Scotland: Ushering in the next age of life sciences

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

Scotland is a recognized leader in stem cell research, neuroscience, cancer research, genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics.

With continued success over the last few years, Scotland's life sciences sector is thriving and has a very promising future in sight. The country's growth in this sector can be attributed to major breakthroughs in several research areas and international partnerships. With continued advances in science, however, come several changes to the life sciences globally. Methods of diagnosing and treating diseases will undoubtedly change as a result of the sequencing of the genome and as the genetic basis of more and more diseases is revealed. The use of nanotechnology will allow more targeted drug delivery, and new technologies are allowing medical devices to be less invasive and more site-specific. Other major shifts have included increased outsourcing of R&D and the integration of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to meet the rise in demand of un-met medical needs more efficiently. Scotland is eager to capitalize on these global changes as many of country's strengths lie in these very areas.

Ken Snowden

Scotland's life sciences sector comprises more than 590 organizations, with nearly 29,500 employees. The country is making significant contributions to biomedical research and is already recognized as a leader in stem cell research, neuroscience, cancer research, genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics. With a strong research base, an excellent academic community, and home to many of the world's leading experts in their respective fields, Scotland is and will continue to be a premier choice for research partnerships and global expansions.


Recently, Invitrogen Corporation ( announced that it would integrate all of its existing sites in Scotland to create a European "super-center." This facility will also be the company's European headquarters with approximately $17 million invested in its development. With its solid history of cutting edge research, a supportive life sciences cluster, and a highly qualified base of workers, Scotland was the optimal choice for Invitrogen's European headquarters.


In April 2006, another major announcement was made that will solidify Scotland's role as a leader in not only developing innovative treatments for some of the world's most debilitating diseases, but also for speeding up the process of bringing them from bench to bedside. This deal, worth approximately $95 million, was signed by Wyeth Pharmaceutical Co. ( to develop the world's first Translational Medicine Research Collaboration in Scotland. Through the use of biomarkers in monitoring the progress and response to treatments of various diseases, translational medicine allows researchers to develop new drugs more rapidly. With the participation of Scotland's four leading clinically based medical schools (Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen), along with Wyeth, Scottish Enterprise, and the National Health Service Boards in Grampian, Greater Glasgow, Lothian, and Tayside, the magnitude of this partnership is unparalleled.


Perhaps one of the most challenging but ultimately promising areas of study in this century is stem cell research. Scotland is already well distinguished in this field and will continue advancing the applicability of stem cells in treating several of the world's deadliest diseases.

Aside from being home to many of the top stem cell experts and having an unmatched academic environment, the country has a favorable regulatory environment, funding support from its government, and some of the most advanced research facilities in the world.

In late 2006, Roslin Cells ( was founded, a non-profit company that will be commercializing human stem cell lines. What is unique about Roslin's offering is that these human stem cell lines will be sold worldwide with unencumbered intellectual property rights, accelerating the process of developing medicines and treatments.

This activity also reinforces Scotland's role in facilitating stem cell research, allowing scientists to access human stem cell lines on a non-profit basis and help start-up companies enter the stem cell arena.


Scotland's academic community offers industry the solid research foundation it needs to thrive in competitive markets. International life sciences powerhouses have sought out Scottish universities to facilitate progress in targeted industry areas. Geron Corporation (, for instance, is collaborating with the University of Edinburgh ( to conduct preclinical safety and efficacy studies with three types of cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. The research will take place at the Center for Regenerative Medicine, which provides not only state-of-the-art research facilities but also the expertise of leading scientists, such as Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly the sheep, in a rich environment for the advancement of stem cell research.

Another major collaboration is at University of Dundee's ( Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT) and involves six of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies including AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Co. Inc., Merck KGaA, and Pfizer. This partnership was formed to advance the study of cell signaling and research kinase and phosphatase inhibitors for the treatment of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. The University of Dundee is also on the forefront of many of the world's most advanced cancer studies, along with the Beatson Cancer Research Institute ( and the University of Glasgow ( The close proximity among Scotland's major universities allows easy access for major collaborations among them and with nearby companies. In fact, 80% of the entire life sciences industry lies within a 50-mile radius of three of Scotland's main cities—Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee—providing easy access to the country's major life sciences centers.


Scotland's leading status in the life sciences will be strengthened in the coming years with several new developments in the pipeline, giving Scotland a new national identity as a life sciences hub. Under the new "Life Sciences Scotland" brand (, Scotland will market its life sciences capabilities to global investors and potential overseas partners, promoting the full breadth and depth of capability across the nation.

Among the strongest assets strengthening the Life Sciences Scotland brand will be the new Center for Biomedical Research (, part of the Edinburgh Science Triangle, which will position Edinburgh as one of the top ten cities for biomedical investments.

Additionally, the Life Sciences Alliance, formed last year and comprising senior representatives from the key public and private sector organizations involved in Scotland's Life Sciences, will aim to encourage closer working relationships among industry, academia, the National Health Service, and policy makers at a national level to facilitate Scottish innovation well into the twenty-first century.

KEN SNOWDEN is the director of life sciences for Scottish Enterprise, 150 Broomielaw, Atlantic Quay, Glasgow, Scotland, G2 8LU, tel. +141 228 2499,