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Solving Global Challenges Holds the Key to Growth of Scotland’s Life Sciences Sector

By Dave Tudor, Chair of Life Sciences Scotland Industry Leadership Group

Over the centuries Scotland has played a significant role in medical advancements and scientific innovations. But these aren’t confined to the past; this is Scotland’s future through the work and growth of Scotland’s life sciences sector.  Scotland is a centre of life sciences excellence from the cloning of Dolly the sheep to advancements in precision medicine. The sector is constantly striving to answer the world’s most immediate global challenges.

There are many areas of expertise and research in Scotland. In the last five years, six new Innovation Centres have been created, linking academia with industry to turn innovation into commercial value. This has made Scotland more competitive within the UK and internationally. Continued work in digital technologies, advances in genomics and big data, developments in high value manufacturing and innovations in the bioeconomy are all helping to tackle global challenges such as an ageing population, proliferation of chronic diseases and the rising cost of healthcare provision.

Currently, the world is facing many challenges, which science and innovation need to address in order to keep the global population safe and healthy. Scotland’s life sciences sector is helping to accelerate growth, drive forward innovation and address emerging global trends in areas such as antibiotic resistance and food security. If Scotland can be at the forefront of emerging global trends, find solutions, create new markets and opportunities, then our life sciences sector will grow and provide a significant contribution to the economy.

Scotland is a unique position as a small country with a working ecosystem that makes collaboration between academia and commercial companies in the life sciences sector manageable and successful.

We are becoming a leader in precision medicine, developing a more data driven and personalised approach to healthcare, demonstrating its effectiveness as a centre for cutting edge clinical research. Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS-IC) with its coordinated Precision Medicine Ecosystem now in place, has established itself as a perfect location for the development and clinical trials of novel treatments and therapies through access to its unique clinical infrastructure and patient data. SMS-IC’s mission is to find the right drug for the right patient at the right time. The centre is a unique collaboration of life sciences, bringing together leading experts from industry, the National Health Service and academia with a common aim of developing safer, more effective therapies and diagnostic tools for the management of chronic diseases.

We regularly hear about the over prescribing of antibiotics and the adverse effect on the success of these medicines in treating bacterial infection. Budget constrained health systems need to find an effective solution.  Scotland has a strong heritage in fighting fungal infection, going as far back at Alexander Fleming. There is significant research taking place around antibiotic resistance in both academia and at a commercial level with companies such as Novabiotics working on anti-infective trials for difficult-to-treat, medically unmet diseases from cystic fibrosis to fungal nail infection.

Pioneering research is the backbone of any advancement and the Centre for Continuous Manufacturing and Advanced Crystallisation (CMAC), based at the University of Strathclyde, is a world-class hub for manufacturing research and training, working in partnership with industry.  The centre’s purpose is to transform current manufacturing process of drugs and accelerate adopting of new processes required for future medicines. CMAC works with industry and has attracted large pharma eg GSK, AZ, Bayer, Novartis, Lilly, Takeda, Roche and an eco-system of technology companies eg Siemens. The challenge they are addressing at CMAC is industrially focused moving from traditional manufacturing to novel processes improving efficiencies in the medicine manufacturing process. Processes are developed quicker with less material using advanced experimentation, modelling and simulation. For those working at CMAC, being able to speed up the manufacturing process to enable drugs to get to market sooner and improve patient care is at the heart of what they do.

We take it for granted that we’ll always have access to food and water but in so many places in the world the reality is very different. Years of droughts, famine and poor soil have meant certain areas have struggled to provide enough food for the local population. For several years, researchers in Scotland have been studying processes from the gene and molecular level to field scale, providing vital knowledge to tackle problems of food security and development of sustainable food production in the backdrop of climate change. The James Hutton Institute is one such research centre making a major contribution to the understanding of key global issues through its research into land, crops, water and the environment. Together with local partners, scientists at the Institute have been working in Malawi and Kenya to help farmers increase potato yields and incomes by establishing systems to support virus-free potato seed tuber production.

In Scotland we have the resources, the knowledge and the facilities to help address some of the most serious global challenges in our lifetime and beyond. Our collaborative approach across the life sciences sector in Scotland is enabling us to pool our expertise and resources to help find the solutions quicker.  The growth of the sector is beneficial to every single one of us as we strive to improve the lives of a growing global population.

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