The Grand Alliances

December 2, 2006
Andrew McNair

BioPharm International, BioPharm International-12-02-2006, Volume 2006, Issue 7

The life sciences industry continues to move at an astonishing pace. Covering biotechnology, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, informatics, tools, instrumentation, and device companies, the sector draws from a vast, multidisciplinary array of technologies including optical, software, engineering, electronics, and nanotechnology.

The life sciences industry continues to move at an astonishing pace. Covering biotechnology, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, informatics, tools, instrumentation, and device companies, the sector draws from a vast, multidisciplinary array of technologies including optical, software, engineering, electronics, and nanotechnology.

Today, we are witnessing the rise of a relatively new breed of life science players—dubbed "convergence" companies—who combine this extraordinary diversity of skill sets with the commercial savvy required to turn science into real-world solutions. Such application of robust, proven technologies to find new solutions for new markets is creating a revolution across the world and is something at which Scotland excels.

David Gow of Touch Bionics, part of a new generation of commercially savvy convergence companies

Longer life expectancies in the developed world and a growing impetus to tackle threats to global health are driving a phenomenal acceleration in innovation and development among the life sciences community. It has been predicted that, within the year, biotechnology and healthcare products will account for 18% of GDP in the US.

This huge opportunity is already being seized by multinational companies such as 3Com (www.3com.com) and Cisco Systems (www.cisco.com), which provide communication solutions for telemedicine; Agilent (www.agilent.com), which develops LED tools for surgical visualization; IBM (www.ibm.com), which markets software tools for computational drug discovery; and GE Healthcare (www.gehealthcare.com), which provides next-generation cardiovascular imaging. Such organizations are leading the way by developing pioneering applications of new technologies for the healthcare and life sciences markets.

For Scotland's part, innovation in the fields of opto- and micro-electronics, engineering, and software is now being exploited by a commercially savvy new generation of convergence businesses driving products into these key global markets. Companies such as Biopta (www.biopta.com), Arrayjet (www.arrayjet.co.uk), Dimensional Imaging (www.di3d.com), and Touch Bionics (www.touchbionics.com) are all punching above their weight with a range of product solutions. Livingstone-based Craneware (www.craneware.com) is making a splash in the US market, selling financial management software solutions tailored to the specific needs of healthcare providers.

ITI Techmedia (www.ititechmedia.com) has also recently announced a new research and development program in the emerging area known as "theranostics." This exciting new field aims to combine diagnostic data with therapeutic solutions to customize treatments for individual patients. The program showcases the strength and depth of expertise found in Scotland's life sciences community, drawing on a multidisciplinary collaboration between Lab901 (www.lab901.com), Axis-Shield (www.axis-shield.com), and the Centre for Genomic Technology and Informatics at Edinburgh University (www.gti.ed.ac.uk).

Convergence companies, by the very nature of their business, are driven by collaboration and partnerships. Whether technical or commercial, the alliance of knowledge and expertise from different sectors and markets provides a compelling proposition.

An example of how this translates into business benefit is Voxar, the Edinburgh-based company founded in 1995 by Andrew Bissell to develop three-dimensional medical visualization software solutions for the clinical market. Voxar's success in forging strategic partnerships with many of the world's leading original equipment manufacturers played a key part in the eventual acquisition of the company by the Belgian company Barco (www.barco.com) in September 2004. This move has led to major investment in the integrated business and significant growth in sales over the last two years.

Their agility, relatively rapid time to market, and reliance on proven technologies make convergence companies an attractive proposition to partners and investors alike. So, with Scotland's crop of homegrown talent knocking loudly on international doors, what is good for these companies is also good for our global standing and the advancement of medicine across the world.