Small enough to manage, big enough to matter


Scotland’s life sciences sector is punching above its weight, recognized for its business base, research capabilities and international reputation

By Graham Lironi

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In 1999, Time magazine named Sir Alexander Fleming in its list of the 100 most important people of the 20th Century. The Nobel-prize-winning Scottish physician, microbiologist and pharmacologist’s best-known discoveries are the enzyme lysozyme in 1923 and the world’s first antibiotic substance benzylpenicillin (Penicillin G) five years later.

But Sir Alexander is far from alone when it comes to the international impact made by drugs discovered by Scottish scientists and universities. Others include the top-selling skeletal muscle relaxant Atracurium, discovered in Professor John Stenlake’s laboratory at the University of Strathclyde, while Sir Kenneth Murray, one of the founders of biotech firm Biogen, discovered the first hepatitis B vaccine in the 1970s in Edinburgh.

The next wave of innovation will be driven by Scotland’s expertise in areas like regenerative medicine, cardiovascular disease, neuroscience, metabolic disease and oncology; boosted by having two – Glasgow and Edinburgh – of the world’s top 50 universities in 2017 for life sciences and medicine.

In the north-east of Scotland, according to research from Clarivate, The University of Dundee was ranked ahead of global establishments such as MIT and Berkeley, as “the most influential scientific research institution in pharmaceuticals” over the last ten years.

Scotland, then, has a thriving life sciences cluster recognized as one of the most accessible, well connected and collaborative in Europe. Its key strengths reside in pharma services, regenerative medicine, translational and precision medicine, medical technologies and animal health, though there are emerging opportunities from enabling technologies within the digital health arena, such as data analysis and mobile health.

Home to a world-class research base with a reputation for pioneering medical advances, Scotland is an ideal location to source the right partners for major, international life science projects.

With 19 universities and higher education institutions attracting a significant percentage of UK academic biosciences research funding, Scotland is second only to Switzerland in Europe in terms of citation impact for life science publications.

Its extensive levels of industry-academia collaboration mean that new ideas and research can be translated into successful businesses quickly and efficiently. About $67m has been invested in several innovation centers focusing on stratified medicine, digital health, data science, sensors, industrial biotechnology and aquaculture – all developed to foster collaboration between Scottish academia and industry.

A key sector of the economy with a thriving community, Life Sciences in Scotland is recognized for the distinctive capabilities of its business base and research institutions, international reputation and potential for significant growth and creation of high value jobs.

The sector plays an important role in producing economic benefits for Scotland as well as its ability to improve the quality of care and health for people in Scotland and globally. It is a sector central to the Scottish economy; a significant employer with 37,400 people employed across more than 700 diverse organizations.

Scotland’s world-renowned universities and cutting-edge biotechnology companies are recognized as life science leaders when it comes to drug discovery. However, in addition to early-stage excellence in research, the nation is home to over 150 pharma service and supply companies, of all sizes, that can provide services from hit discovery through to clinical trial supplies and have impressive track records in providing innovative support for drug development.

One such company is Tepnel Pharma Services, a Livingston-based group, which has become a key player in pharmaceutical testing. Bought in 2009 for $125m by Gen-Probe, which was itself acquired in 2012 for $3.8 billon by fellow US firm Hologic, it offers partners regulatory compliant analytics in support of small and large molecule active pharmaceutical ingredients, investigational medicinal products and finished products.

Tepnel’s range of services for its customers on both sides of the Atlantic include batch release and quality control testing of medicines for release in European markets and further afield and its flexible service ensures a quick turnaround that shortens the period from product manufacture to availability to the patient.

David Scott, senior director at Tepnel, says that Scotland’s life sciences sector enjoys a joined-up way of working and the collaborative approach between academia and industry is something of which other nations are jealous.

“There is a lot of cooperation going on and, by working together, Scottish companies can offer big pharma an end-to-end service,” he said.

“This level of collaboration means that companies can work with one another to take full advantage of each other’s expertise and offer a joined-up ‘one-stop shop’ for their pharmaceutical customers. Scotland is small enough to manage but big enough to matter.”

And as part of a $12.95m investment to life sciences, BioClavis has announced it will be creating a base in the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow. A research and development grant of $4.4m has been provided by Scottish Enterprise to the firm to work in collaboration with the NHS and university researchers.

BioClavis is a spin-out from molecular profiling company US-based BioSpyder. The grant money will be used to adapt BioSpyder’s TempO-Seq platform technology into a diagnostic tool for precision medicine and will create more than 40 jobs in Glasgow.

Meanwhile, bluebird bio, Inc and TC BioPharm have agreed a strategic collaboration and license agreement focused on gamma delta CAR T cells. The companies will work together to advance TC BioPharm’s lead CAR-engineered gamma delta T cell program into clinical trials as well as on additional hematologic and solid tumor targets.

Last month, US-headquartered Charles River hosted the launch of the latest Life and Chemical Sciences Skills Investment Plan. To mark the occasion, Life Sciences firm Charles River Laboratories welcomed Minister for Employability and Training, Jamie Hepburn to its site in East Lothian.

“With a highly-skilled workforce and companies at the cutting edge of research and innovation, Scotland already enjoys a global reputation in the Life and Chemical Sciences sector,” said Mr Hepburn.

“We have ambitious targets for the future of the sector, however these can only be achieved by building and nurturing a pipeline of talent that meets the needs of employers.

“That is why we have developed a collaborative approach across government, industry and academia to help realize our ambitions. This Skills Investment Plan, which has been designed in partnership with industry, aims to deliver success and achieve our ambitious growth targets.”

Scotland has a long and distinguished history in the area of drug discovery, across a wide range of therapeutic areas.

Its prospects look bright too, as new start-ups spin out of academia, more established companies continue to progress novel treatments for underserved diseases through clinical development and collaborations between universities and the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world see Scotland play a prominent part in developing the innovative medicines of the future.

Discover more about the latest innovations in Scotland’s dynamic life sciences sector at BIO 2018, Pavilion 1321

Supporting growth


Committed to attracting, nurturing and supporting innovative businesses, Scotland is particularly keen to ensure that the Life Sciences sector continues to flourish.

Scottish Development International (SDI), which has an office in Boston, is a joint venture between the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, bringing together the resources of these organizations to deliver support for companies investing in Scotland, whether a CRO considering Scotland as a location for providing preclinical and/or clinical research, a drug developer seeking innovative manufacture and formulation expertise or a company requiring access to Scotland’s comprehensive supply chain services.

Support for Research

R&D Grant Support – R&D funding – can substantially offset the cost of research and development projects in Scotland. This valuable financial support can cover the costs of everything from buildings and people to technology and equipment – along with any associated outsourcing expenditure.

Patent Box – The UK Government is committed to introducing a preferential regime for profits arising from patents, known as the Patent Box. Companies can apply a 10% rate of corporate tax to worldwide profits derived from patents granted by either the UK Intellectual Property Office or the European Patent Office. The Patent Box is available to companies that are liable for the payment of UK corporation tax.

Support for Investment

Regional Selective Assistance (RSA) is the main investment grant scheme in areas of Scotland designated for regional aid under European Community law. RSA funding is available to create or safeguard jobs for both Scottish-owned businesses and inward investors, from large corporations to SMEs.

Scottish Investment Bank – The Scottish Investment Bank (SIB) activities support the delivery of the wider Scottish Enterprise business plan by stimulating the SME funding market in Scotland. It works with both Scottish SMEs and UK and international investors to stimulate deal flow in Scotland.

Talent Scotland – A project aimed at promoting Scotland as a premier destination for jobs in key sectors, including life sciences. The portal advertises the latest available jobs, employers, and information on relocating to Scotland.

Scots knowledge share is more than sum of its parts

What sets Scotland aside from many other countries in the field of pharmaceutical research and development is the level of collaborative working between industry, academia, the NHS and government, and the benefits which key collaborations can bring for commercial and public partners.

Key collaborations include:

Division of Signal Transduction & Therapy (DSTT)

DSTT hosts a world-leading collaboration between Dundee University and a consortium of industry, including Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck Serono.

School of Life Sciences, Dundee
The University of Dundee’s School of Life Sciences has gained top global rankings for its research

The Farr Institute @ Scotland
A collaboration between six Scottish Universities and NHS National Services Scotland with an aim to both improve the health of the Scottish population and place Scotland as a global leader in health informatics research. This is backed by a network across Scotland, and links into the wider Farr UK Network.

Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS-IC)

SMS-IC is a platform for collaboration linking Scotland’s expertise, data assets and delivery infrastructure to accelerate the real-world adoption of Precision Medicine.

SMS-IC brings together industry innovators, clinicians and world-class researchers to collaborate on stratified medicine opportunities.

National Health Service (NHS) Scotland & Scottish Universities

Edinburgh University
The University of Edinburgh had a reputation in pharmacology research by the 18th century

These organizations work in partnership on world leading research projects in areas including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and metabolic disease, neuroscience and oncology.

Commercial partnerships with NHS Scotland are managed through NHS Research Scotland (NRS).


A government-backed free and impartial service that connects businesses from a wide variety of national and international industries to Scotland’s 23 higher education and research institutes, matching business needs to the right academic expertise.


Developing a world class future in medical imaging for Scotland by drawing on the combined expertise of seven Scottish universities. It is a strong, dynamic network that pools facilities, resources and skills, creating a shared environment for strategic research, education and knowledge transfer.


The CMAC National Facility is an award winning, world-class facility for continuous manufacturing and crystallization research. Working in partnership with industry, its purpose is to transform current manufacturing processes into the medicine supply chain of the future.

National Phenotypic Screening Centre (NPSC)

NPSC is a world-class facility for phenotypic screening run by an interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers who collaborate to advance the use of complex biology and to drive innovation. It is built on a core partnership between the members of the Scottish Universities Life Science Alliance and the University of Oxford. It strives to provide a platform for knowledge exchange with industry and train the next generation of discovery scientists.