Dave Tudor on his term as co-chair of the Life Sciences Scotland Industry Leadership Group

When I ask Dave Tudor what has been the biggest achievement of his five years as a life sciences leader in Scotland, he picks me up.

Dave Tudor

“It’s been six years,” he says. “I should have gone by now – because of the pandemic, I got an extra year for bad behaviour!”

There have been times where Tudor has had to be the bad cop, applying sticks as well as carrots to get everyone pulling in the same direction. But, in the end, he thinks it has worked:

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“The biggest achievement is that we’ve got a one life sciences identity and connectivity. The Life Sciences Scotland brand is established. The LSS Industry Leadership Group has an important voice in the Scottish life sciences world.

“With the progress of things like the conference, social media, website and awards dinner, we have connected the sector – not just life sciences companies, but academics, government officials and the NHS. I’m pleased about that. I wanted to fix it and we’ve made big strides.”

Tudor highlights the role of the Scottish NHS as particularly vital.

“The NHS has a prime objective, which is caring for the Scottish people, and it does that incredibly well. But there is also recognition, from the political leadership and at operational level, that the NHS can impact the wealth of the country too.

“The Scottish Health Industry Partnership [SHIP] shows connectivity is strong, and the ten innovation centres have been a fantastic vehicle for collaboration and engagement with academics.”

Tudor also praises the way that the six sub-sectors of lifesciences – pharmaceuticals, pharma services, medtech, animal health, aquaculture and agritech – are independently successful and part of a booming whole.

Nevertheless, he is careful to warn against complacency, and the need for his successor, who will take over early next year, to look firmly forward.

“The UK life sciences strategy has been refreshed and I think one of the first things my replacement should do is a strategic review to ensure the direction in Scotland is still the right one.

“We have had some massive events – the biggest-ever spending review focused on life sciences and the pandemic response – and I think all of society has seen the importance of a treatment response to a very difficult pathogen. That bodes well for supply chain decisions and additional research and development (R&D) spend.”

Tudor has been quick to praise R&D and innovation in the life sciences community, but is often critical of its ability to translate that into commercial products. Has progress been made?

“I continue to be pleased and proud of the innovation coming out of the research institutes, the NHS and industry,” he says. “For a small nation, Scotland punches way above its weight on its ability to innovate.

“The key thing is not to take our foot off the gas – it’s easy to think, ‘We’ve solved innovation’. You’ve got to keep driving innovation. Once you’ve got that capability, maintaining it and cherishing it is very important.”

On the commercialisation side, he continues, things are getting better: “We’re seeing evidence of more investment taking place, whether angel investors or individual company investments. That bodes well. We have these companies investing tens of millions of pounds and that means that they are going to be manufacturing and supplying.

“We also have the export and import strategy under way, and life sciences can really play a big part. And if you look at Covid, Scottish companies really played a key role in the supply chain. There’s good evidence that the translation is getting better. It’s not fixed. I don’t want to put the flags up and say we’ve won the victory, but we’re starting to win battles.”

So where are the gaps? What else can be done? “I wonder if we have enough locations – we can see BioQuarter Phase 2 in Edinburgh and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow, but there’s still a lack of high-quality infrastructure for company growth.

“We also need to make sure we’ve got enough entrepreneurial leadership and bravery. Do we have the right package to attract entrepreneurs?

“And the incisive spearhead of an export strategy is vital – not trying to be all things to all countries, but identifying hot spots to focus on.”

Another drum that Tudor has repeatedly banged is data and digitalisation. “I think we’re at the end of Phase 1 of digital thinking, and I’m very encouraged whatPhase 2 will bring. If you look at ICaird [the Industrial Centre for Artificial Intelligence research in Digital Diagnostics] and the proposal to use AI to drive systematic digital improvements in healthcare, that’s a really smart investment.

“We’ve got the Digital Health and Care Innovation Centre, which is helping a lot of organisations. We’ve set up an ILG digital strategy group and I think NMIS [the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland] and Digital Processing Manufacturing Centre [DPMC] in Irvine will really transform thinking in the industry about how to improve the supply chain.

“Over the next five years, NMIS will be fully operational, DPMC operational, and we’re driving the Digital Health Innovation Centre. The AI hub is really important and then there’s SHIP, driving partnership between health and industry. One of its four strategic pillars is digital. We all want it to happen, but we need to navigate that path.”

In terms of digital progress and broader innovation in life sciences, so much has happened during the pandemic – but how does Scotland hold onto all the benefits and not slip back into business as usual?

“That’s the big strategic question. If you dissect what happened in the vaccine response, we saw all arms of the government focused on a task. This wasn’t about business as usual. When everybody gets really focused, things can happen.

“Secondly, we saw levels of collaboration between industry and academia, and industry and the NHS, that we’ve never seen before. The appetite for risk-taking and data-sharing was much larger. Finally, we saw the regulator introducing this rolling review approach to drug entry.

“There’s no reason why these things can’t continue if we keep a One Scotland focus for life sciences, drive that collaboration and are prepared to take risks.”

So what’s the unfinished business? What’s in the in-tray for Tudor’s successor (who at time of writing has not been named)?

“My three bits of advice would be: don’t let the connectivity slip; build the relationship with the NHS, and don’t let the NHS innovation and commercialisation opportunity disappear, and support the enterprise agencies. They have had a tough time over the last few years.”

What qualities will the new leader need? 1“I think they need to have resilience, credibility and understand and support the diversity of the life sciences sector. They also need to be really good at forging relationships and partnerships.”

And will Dave Tudor miss being at the centre of things? “Yes, I will. I’ve been incredibly lucky and proud to chair LSS with different ministers. There have been highs and lows and I’ve learned a lot about Scotland, the life sciences sector and myself as a leader.

“I have no intention of sitting back. I’m only 52 and I’m looking at how I can continue to support Scotland’s economic growth.

“I don’t know what that means yet, but I intend to continue to use my skills and leadership capabilities.”

This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Life Sciences 2021 supplement. A digital version can be found here.