Biomedical innovation is getting results - Professor Iain Gillespie

Universities UK launched #Getting Results last week, a campaign demonstrating how universities across the country are at the heart of the economic and social recovery from Covid-19.

Even before the pandemic hit, universities were drivers of innovation, growth and opportunity. They provide jobs, educate the workforce, and will be pivotal to the UK Government’s stated levelling up agenda.

My own institution, the University of Dundee, is an example of how universities can transform post-industrial towns and cities, but also how academic excellence alone does not equate to realised potential.

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The strengths of the University, city and wider region in Life Sciences and Medicine were a considerable attraction for me to come back to Scotland. The world-leading work that has emerged from Dundee, from drug discovery to precision medicine, has significantly improved lives and advanced science. Despite this, a lack of sites capable of housing spinout companies generated from the region’s stellar research activity meant Dundee has struggled to retain the firms it birthed.

This critical infrastructure gap has been addressed by funding to create an Innovation Hub as part of the Tay Cities Deal. This will accommodate and support new companies through their high-growth phase. Independent economic assessment of the Tay Cities Biomedical Cluster predicts 280 new biomedical jobs by 2033, rising to 800 new jobs and over £190 million benefit to the local economy by 2053. I believe that this is a conservative estimate.

Biomedical innovation and commercialisation activity springing from the University is at an all-time high. We have a pipeline of more than a dozen companies ready to spinout while our new £5 million Centre for Targeted Protein Degradation will help bolster Dundee’s position as a global leader in a field that has received billions of dollars of investment in recent years. Targeted protein degradation is revolutionising drug discovery by destroying cancers and other diseases previously thought to be undruggable. The Centre will further facilitate the development of new companies and create skilled jobs for the region. We in Dundee are at the very cutting edge of the science that drives this revolution.

The economic potential of this field was demonstrated when Amphista Therapeutics, a Dundee spinout based at BioCity, was named as one of Scotland’s ‘futurecorns’ – fast-growing businesses set to achieve a $1 billion valuation. Exscientia, another of our spinouts, leads the way globally in AI-driven drug discovery.

Dundee can be a powerhouse for the bioeconomy. We must now focus on improving the financial, as well as real-estate, infrastructure to enable not just the translation of the science into productive company creation but to keep that enterprise here in Dundee. As well as creating high-quality jobs and bringing investment to the region this also means earlier access to health care advances for an area with considerable pockets of high deprivation. The Tay Cities Deal is not the end of this story but a vital step along the way. There are challenges ahead and we need ongoing support from the Scottish and UK Governments, Scottish Enterprise and others.

But these are exciting times. The opportunities outweigh the obstacles. Our city, its people and the local economy all stand to benefit from our biomedical excellence. Universities across the country have similar stories to tell. Our institutions will be the engines of growth in the post-Covid world.

Professor Iain Gillespie, Principal & Vice-Chancellor, University of Dundee

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