Centers of Excellence

Published on: 
BioPharm International, BioPharm International-12-02-2006, Volume 2006, Issue 7

The University of Dundee and the Scottish Crop Research Institute combined attract more than $95 million in research and commercial income annually.

Although several European countries boast centers of activity, few offer as many resources as the network that comprises Scotland's centers of excellence: Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the Highlands & Islands. Each area includes some of the world's best universities, research institutes, and industry giants, all within close proximity to each other, optimizing the number of resources available to researchers. This is most impressive considering Scotland's size relative to other countries with a population of approximately five million people. However, the country's tradition of innovation continues to guide the excellence across a gamut of life sciences from biopharmaceuticals and stem cell research to medical devices and manufacturing.

Voices of our Cities


Consistently outperforming the growth of the local economy over the past 20 years, Aberdeen has remained a dynamic and prosperous location.

Center for Biomedical Research, Edinburgh

Although Aberdeen is most distinguished for its oil, gas, and subsea technology developments, the city boasts a proven reputation in life sciences. Not only does the University of Aberdeen's College of Life Sciences and Medicine ( has an impressive reputation for medical research innovations, but the Aberdeen Science & Technology Park ( is also within close proximity.

The Aberdeen Science and Technology Park offers a variety of innovative resources to aid companies interested in developing new research and technology across a range of fields. In fact, with more than 50 tenants and approximately 750 employees, the Aberdeen Science and Technology Park offers a diverse consortium of knowledge and expertise for collaboration and other development projects. One of the Park's major resources is its links to medical and biotechnologies, fostering a small hub of life sciences research tied to the academic community in Aberdeen.

Exhibiting a strong focus in life sciences with its College of Life Sciences and Medicine, the University of Aberdeen demonstrates powerful ties to the industry along with the local Institute of Medical Sciences (IMS, Programs at the IMS range from translational medicine research and systems biology to cancer biology research and neurobiology. Offering researchers a significant advantage as one of the largest teaching hospital sites in Europe, Aberdeen is a prime example of the regional collaborations taking place in Scotland among scientists and clinicians. Innovation at the University is exemplified through a collection of spin-out companies and licensing opportunities.

Lifescan Scotland plays a major role in the development of a healthcare and biotechnology cluster in Inverness, helping secure the long-term future of the bio-medical sector in the Highlands and Islands.

The Institute of Applied Health Sciences at The Robert Gordon University ( adds another layer to the region's attractiveness by developing leading population-based studies on healthcare worldwide. Scientists conducting advanced studies in biological science can look to the University's School of Biological Sciences, where researchers are working globally in different environments and in advanced laboratory settings.

Overall, Scotland encompasses several areas of excellence in life sciences, and Aberdeen offers its own unique set of capabilities for supporting research. With two universities and five international research institutes, opportunities for international collaborations abound for companies looking to broaden their potential— as evidenced by the many companies now thriving in Aberdeen.


Dundee has transformed itself into a city driven by developments in technology and growing on the back of industries such as life sciences and computer games.

The West of Scotland is home to 180 companies in the life sciences and related industries.


The industry is very much led by research, and Dundee in particular has achieved an international reputation as a center of research and development expertise, due to the activities within the academic research base—The Universities of Dundee ( and Abertay Dundee (, and the Scottish Crop Research Institute ( The research institutes combined attract more than $95 million in research and commercial income annually.

The University of Dundee currently hosts 3 of the UK's top 20 scientists. The School of Life Sciences supports 720 research and support staff from 50 countries and includes two Royal Society Research Professors and seven Fellows of the Royal Society.

Over the past five years, the principal investigators in the School of Life Sciences have been awarded research grants totaling over $190 million, and the School's research income from external sources was approximately $45 million in 2005, placing it among the top five science departments in UK universities.

The Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT) houses one of the strongest biomedical science research facilities in Europe, with a large critical mass of scientists working in the field of Signal Transduction Research. Established in 1998, the consortium was renewed in 2003 with six pharmaceutical companies: Pfizer (, GlaxoSmithKline (, Astra Zeneca (, Merck KgaA (, Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH (, and Merck Sharpe & Dohme ( and the Medical Research Council ( This second phase gives funding of approximately $28 million over the next five years and is the largest research collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and a British university. This collaboration has also supported the development of the Sir James Black Center. Opened in June 2006 by Nobel Laureate Professor Sydney Brenner, the $40-million Sir James Black Center provides state-of-the-art facilities for 180 new scientists focusing on applied research in disease areas of commercial interest including diabetes, tropical medicine, and drug discovery.

Further developments at the University of Dundee include the Clinical Research Center, a $22-million joint venture between the School of Medicine and NHS Tayside, for patient-based studies and translational research, and the TMRC Research Laboratory, acting as a national resource for supporting innovative scientific developments in Scotland's clinical research base.

Dundee is home to some of Scotland's most promising life sciences companies. Cyclacel ( is Scotland's only indigenous life sciences company to trade on NASDAQ after raising more than $100 million in private equity. Axis-Shield ( is Scotland's largest indigenous life sciences company, currently valued at $300 million and employing more than 400 scientists globally. Upstate ( located its European heaquarters in Dundee before becoming part of Serologicals Corporation and subsequently Millipore (

Dundee accommodates the majority of its core life sciences companies across three purpose-built locations. Dundee Technology Park currently accommodates eight core life sciences companies including Millipore, Axis Shield, and IDMoS.

The Medipark is a new 25-acre site within the campus of Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, and gives innovative companies the opportunity to draw upon resources and facilities from Ninewells Hospital and Medical School. The University of Dundee opened its new incubator facility in the Technopole in the year 2005.

The Edinburgh Science Triangle

Active collaborations across various industries are integral in continuing to develop innovative technologies and major breakthroughs in scientific research. This is extremely evident in the life sciences where, for instance, engineers are working with biomedical researchers to advance therapies for several diseases, and in nanotechnology, which is becoming more instrumental in developing targeted drug delivery. Science parks are emerging around the world, and this is a great opportunity for companies with different specializations to partner with one another to achieve the same goal: to advance scientific discovery. Scotland has taken this notion further and formed the Edinburgh Science Triangle (EST,, which encompasses seven of Scotland's science parks: Center for Biomedical Research (, BioCampus, Alba Campus, Roslin Biocenter, Edinburgh Technopole, Heriot-Watt Research Park, and Pentlands Science Park.

The EST is now one of world's 20 largest science parks, with over 30 years of experience since Europe's first science park opened at Heriot-Watt University in 1971. The expertise offered by the EST ranges from bioinformatics and stem cell research to energy and optoelectronics.

Furthermore, the close proximity between academia and industry, with four major universities in the area, broadens the research capabilities that are available to each of the science parks.

The newest addition to the EST, the Centre for Biomedical Research (CBR), is a $1-billion project that will incorporate commercial, academic, and clinical ventures with research collaborations. The CBR proposition is based on the co-location of the University of Edinburgh's internationally acclaimed medical school, the new state-of-the-art teaching hospital, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, and the Queen's Medical Research Institute. Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep, is head of the Center for Regenerative Medicine, which is also based at the CBR, and will be overseeing stem cell research aimed at developing therapeutic treatments for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease. As a whole, the CBR will be commercializing its research and will put Edinburgh on the map as one of the world's top biomedical research and development centers.

In addition, another center of excellence for stem cell research, bioinformatics, and genomics in the EST is the Roslin BioCenter ( Roslin BioCenter is a science park developed around Roslin Institute, most notable for being the birthplace of Dolly the sheep. The Roslin Institute ( continues to be one of the world's leading centers for animal biotechnology and farm animal genetics. Most recently, Roslin Institute established a non-profit company, Roslin Cells Ltd (, in which Paul De Sousa, MD, will lead a team of researchers in commercializing human stem cell lines worldwide without intellectual property rights. Moreover, some companies such as Geron Bio-Med (, Nexus Oncology (, and also Genecom ( allow Roslin BioCenter to offer others the opportunity to become part of a top scientific community, especially in the areas of genomics and bioinformatics. In fact, Edinburgh is already home to the Edinburgh Center for Bioinformatics ( and the UK National e-Science Center (

The EST includes Scotland's first dedicated national biomanufacturing campus, Biocampus. Although Scotland has a successful cGMP biomanufacturing community, with Intercell Biomedical (, Millipore (, BioReliance (, and Avecia ( located there, Biocampus further reinforces Scotland's position as a leader in this field. There are several hundred life sciences companies in Scotland, and this science park offers them, as well as international companies, an integrated environment that is fully operational for advanced cGMP biomanufacturing. Equally advantageous is Biocampus's close proximity to three of the world's top five cell culture media manufacturers: Invitrogen (Scotland) (, Sigma-Aldrich (Scotland) (, and Hyclone (Northumberland) (

Overall, active collaborations will be essential in advancing scientific discoveries and helping them become applicable to the real world. With such a broad range of science parks, each with unique specializations and a global reputation, the EST is an optimal resource for international companies and research institutes interested in advancing scientific discovery.

Edinburgh is well on its way to becoming one of the top ten cities of science and technology excellence in Europe and, with the help of the EST, will continue leading innovation in the twenty-first century.

Western Promise

Scotland's life sciences industry is rapidly becoming one of the country's economic powerhouses, comparable to anywhere in the world.

In the West of Scotland in particular, there is a noticeable effort to make sure that every last drop of benefit can be extracted from the not-inconsiderable talent and enterprise available. The area is home to around 180 life sciences and related companies, ranging from major pharmaceuticals through diagnostics, therapeutics, medical devices, contract researchers and manufacturers that are jointly responsible for the employment of over 8,000 people.

Add to this the fact that there are four high-quality universities in the West of Scotland and a number of highly respected research institutes supporting in excess of 2,800 life sciences researchers in a variety of fields, and you begin to appreciate that there's a great deal happening here.

The Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, a part of the University of Glasgow ( and headed by respected cancer specialist Professor Karen Vousden, is a case in point. It will benefit from a multimillion dollar expansion program this year, housing 240 cancer researchers and providing research facilities.

Similarly, the Glasgow Biomedical Research Center ( houses 300 scientists in 35 internationally recognized research groups. Led by renowned immunology expert Professor Eddy Liew, the research and development capability of the center is unsurpassed in Scotland.

As well as numerous examples of home-grown talent, many scientists at the cutting edge of research have come here from Europe and beyond, including Professor Massimo Palmarini, from Italy, whose ground-breaking work with retroviruses in mammals has potentially massive significance for AIDS and certain types of leukemia in humans.

Commercially, the West of Scotland goes from strength to strength. Scottish Biomedical (, a Glasgow-based preclinical drug discovery organization, entered into a research collaboration earlier this year with South Korean pharmaceutical company, Chong Kun Dang ( The collaboration focuses on the development of a new diabetes drug.

Pathways from academia to industry are proven. Crucial Genetics (, for example, a University of Glasgow spinout, specializes in DNA profiling and became the first such company in Scotland to be approved by the Department of Constitutional Affairs for supplying court-admissible tests.

Great Expectations

People of the Highlands and Islands have historically maintained a respect for learning in general and the science of life in particular. This strong tradition, particularly in the field of medicine, has continued through the centuries until today.

It is little more than 10 years since Inverness Medical Ltd was established in the Highland capital, initially employing just 30 people to design and manufacture glucose test strips and electronic meters for the global fight against diabetes. Now known as Lifescan Scotland Ltd (, a wholly owned subsidiary of US multinational Johnson & Johnson, it employs around 1,500 workers in Inverness. Of these, 150 are scientists involved in research and development.

The arrival of the company and its subsequent expansion beside Raigmore Hospital has given an enormous boost to the area. Intertwined with the continuing development of the embryonic University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) towards full university status, there has been development of health sciences in the Highlands with clear opportunities for more.

The Center for Rural Health was created at Raigmore six years ago as a research institute exploring new ways of delivering rural healthcare under the joint umbrella of Aberdeen University and UHI. It now employs over 20 staff and has achieved an income of over $6 million.

Last year, the approximately $41-million Center for Health Science, a new institute for healthcare research, business development and training, began construction on the Raigmore Hospital campus. This project is being funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), with approximately $5 million support from the European Regional Development Fund.

In view of the proximity of Lifescan to Raigmore, there is a proposal for a UHI Department of Diabetes/NHS Diabetes Center within the hospital. The possibility of creating a chair of diabetes is also being explored.

Mike Crowe, managing director, LifeScan Scotland, sees what the industry owes the Highlands. "I believe myself to be very fortunate, working and living in the Highlands," he says. "A large proportion of our workforce comes from the local area and I am always surprised when I see just how many people are connected to our manufacturing facility, both directly and indirectly."

But the impact of sciences–based employment isn't only being felt in Inverness. In the west, beside the village of Dunbeg, there is another pillar sustaining this remarkable Highland development of health science—the Scottish Association of Marine Science (, with its headquarters in Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory.

"The life sciences sector in the Highlands and Islands is expanding rapidly and it's exciting to be a part of it," says Crowe.

"Critical to its sustainability will be to foster collaborative opportunities between stakeholders within the life sciences community, such as academia, the NHS and industry, to encourage innovation, through people and knowledge transfer. By working together, we can create a critical mass of a world class standard to compete at a global level," he concludes.

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Jenny Cartwright and David Ross contributed to this article.