Clinical Innovation Centre operates at the heart of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which opened in 2015. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

Allowing industry to work alongside clinicians was a deliberate move, explains Dr Carol Clugston, chief operating officer at the university’s college of medical, veterinary and life sciences.

“We talk a lot in the health service about the ‘triple helix’ - academia, the NHS and industry working together in partnership. This can accelerate research and translate it into practice much more quickly.

“The Queen Elizabeth is much more than just a hospital. It treats patients, but it also undertakes world-leading clinical trials. It is bringing the best of science and that benefits patients but also adds economic value.

“We have created space for industry to come in and work by developing the Clinical Innovation Zone, which is accredited by Science Zone UK. There are others around the country - but there are very few that are right in the middle of the hospital.”

The Clinical Innovation Centre operates at the heart of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which opened in 2015. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

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For Dr Clugston, the benefits of such close proximity are varied.

“We’re seeing interactions - even if it’s just in the coffee shop - between companies, academics, nurses and other health professionals which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible,” she added. It is these meetings-of-minds that leads to innovation.”

The creation of such a facility in Glasgow was “incredibly exciting” and places it at the front of life sciences in Europe.

“It’s something people talk about but it’s very you see it become a reality,” Dr Clugston commented. “Everyone talks about open innovation, it’s a buzz phrase. In Glasgow you can actually see what it is. Even the buildings themselves, some of the interior walls are glass, industry can see what the academics are doing and vice versa. It’s open to promote engagement. It truly is about us working together. Buildings can only do so much but they facilitate that interaction in Govan.”

Asked to name a stand-out development with the innovation centre, Dr Clugston names the university’s Imaging Centre of Excellence (ICE).

This includes an ultra-high resolution 7 Tesla MRI scanner - the first of its kind to be fully integrated within a clinical site in the UK.

“Funding was secured through the Glasgow Region City Deal and we will develop 400 jobs on the back of it,” she added. “The scanner is completely new technology. It’s not only adding to the critical mass, but also attracting academics and experts who otherwise wouldn’t be here.”

In close proximity is the £3.4 million University of Glasgow Molecular Pathology Node, established in partnership with industry and the NHS.

“We are seeing such exciting projects,” added Dr Clugston.

From shipbuilding to clinical innovation, there has been a remarkable transformation in Linthouse.