Scotland: Leading Life Sciences into the 21st Century

Published on: 
BioPharm International, BioPharm International-08-01-2005, Volume 18, Issue 8

Scotland has a ready pool of skilled workers for companies seeking to conduct business in our country.

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.

Lorna B. Jack

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.

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.

James Young Simpson,M.D., founder of anesthesia Edinburgh, Scotland

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.


Perhaps one of the most challenging areas of scientific discovery of our time — stem cell research — has proven to be both a highly competitive and collaborative area of research. Internationally recognized for its research efforts, Scotland has risen to the top, standing with global-class competitors such as the US, Japan, and Singapore. With a world-leading reputation in stem cell research through the work of two of the largest groups in the field — The Institute of Stem Cell Research (ISCR) at the University of Edinburgh and the Roslin Institute in Midlothian — Scotland can claim a proven track record of discovery and an unmatched academic environment for innovative research. Many scientific experts consider Scotland to be the ideal location in which to conduct this cutting-edge research.

The ISCR is internationally renowned for multidisciplinary research in stem cell biology. Its mission is to acquire the basic knowledge and understanding of stem cells and cell specification required for the development of regenerative therapies to treat human disease and injury. The institute has an outstanding number of research groups conducting cutting-edge work on subjects that include developmental immunology and embryo stem cell neurogenesis. Professor Austin Smith, an accomplished research scientist and director of the institute, has pioneered key advances in the field of embryonic stem cell research and is chairman of the board of directors of EuroStemCell. He conducted significant research while in Scotland and continues to be a major influence in the global stem cell community.

The two-year old Scottish Stem Cell Network (SSCN) also continues to bring together scientists and clinicians to improve the rate at which laboratory research translates into therapeutic benefits for patients. The network links the entire stem cell community in Scotland including academic institutions and clinical and industry-based research groups, and it provides international organizations with easy access to stem cell researchers in Scotland.

As a demonstration of Scotland's commitment to stem cell research, the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) has reserved a £26 million fund to provide a significant boost to Scottish stem cell research. Jack Perry, CEO of Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's domestic economic development organization, believes that in a field of research that is so new and promising, the key to discovery is collaboration rather than competition. Mr. Perry recently made the first of several business development missions to the US to speak with key researchers and prominent business leaders in California and Massachusetts to explore together potential collaborative efforts in stem cell research and the life sciences.

With an excellent output of undergraduates and postgraduates trained in cell biology, Scotland has a ready pool of skilled workers for companies seeking to conduct business in our country. Combining this with a supportive regulatory and funding environment helps Edinburgh become home to one of the largest concentrations of clinical scientists and researchers within the UK working on human stem cells and related clinical applications. Eighty percent of the entire life sciences industry is within a 50-mile radius of three of Scotland's main cities — Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dundee — providing easy access to the country's major stem cell and life sciences laboratories.


Stem cell research grabs the lion's share of headlines, but Scotland also leads in many other life sciences sectors including contract manufacturing capabilities, drug delivery, clinical trials, and diagnostic manufacturing expertise. The country plays host to some of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in the UK, including GlaxoSmithKline (Epivir), Roche (Vitamin C and intermediaries), and Avecia (fine chemicals).

Recently, Stirling Medical Innovations Ltd., a subsidiary of Inverness Medical Innovations (IMI), announced plans to establish a life sciences research, development, and manufacturing facility in Scotland. Stirling plans to identify technologies to develop near-patient and home tests for the diagnosis and management of cardiovascular diseases. Industry experts expect the venture to create around 500 new jobs including over 100 high-value scientific research jobs, with the remainder in product manufacturing. Over the next three years, IMI plans to invest £37.5 million in the research and development program and, following completion, an additional £30 million in manufacturing and commercialization of new products.

Earlier this year, the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI) announced the establishment of an office at the West of Scotland Science Park in Glasgow to help manage a multi-million investment in Scottish drug development research projects. KHIDI, on behalf of the South Korean government and its industry partners, plans to invest up to £18 million over the next nine years in Scottish projects through its International Collaborative Research Program for Drug Development. This initiative builds on the work of the Korean-Scotland BioAlliance, which has held two symposia in Seoul and has seen numerous business development visits to Scotland by Korean pharmaceutical and life sciences companies.

Furthermore, Scotland's academic community continues to help the life sciences community build new bridges with industry. Leading authorities from four of Scotland's premier universities recently converged for the Health of Nations summit in Cambridge, Mass-achusetts to share research knowledge and seek collaborative life sciences research initiatives with representatives from American pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotech companies. The universities aim to host future programs to continue transatlantic dialogue in an effort to build new partnerships and fortify existing ones, so these collaborations may one day bring new therapies to market.

Another particularly fine example of global collaboration is the Dundee Signal Transduction Therapy Consortium (DSTT). The consortium, established in 1998, is a collaborative venture with £8 million funding to address the need of a number of pharmaceutical companies for access to technology in the rapidly emerging area of signal transduction. Partners include Dundee University, Scottish Enterprise Tayside, and the pharmaceutical companies Astra Zeneca, Pfizer, Novo Nordisk, GlaxoSmith-Kline, and Boehringer Ingelheim. DSTT lab collaborates on the development of new technologies with sister labs Downes and Cohen, sharing new intellectual property relevant to drug discovery and development with each of the consortium members. The second phase of the consortium, established in 2003, includes six pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer, GSK, Astra Zeneca, Merck KgaA, Boehringer Ingleheim Int GmbH, and Merck Sharpe & Dohme) and the MRC. This second phase provides funding of £15 million over the next five years and is the largest research collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and a British university.


Scotland sees the future of life sciences paved with great potential for discovery through international collaboration. It is dedicated to communicating a global vision, in which a strong social, political, and academic infrastructure provides life sciences companies with a cohesive network of resources that are efficiently and effectively working together to achieve the goal of scientific discovery.

Scotland's life sciences community is a fine example of this vision, and is well positioned to remain a world leader through the continued support of organizations such as Scottish Development International and ITI Life Sciences. These organizations are key to cultivating existing partnerships between academia and the global business community, while assisting business in seeking new research alliances and product development opportunities that will fuel the search for the latest innovations in science and technology. Those who share Scotland's vision stand to be part of a rich history and tradition in scientific research that has laid the groundwork for the next 100 years of scientific discovery.

Lorna B. Jack is president, Americas, for Scottish Development International, One Memorial Drive, Suite 1220, Cambridge, MA 02142, 617.621.3034, fax 617.621.3036,