Scotland the brave

May 1, 2007
Ken Snowdon
Pharmaceutical Technology Europe

Volume 19, Issue 5

...Scotland has a favourable regulatory environment, funding support from its government and some of the most advanced research facilities in the world.

Scotland's biotech sector has been thriving during the last few years thanks to major breakthroughs in several research areas, as well as an increase in international partnerships. The sector currently comprises over 590 organizations with nearly 29500 employees, and has a promising future in sight. The country is making significant contributions to biomedical research and is already recognized as a leader in stem cell research, neuroscience, cancer research, genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics. With a strong research base, an excellent academic community and home to many of the world's leading experts in their respective fields, Scotland will continue to be a premier choice for research partnerships and global expansions.

International collaborations

In April 2006, a major announcement was made solidifying Scotland's role as a leader — not only developing innovative treatments to some of the world's most debilitating diseases, but also speeding up the process of bringing them from bench to bedside. The deal, worth approximately £48 million, was signed by Wyeth Pharmaceutical to develop the world's first translational medicine research collaboration in Scotland. The country's four leading clinically-based medical schools in Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen all participating, plus Wyeth, Scottish Enterprise and NHS Boards in Grampian, Greater Glasgow, and Lothian and Tayside, the magnitude of this partnership is unparalleled.

Stem cell research

Perhaps one of the most challenging, but ultimately promising areas of study, is that of stem cell research. Aside from being home to many of the top stem cell experts, Scotland has a favourable regulatory environment, funding support from its government and some of the most advanced research facilities in the world.

In late 2006, The Roslin Cells Centre was founded — a nonprofit company that will commercialize human stem cell lines to be sold worldwide with unencumbered intellectual property rights, accelerating the process of developing medicines and treatments. This will help start-up companies enter the stem cells arena, while reinforcing Scotland's role in facilitating research.

Academic excellence

Scotland's academic community offers industry the solid research foundation it needs to thrive in competitive markets. Several Scottish universities have been sought after by the international life science powerhouses to aid progress in targeted industry areas. Geron Corporation, for example, is collaborating with the University of Edinburgh to conduct preclinical safety and efficacy studies of three types of cells derived from human embryonic stem cells.

Another major collaboration is at the University of Dundee's Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT) and involves six of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies (i.e., AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Co. Inc., Merck KGaA and Pfizer). This partnership was formed to advance the study of cell signalling and research kinase and phosphatase inhibitors for the treatment of diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. The close proximity between Scotland's major universities allows easy access for major collaborations, with 80% of the entire life sciences industry based within a 50-mile radius of three of the country's main cities — Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.

The future

Scotland's leading status in biotechnology will be strengthened in the coming years with several developments in the pipeline, giving it a new national identity as a biotechnology/life sciences hub. Under the new 'Life Sciences Scotland' brand, Scotland will market its life science capabilities to global investors and potential overseas partners. Among the most powerful assets strengthening the brand will be the new Centre for Biomedical Research, part of the Edinburgh Science Triangle, which will position the city as one of the top ten cities for biomedical investments. Additionally, the Life Sciences Alliance, formed in 2005 and composed of senior representatives from the key public and private sector organizations involved in Scotland's life sciences, will aim to encourage closer working relationships between industry, academia, the NHS and policy makers at a national level to facilitate Scottish innovation well into the 21st century.