Scotland’s life sciences sector can now aim higher - Jane Kennedy

On the back of the pandemic, life sciences are riding high. The speed at which vaccines have been developed and supply chains built has shown the potential and agility of this sector. Last year the UK’s biotech industries attracted £4.5 billion in funding – a rise of £1.7bn on the 2020 figure, with venture capital companies, who historically were nervous of the risks involved, now investing at record levels.

Jane Kennedy is Chief Business Officer of Discovery Park
Jane Kennedy is Chief Business Officer of Discovery Park
Jane Kennedy is Chief Business Officer of Discovery Park

For Scottish life sciences companies this provides an exciting window of opportunity to capitalise on their potential. And this country does have unique advantages; Scotland has a heritage of innovation and discovery. We have a buoyant life sciences community, our universities are carrying out world-class research and the 40 years of electronic health records collected by NHS Scotland provide access to exceptionally high levels of data which can be used to identify discrete patient groups and follow them across their whole lifetimes.

But there are challenges as well. Young life sciences companies have limited resources, lack business knowledge and see few examples of success. There are exceptions; wearable health tech company, Current Health, which was founded in 2015 by University of Dundee medical student Chris McCann, was sold last year to a US company for $400 million, but in the last 20 years only one Scottish company, TC BioPharm, has had an IPO (initial public offering).

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For Scottish life sciences, having links to companies that have already made that journey are essential, not least to foster their ambitions but also in helping them to build credibility with investors. Scottish companies need to raise their ambitions and look beyond geographical boundaries to find advisory board members and funders who have already built life science businesses of scale and have both networks and essential connections.

Having worked with three life science parks in Scotland, I now lead the team attracting tenants, investment, and research at Discovery Park in Kent. Before the switch to home working, I would not have contemplated taking on a role that involved regular commuting between the south coast of England and Edinburgh, but collaboration is the key to building opportunity at Discovery Park and my role is like that of a dating agent, creating serendipity to bring together companies that can learn from each other how to turn great ideas into great businesses, and I’m keen to make connections between my tenant companies in Kent and my network in Scotland, to form collaborations that can catalyse a start-up with a brilliant discovery to a proposition that can attract serious investment.

Historically Scotland has benefitted from an active angel community and the Co-Investment fund has assisted early stage capital, but Scottish companies have ‘settled’ for smaller seed and series A rounds. The pandemic has brought the life sciences sector to greater prominence. Until very recently London-based venture capital companies traditionally invested on their doorstep, but virtual meeting software means that all companies are effectively equidistant from investors. This presents Scottish businesses with a new opportunity to compete for larger chunks of funding on an equal footing with London, Europe, and America if they have all the pillars in place that give them sufficient credibility.

Jane Kennedy is Chief Business Officer of Discovery Park.

On 1 April she will be speaking at the UKSPA (UK Science Park Association) conference which will be discussing regional and national trends.



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