Beyond Dolly - Scotland's Life Sciences Industry Moves into the 21st Century

Lorna B. Jack

BioPharm International, BioPharm International-04-01-2004, Volume 17, Issue 4

Scotland's life sciences community lost an icon this past year with the death of Dolly the Sheep. Cloned by Roslin Institute in 1996, Dolly came to symbolize Scotland's world-leading innovation in the life sciences. However, biotechnology in Scotland goes beyond a cloned sheep.

Scotland's life sciences community lost an icon this past year with the death of Dolly the Sheep. Cloned by Roslin Institute in 1996, Dolly came to symbolize Scotland's world-leading innovation in the life sciences. However, biotechnology in Scotland goes beyond a cloned sheep.

BioPharm International Photomontage

The full spectrum of the life science industry - from drug discovery and development to biomanufacturing, stem cell research, bioinformatics, neuroscience, cancer research, genomics, and proteomics - can be found within Scotland's borders. A country with just over five million people, it produces twice the number of life scientists compared to the other countries of the United Kingdom. Scottish companies and scientists are producing a litany of exciting ideas that are shaping the industry. Moreover, global biotech's best story may be in Scotland.

In 1999, Scotland's main economic development agency, Scottish Enterprise, pledged to double the country's biotech community and create Europe's leading biotechnology region by utilizing Scotland's academic science departments, research institutes, hospitals, and large and small biotech companies. By 2003, the goal was reached: the country's biotech community currently employs 26,000 people (up from 12,000 just four years ago) in over 500 organizations, and the biotechnology community's average yearly growth has been more than 20% during the period from 1999 to 2003.

Scottish Enterprise's Role

In the last four years, Scottish biotech has experienced massive growth, due in part to Scottish Enterprise - a development organization funded by the Scottish government and tasked to help build a world-class economy. Scottish Enterprise saw a unique opportunity to use the country's vibrant life sciences sector and tradition of innovative scientific discovery and development to help the Scottish biotechnology industry establish a significant global presence.

As a result, Scotland's biotechnology industry has become one of the most successful in the world and one of the most concentrated biotechnology clusters in Europe. The sector has become internationally renowned for R&D in oncology, virology, immunology, and nuclear transfer technology.

Scotland also has been successful in recent years in attracting foreign investment in the life sciences sector. The country now hosts a broad range of foreign companies that, by working in Scotland, have significantly reduced risk and cost while broadening their intellectual property.

Scottish Enterprise is currently implementing strategic partnering initiatives to match global markets with Scotland's needs, taking advantage of established international collaborations when possible.

Intermediary Technology Institutes

The launch of Scotland's Intermediary Technology Institutes (ITIs) is part of Scotland's commitment to increase competitiveness in several of its key technology sectors, including life sciences. Each of the ITIs - ITI Life Sciences, ITI Energy, and ITI Techmedia - will focus on its respective market but will also identify potential overlap or "white space" opportunities. This strategic initiative will invest £150 million in life sciences over the next 10 years.

The ITIs encourage membership by companies and other organizations by providing members with valuable market intelligence and the opportunity to influence the research agenda.

ITI Life Sciences will identify, commission, and manage research and development projects in emerging technologies across the broad spectrum of life sciences. This precompetitive research will address the areas of unmet market need with the most commercial viability. The intellectual assets generated by these research projects will be used to increase the strength and sustainability of life sciences companies and organizations based in Scotland.

Universities Cultivate Innovation

Scotland's greatest strength may lie in its unparalleled university research capabilities that have produced a test bed for innovation. Scotland has a history of producing truly gifted scientists. These include nuclear transfer pioneer Ian Wilmut, who astonished the world with Dolly the Sheep; Sir David Lane, who discovered the p53 gene; and Sir Phillip Cohen, who made significant contributions to the treatment of cancer through his work in signal transduction.

Scotland's concentration of thirteen universities known for academic excellence is hard to equal anywhere in the world. Strong clinical and scientific research has attracted considerable long-term funding and facilitated the formation of a large number of academic centers of excellence, such as those at Edinburgh University.

Edinburgh University is one of the United Kingdom's largest and most successful research universities, with a reputation for world-class research in medicine and biotechnology. The university currently employs 1,000 postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, covering areas such as bioinformatics, cardiovascular, neuroscience genomics, and stem cell research. For example, investigators are attempting to unravel the networks involved in gene regulation and embryo development by correlating genetic variation with diagnosis and treatment of human disease. Research in these areas is performed by different departments across the university, including the Division of Biological Sciences, the Faculties of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, and the Division of Informatics.

Edinburgh University is home to the Scottish Center for Genomic Technology and Informatics (GTI). GTI was established to facilitate cost-effective, collaborative microarray research at the university and other institutes.

Roslin Institute uses GTI for assistance with emerging microarray technologies relevant to genomic and proteomic studies. Roslin is one of the world's foremost centers for research on farm animal genomics, with major programs in pig, poultry, sheep, cattle, and comparative genomics. Roslin Institute also hosts the UK Center for Functional Genomics in Farm Animals. This $5 million initiative, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), will provide UK researchers with access to microarray and other facilities at Roslin Institute. Developing animal models helps other scientific units, such as Edinburgh's Human Genetics Unit, to stay at the forefront of research into human genetics. The Human Genetic Unit's role is to advance the understanding of genetic factors implicated in human disease and normal and abnormal development. Its programs include developmental genetics, chromosome biology, and models for human genetic diseases.

The University of Dundee has established a reputation in the fields of biomedical and life sciences research. Dundee has more than 1,600 scientists and clinicians covering the spectrum from fundamental research to the development of novel therapeutics and clinical trials. The university's strengths are cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Key research facilities and institutions, such as the Biomedical Research Center, Tayside Institute of Cardiovascular Research, and The Dundee Cancer Center bring together numerous scientific and clinical groups.

Dundee has established an international reputation for research into the fundamental nature of cancer, allowing it to cultivate a wide range of collaborations with the pharmaceutical industry ranging from precompetitive research collaborations to clinical trials and studies. Dundee is one of the largest academic centers for the study of kinases and phosphatases and their potential drug targets and reagents for use within the pharmaceutical industry.

Collaboration

Scottish companies can take advantage of academic centers of excellence, such as The Strathclyde Institute for Drug Research at the University of Strathclyde. The Institute focuses on early-stage drug discovery projects that can be licensed to industrial partners. The Strathclyde Formulation Research unit carries out preformulation and formulation studies and small-scale manufacturing for phase 1 and 2 clinical trials. The University of Strathclyde discovered atracurium, which was developed by Wellcome. In addition, the Fujisawa Institute of Neuroscience was established as a collaborative venture between Edinburgh University and Japan's Fujisawa Pharmaceutical.

Currently, the University of Dundee, along with the Medical Research Council, collaborates with six pharmaceutical partners - AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Company, Merck KGaA, and Pfizer - to carry out precompetitive research into kinases and phosphatases. The companies will provide funding of more than $25 million over five years - almost double the amount awarded for the previous five years.

Preclinical drug development is a major strength. In the current financing and licensing climate, the University of Dundee is positioned to link its early-stage research and drug targets with companies with compound libraries. Dundee is currently collaborating with the pharmaceutical industry on four large-scale projects on drug metabolism. These projects - valued at $20 million dollars to the university - are designed to determine the toxicity and metabolism of compounds of interest earlier in the drug discovery process. Advances in this area are sought keenly by the pharmaceutical industry as they offer substantial cost and time savings. These collaborations have allowed the University of Dundee to spin off three companies and establish one university-based company: Cyclacel, CXR Biosciences, Cypex, and Kinasource.

Strength In Stem Cells

Scotland has taken the initiative in stem cell research by establishing Europe's first Stem Cell Center at Edinburgh University. The Center is a coventure of the Medical Research Council and BBSRC. The center's $7 million funding will allow Scottish universities and companies to better collaborate with clinicians to develop stem cell therapies. Scotland realizes the massive potential of stem cell therapies to revolutionize medical procedures by repairing diseased and damaged body tissues. Nine percent of the world's stem cell patents originated in Scotland.

The United Kingdom's foremost scientist in the developmental biology of stem cells, Austin Smith, will direct the center. The center seeks to turn stem cell research into clinical applications and to create a single European market for stem cell therapies. Two of the world's leading stem cell companies - United States-based Geron Biomed and Australian Stem Cell Sciences - currently operate in Scotland.

Scottish Enterprise and other funding bodies realize that input from several different disciplines is necessary for advances in stem cell biology to be translated into identifiable health benefits. Last May, Scottish Enterprise committed more than $300,000 for the creation of Scotland's Stem Cell Network. The Network is designed to be a multidisciplinary forum dedicated to bringing scientists, funding bodies, testing agencies, and medical practitioners together to realize the full potential of research breakthroughs.

Pharmaceutical Support

In addition to academic support throughout Scotland, companies offering contract manufacturing capabilities, drug delivery, clinical trials, and expertise in diagnostic manufacturing are abundant. Scotland also has some of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in the UK, including GlaxoSmithKline (Epivir), Roche (Vitamin C and intermediaries), and Avecia (fine chemicals).

Enterprising Scotland

Scottish Enterprise has been instrumental in bringing entrepreneurs, investors, and bankers together to boost Scotland's biotechnology and life sciences community. In May, Edinburgh will host BioEquity Europe 2004, the premier investor meeting for European life sciences. BioEquity Europe is the key platform to showcase profitable life science investment.

With its vast academic support system and organizations such as Scottish Enterprise, Scotland is poised to become one of the world's premier "hubs" for the life sciences.