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Scotland's Bonny Approach to Life Sciences

Collaboration is the life sciences strategy of the future.

By Rhona Allison

June 10, 2008 | An international leader in life sciences, Scotland has a long, illustrious history of world renowned scientists and ground breaking innovations, from Sir Joseph Lister's pioneering antiseptic surgery to the cloning of Dolly the sheep by the Roslin Institute. Life sciences is undoubtedly one of Scotland's key strengths, with more medical research being conducted per capita in Scotland than anywhere else in the world.

Such history provides Scotland with a strong foundation and in the new economy-particularly in innovation-driven sectors such as the life sciences-countries must use such legacies to mobilize the entire community to catalyze and inspire future growth. Future success will come not from researchers or companies working in isolation, but from dynamic collaborations where all stakeholders are pulling their weight in the same direction.

Scotland is an environment where the next generation of life sciences innovation is flourishing. In addition to producing world renowned researchers, Scotland is also attracting some of the world's finest scientists, such as former Pfizer chemist Andrew Hopkins, the SULSA research professor of translational biology and chair of medicinal informatics at the University of Dundee, and Karen Vousden, director of the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow. By 2020, the country aims to create a globally focused, sustainable life sciences sector built on a national strategy that exploits strengths in scientific excellence, financial services, and innovative business models and that develops, retains, and builds upon Scotland's talents.

The vision is ambitious, but also achievable, as demonstrated by collaborative life sciences efforts already in place. From research centers to public-private partnerships, Scotland's life sciences community is distinguished by unique partnerships between industry, academia, and government that connect all parts of the life sciences community, enabling it to work efficiently and effectively.

Partners in Research
The new Edinburgh BioQuarter is one of the most significant life sciences developments in Europe. Combining the academic excellence of the University of Edinburgh, the clinical expertise of Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary and a government-supported research campus with 1.5 million square feet of accommodation, the BioQuarter typifies Scotland's collaborative approach. 

Guided by a leading life sciences cluster developer, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, the BioQuarter will be a 100-acre site for biomedical research, co-located alongside the university medical school and the new Royal Infirmary at Little France. The development will create a unique environment to complement the significant advantages of co-locating so much expertise and technology in one place.

The BioQuarter will surely cement Scotland's reputation as one of the world's foremost life sciences hubs.

Public-Private Collaboration
An initiative aimed at developing a world-leading network of clinical and scientific excellence throughout Scotland, the Translational Medicine Research Collaboration (TMRC) combines four of Scotland's leading universities, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Scottish Enterprise, and four National Health Service Boards. The partnership is a world first in translational medicine, combining commercial, clinical, and academic expertise to better understand a wide range of diseases such as diabetes, mental health, women's bone disease, cancer, and stroke.

The TMRC released more than $30 million to support 39 new research projects spanning therapeutic areas including cardiovascular and metabolic disease, the central nervous system, women's health, inflammation, and oncology.

Strength in Numbers
The TMRC project typifies the strengths that Scotland has in terms of world-class scientific and academic clusters across its many centers of excellence.

As well as the Edinburgh BioQuarter, Scotland's capital is home to leading academic institutions such as the University of Edinburgh, Heriott Watt University, and the Roslin Institute. These research strengths are fueling growth within Edinburgh's life sciences companies, particularly in stem cells, medical devices, biomanufacturing, and drug discovery.

In Glasgow, the  Beatson Institute and the Strathclyde Institute of Medical Devices are cementing the West of Scotland's reputation as a center of life science excellence with particular clinical expertise.

Dundee has emerged as a life sciences center in its own right, with world-class companies, universities, and research institutions within a 3-mile radius. Both of Dundee's universities undertake world-class research, with the University of Dundee globally recognized as a center of excellence for diabetes research.

With companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Quintiles, Clintec, and Aptuit choosing Scotland as the place to invest and expand their operations, over 1,100 new jobs were created in Scotland's life sciences in 2007.

Scotland's life sciences environment is ripe for long-term success as a global center of excellence and a home for companies looking to access outstanding researchers, a skilled workforce, world-class facilities, and a supportive medical community. It is a model for collaboration that builds on Scotland's historic strengths, and designed for the future. 

Rhona Allison is director of life sciences at Scottish Enterprise. She can be reached at


This article appeared in Bio-IT World Magazine.

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