Looking to a life sciences future

Patrick Wiggins

A New Year always represents a point in the calendar when it is good to look back and reflect on what has passed, in order to help define what we need to do in the future.

That is why at Irvine Bay Regeneration Company we are gearing up again to sponsor the annual Scottish Life Sciences Conference, organised by The Scotsman in collaboration with the Scottish Lifesciences Association and supported by the Scottish Government and others.

Scotsman Event 1603

This year’s theme – How can Scotland be a global leader in life sciences?

There are many areas Scotland needs to get right if it is to compete on a global scale in life sciences. Last year’s event looked at the need to improve the capability for turning R&D excellence into manufacturing at scale, in order to deliver direct economic benefit.

To assess progress we need to answer a whole range of questions: How are we placed to help small companies with big ideas expand – and how good are we at attracting global investment? Do we have the right testing and scale-up facilities, and have we made strong enough links between the private sector and the NHS to stimulate domestic markets for life sciences products? Can we attract centres of excellence to help commercialise great ideas?

Life sciences has been identified as one of Scotland's key economic sectors, with 600-plus organisations employing 32,000 people and adding more than £3 billion in added value to the economy every year. The Scottish Government’s aim is to see the sector double that turnover by 2020. Cabinet Secretary and Deputy First Minister John Swinney is a keynote speaker at the Conference, which will be chaired by Scott Johnstone, Chief Executive, Scottish Lifesciences Association.

The company database of Scottish Development International shows more than 500 businesses in the sector call Scotland home, including:

  • 250 medical technology companies (with another 100 involved in their value chain)
  • 150 pharma services companies
  • 5 of the world top 10 CROs (PPD, Bioreliance, Charles River, Quintiles, Catalent)
  • Over 30 companies working on stem cells and regenerative medicine

The debate in recent years has revolved around how to turn our world-leading research base into jobs through developing a manufacturing industry. Scotland has 19 universities and higher education institutions, and our life sciences researchers are among the most productive in the world as measured by the number of publications and citations.

Plus we have Health Innovation Partnerships that facilitate collaboration between industry, academia and clinicians to develop products for future healthcare needs.

Everyone also agrees that the environment has rarely been better to achieve the vision of a blossoming life sciences sector: Scotland has excellent skills, from research to process manufacturing; Scotland benefits from a positive tax regime and supportive Government agencies; Scotland’s rigorous regulatory system is a benefit for businesses looking to enter markets around the world.

The collaborative nature of the sector in Scotland is well illustrated by the speakers for the conference. As well as John Swinney, they include: Hugh Griffith, NuCana Medical who will talk on Global investment to support life sciences in Scotland; Dave Tudor, GSK on how do we harness R&D and scale up operations? Caroline Strain, Scottish Enterprise on the life and chemical sciences manufacturing strategy; Andrew Fowlie, NHS Scotland on public-private collaboration and test-bed facilities; and Sarah Lynagh, Chief Executive, Fios Genomics poses the question ‘How do we build up small companies?’

At Irvine Bay we are well placed to play a positive role. i3 is our innovation and industry park at Irvine which includes an Enterprise Area with a focus on life sciences. There is a significant history and tradition in the sector in the area. Alfred Nobel made his fortune on the coast in North Ayrshire, and we have a number of global companies operating in our area including GlaxoSmithKline, DSM, Sigma Aldrich, Vogel and several others. So we have the skills, particularly in manufacturing. In delivering over the past few years we have assisted the creation of hundreds of jobs, seen more than £100 million of capital investment from the private sector, and created or refurbished more than 200,000 sq ft of business space within i3 Irvine’s Life Sciences Enterprise Area.

The conference takes place on Tuesday March 1st, at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, George Street, Edinburgh. Book online for The Scotsman Life Sciences Conference.