Can Scotland's economy benefit from life sciences expertise?

Patrick Wiggins

Scotland is a leader in life and chemical sciences research, with international standing and an enviable reputation for excellence.

Some of the world’s most prominent medical research is being carried out right here in Scotland, with cutting-edge work on cancer, infectious disease, stem cells, genomics, diabetes studies and more.


Our academic institutions play important roles in these fields, with successful spin-out research companies; but there is still a great deal of work needed to translate research expertise into manufacturing, jobs and economic success. For Scotland’s economy to truly benefit from the level of local expertise, we need to see further investment in manufacturing. We need to make the leap from research into manufacturing the products, fine chemicals and medicines that we have researched and developed right here in Scotland.

Realising the manufacturing potential

Some of the vital building blocks are already in place to enable this growth in manufacturing, while others still need to be developed.

At the UK level we can offer the benefits of a strong Regulatory Environment, relatively low corporation tax, the ‘patent box’ tax regime to support the registration and exploitation of products manufactured in the UK and financial incentives for Research and Development. In Scotland we now have Enterprise Areas, such as i3 in Irvine, which provide added incentives in terms of rates relief and capital allowances. We also have a network of supportive agencies, strong levels of industry collaboration and a range of innovation centres working to bring industry and academia even closer together, such as CMAC (Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation), and also with IBioIC (Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre). We already have a number of world-class manufacturing companies who have chosen to operate in Scotland – in North Ayrshire alone we have GSK, DSM, Chemring and Sigma Aldrich. Supporting these well-known names is a growing group of supply chain companies such as Booth Welsh, who recently moved in to i3 Irvine.

A number of key strategies are in place, looking to further develop Scotland’s capacity in these sectors such as the Scottish Life Sciences strategy, the Chemical Sciences strategy, and the Industrial Biotechnology road map.

Scaling up for manufacturing

Right now in Scotland a key missing ingredient in the sector is the ability to scale up. For the economy to benefit fully from the high quality research that is taking place here we need the capabilities to translate research and collaboration into industrial production scale manufacturing. A number of dedicated scale-up facilities already exist in the UK and Europe – such as the newly established Biologics Centre in Darlington and Bio Base Europe in Ghent – but not yet in Scotland. Are we missing an opportunity? Industrial scale-up facilities allow businesses to test and grow ideas from the laboratory into manufacturing environments, providing the right facilities and support. An industrial scale-up facility for Scotland looks like it could be the critical next step in the commercialisation process.

Seizing the opportunities

The new life and chemical sciences strategy for Scotland treats the life sciences and chemical sciences sectors together. It promotes manufacturing, encourages commercialisation and supports companies to scale up. The strategy also identifies that many existing manufacturing businesses are re-visiting the UK as a location of choice due to the high quality of our manufacturing base, highly skilled workforce, our health and safety and regulatory regimes and our quality standards.

The ambition of this combined strategy is to substantially increase Scotland's manufacturing base over the period, and set out the steps as to how this might be achieved.

Scale-up ability connects strong with all the main themes in the strategy:

• Leadership confidence and promoting manufacturing
• Research Commercialisation
• Technology Development and Scaling
• Supply Chains and Re-shoring
• Investing in Scotland

Life Sciences seeks to double its turnover to £6.3bn by 2020. Scotland is already home to one of the most sizeable life sciences clusters in Europe, with a significant international presence and huge strengths in research. Our chemical sciences sector has some 200+ core businesses, excluding supply chain, and it punches well above its weight, particularly in global markets.

Connections and infrastructure

If a dedicated industrial scale-up facility comes to the fore as the next step in developing Scotland’s life sciences and chemical industries, then Irvine Bay has a great deal to offer as a potential location. i3, Irvine’s Enterprise Area, already provides serviced land and outstanding infrastructure. What’s more, there is a thriving life sciences industry in North Ayrshire and it is estimated that one third of Scotland’s existing industrial biotechnology output comes from the area. There is an established skills base, excellent transport links and the capacity to deliver.