Scotland’s Highlands and Islands region is proving a magnet for life sciences firms
by Chris MacDonald
The number of life sciences organizations operating in Scotland’s Highlands and Islands region has doubled from 40 to 80 in just nine years. This has sparked a trend of inward investment and job creation for the sector that is set to increase.
The Highlands and Islands covers just over half of Scotland and its geography includes numerous inhabited islands and rural coastal settlements. With advances in digital technology, this geography is creating new opportunities across all parts of the region.
More and more organizations are recognizing and taking up these opportunities. Everything from multi-national businesses to start-up companies, as well as internationally recognized academia and pioneering healthcare providers, are involved in the region’s life sciences growth.
James Cameron is head of life sciences at Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), the Scottish Government’s economic and community development agency for the patch. HIE has made life sciences one of its key priorities. Cameron attributes much of the sector’s growth in the region to the excellent strengths and emerging opportunities in digital health and wellbeing, as well as marine biotechnology.
“Advances in digital healthcare are enabling new projects and services to be delivered for rural communities”, he explains. “We are seeing many remarkable examples. One is a company using a camera capsule, which is swallowed by medical patients to investigate the lower gastrointestinal tract. This avoids the need for them to travel long distances for diagnosis.”
The organization behind this initiative is Danish owned CorporateHealth International. CHI is investing $7.6m in establishing a diagnostics centre in Inverness, and its technology is already being used in rural locations across the region.
Located at Inverness Campus in the capital of the Highlands, the company received support from HIE to set up its UK base and become a provider to the National Health Service, as well as financial support to help it develop in the region.
CHI UK co-founder, Dr. Hagen Wenzek, praised the region’s progressive approach. “The Highlands and Islands region has proven to be a fertile environment for service innovation”, he said. “It is receptive to solutions that serve patients better as well as having a welcoming pool of knowledge and expertise. And, thanks to the partnership with HIE, we are confident that planting our UK operations in that environment will grow CorporateHealth as expected.”
Inverness Campus itself is one of Scotland’s most innovative projects. Its development is being led by HIE with an emphasis on life sciences, collaboration between business, academia and research, and deriving benefits for the wider region.
The Campus opened in 2015 and is already the base for nearly 800 employees, working across several organizations. It includes a strong research and development (R&D) presence with academics and companies working in digital health technology, disease management and animal health.
The site offers a high quality, vibrant location for innovation and business development, with excellent collaboration opportunities with four of Scotland’s universities. Purpose-built life sciences and technology buildings offer office and laboratory space that can be fitted out to companies’ individual requirements.
All of this is adjacent to a large teaching hospital, the innovative Centre for Health Science and LifeScan Scotland; a company that arrived in the region 20 years ago as Inverness Medical, and has grown into one of the country’s largest life sciences employers with a workforce of around 1,000.
Complementing the more traditional life sciences sector profile, a strong network of technology expertise exists across the Highlands and Islands. Businesses are ideally placed to pursue increasing opportunities for the development and deployment of innovative technology solutions and products for the health and wellbeing markets.
The Isle of Lewis, for example, is home to BASF Pharma (Callanish). This is a subsidiary of the BASF Group – the world’s largest diversified chemical company headquartered in Germany. The expert team on Lewis produces highly purified omega 3-rich fatty acids, which are exported across the world. BASF is based on premises owned by HIE, which recently agreed further on-site investment to enable the company to expand and employ more people.
Chris Scarrott, BASF site manager, said: “The team at HIE has been supportive in everything from technology improvements, all the way through to product innovation and site development.”
In Argyll on Scotland’s stunning west coast, is the European Marine Science Park (EMSP), another HIE-led development. With European funding (ERDF), HIE has developed the Park in partnership with Scottish
Development International and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).
Its growing cluster of marine science related activity now involves 12 firms, including micro-algae technology specialist Xanthella Ltd.
Douglas MacKenzie, Xanthella managing director, said: “The EMSP is fast becoming a renowned location for marine science. We have been able to take on an additional suite, now that our algal photobioreactor business has expanded, and HIE provided us with a laboratory and fit-out for our needs.”
Biotechnology company, Cuantec Ltd has also established a base within the on-site business incubator, hosted by SAMS. Their focus is on producing innovative packaging products from shellfish waste products.
Similar to buildings at Inverness Campus, the Park’s Malin House is designed to accommodate the needs of a wide range of occupiers. It also follows the same ethos of encouraging collaboration between tenants and promoting links with education and research, here led by SAMS.
James Cameron said HIE’s key focus at EMSP is to develop the growing cluster of companies by encouraging collaboration and attracting other businesses with similar interests. “There are excellent opportunities at EMSP,” he said. “Businesses here reap the benefits of shared skills and knowledge and take advantage of the advanced scientific and marine facilities. This is building the marine sciences cluster and will continue to attract interest from other organizations thinking about locating here.”