Scotland: Leading Life Sciences into the 21st Century

Strong government support, a talented workforce, and a thriving research environment drive life sciences excellence in Scotland.
Aug 01, 2005
Volume 18, Issue 8

Lorna B. Jack
Most cities erect memorials dedicated to political leaders, military legends, or other national heroes. In Scotland, a statue of Dr James Young Simpson, the founder of anesthesia, proudly stands in the center of Edinburgh as a symbol of Scotland's passion and commitment to life sciences for more than 100 years.

Scotland's strong history of scientific innovation and discovery continues to fuel the nation's life sciences industry. Today, this small European nation of just over five million has established global leadership in stem cell science, cancer and cardiovascular research, neuroscience, genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, and signal transduction biology. Strong government support in combination with a highly skilled international workforce and a thriving academic environment has provided the necessary tools and foundation for Scotland to defy boundaries in nearly every area of biomedical research. Furthermore, Scotland's significant scientific contributions in the field of medicine, including CAT scans, MRIs, and unprecedented expertise in cloning (creators of Dolly the Sheep), have helped quickly establish a reputation as one of the world's preeminent leaders in life sciences and biotechnology — on par with Japan and the US.

James Young Simpson,M.D., founder of anesthesia Edinburgh, Scotland
In the past year alone, Scottish researchers have made remarkable progress in a wide variety of life sciences disciplines, including internationally acclaimed work in stem cells and regenerative medicine, cloning, and gene therapy delivery technology. Recently, research scientist Dr. Paul De Souza and his team at the Roslin Institute in Midlothian succeeded in deriving new cell lines in media that are free of animal serum or serum products, creating some of the first "non-contaminated" lines in the world; Dr. Ian Wilmut was granted a human-cloning license by UK regulators to study stem cells from cloned human embryos of individuals affected with motor neuron disease; and the University of Aberdeen announced the development of a new method of gene therapy using laser light.

According to the Framework for Action Plan developed by Scottish Enterprise, research and innovations such as these have led to an unprecedented growth rate averaging 20 percent over the last four years, compared to a 15 percent growth rate in the remainder of Europe, for life sciences companies establishing facilities and conducting business. The total turnover of the Scottish life sciences industry is estimated by Scottish Enterprise to have contributed £1 billion to the nation's gross output in 2003.


As one of the most successful life sciences centers in Europe, Scotland houses more than 20 percent of the UK's biotech companies. It continues to stand as a world leader in biotechnology with international partnerships, an attractive regulatory environment, robust capital investments by the government, and funding by private venture capital firms.

To help ensure this forward momentum, the Scottish government continues to leverage its international economic development agency — Scottish Development International (SDI). Since SDI's formation, the agency has produced resounding results working with the life sciences industry and continues to be successful in attracting foreign investment and skilled scientists from around the world.

Furthermore, Scotland's Inter-mediary Technology Institute (ITI) for life sciences has been highly effective in identifying potential opportunities to commission, manage, and develop projects in emerging technologies across the broad spectrum of life sciences. Launched in September 2003 as part of the Scottish executive's commitment to technology, commercialization, and development, ITI Life Sciences has a proven track record in using intellectual assets generated by these research projects to increase the strength and sustainability of life sciences companies and organizations based in Scotland. This strategic initiative will continue to invest £150 million over the next 10 years to increase competitiveness in several of its key technology sectors, including life sciences.

Scotland is also taking a leading role in funding early-stage ideas leading to the creation of new businesses or technology licensing. Companies such as Cyclacel, Axis Shield, Ardana, and ProStrakan that focus primarily on product development for the human healthcare market are prime examples of organizations that have received research and development funding from the government.

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