Scotland, the birthplace of golf and Dolly the Sheep, is making its mark as an incubator for life science and drug discovery.
Throughout history, Scotland has been at the forefront of medical discoveries—from anesthesia and antiseptics to MRI and Dolly the Sheep. Scotland today is no exception. While small in size, the nation is home to one of the largest and fastest growing life science clusters in Europe, with more than 200 organizations involved in the support and supply of the drug discovery and development process. Home to more than 600 life science organizations, Scotland’s drug discovery and development expertise spans major universities and research institutes, as well as world-leading companies and committed clinicians.
These extensive resources, combined with the nation’s renowned commitment to collaboration between public, private, and academic sectors, make Scotland an attractive location for life science and pharma companies to conduct all stages of drug discovery research. As R&D costs and regulatory pressures increase, Scotland’s cutting-edge laboratories, translational medicine research centers, clinical facilities, and commercialization opportunities help companies efficiently bring compounds to market.
Commitment to collaboration
A hallmark of Scotland’s successful approach to life sciences and drug discovery is a deep commitment across government, industry, and universities to collaborative research. The knowledge inspired and tapped by such collaborations has produced many landmark breakthroughs, such as penicillin (Sir Alexander Fleming, 1929), insulin (John MacLeod, 1920), and the p53 tumor suppressor gene (Sir David Lane, 1979), as well as drug developments such as Zantac and Ventolin (Sir David Jack, 1980’s), beta-blocker drugs (Sir James Black, 1992), and the first HPV vaccines (Ian Fraser, 2005). Scotland’s expertise, within its academic institutions, National Health Service, and the commercial base, spans the whole drug development pipeline from early research through clinical trials to product commercialization, making it an efficient and effective location for one-stop investments.
Scotland’s life science companies and organizations also recognize that by working together, world-class scientists will be better equipped to face the challenges of global competition. The synergies have brought together the first-of-its-kind Translational Medicine Research Collaboration (TMRC) between Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, four Scottish universities, Scotland’s National Health Service, and Scottish Enterprise.
In the second stage of the $100 million TMRC project, over $30 million of funding has been released to support 39 new research projects covering a wide range of therapeutic areas including cardiovascular and metabolic disease, central nervous system disorders, women’s health, inflammation, and oncology.
By combining commercial, clinical, and academic expertise to better understand a wide range of diseases such as diabetes, mental health, women’s bone disease, cancer, and stroke, the TMRC is a world “first” in the study of translational medicine and a model that is uniquely possible in Scotland.
Specialist research centers
Academic institutions involved in drug discovery also have direct access to clinical settings throughout the National Health Service, ensuring a strong patient-centered focus that results in successful collaborations with organizations around the world. Scotland’s scientific research and development covers areas of oncology, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, central nervous system diseases, stem cells, and regenerative medicine.
Some of the world’s most prominent cancer studies are being conducted at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Laboratories in Glasgow, where researchers are studying the molecular pathways governing cell growth, cell death, and movement, and how these processes are perturbed in cancers.
In addition, Scottish universities are commercially-focused and collaborate extensively with the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. The Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT) is a collaboration between five of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies—AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck KGaA (through its Merck Serono division), and Pfizer, and 13 research teams based at the University of Dundee. The DSTT was founded in 1998 and expanded in 2003, and over that period attracted funding of $36.5 million (£23million). It recently received an additional $17.5 million (£11 million) to fund activities until 2012.
The aim of the DSTT is to work with the participating pharmaceutical companies to accelerate the development of improved drugs to treat global diseases (such as cancer, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis). It is thought to be the largest collaboration between the UK academic community and the pharmaceutical industry, and is widely regarded as a model for how academia and industry should interact.
Scotland is also a world leader in stem cell research with Edinburgh maintaining one of the largest concentrations of human stem cell clinical scientists and researchers within the UK. The Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM) in Edinburgh is a world-leading center for excellence in regenerative medicine and stem cells. Led by Professor Ian Wilmut, this $118 million facility accommodates 220 academic researchers as part of a “bench to bedside” approach to stem cell research. In addition to basic stem cell research, the Center has the capacity to develop and manufacture cells and houses commercial and regenerative medicine research organizations and spin-outs.
Commitment to growth
As a nation with a long commitment to innovation, Scotland has designated significant funding to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit within its life sciences sector, and pharmaceutical and biotech companies are increasingly turning to Scotland for R&D outsourcing and expertise.
ITI Life Sciences, for instance, is an innovation fund that provides resources for early stage research and development programs to help bring intellectual assets to market faster. A panel of industry, research, and investment leaders identifies future market needs and development opportunities to bridge the gap between publicly-funded early stage research and privately-backed commercial development. By bringing together key partners from industry and academia, ITI works to identify unmet needs and solve industry problems.
Scotland is recognized not only as a supportive home for early stage research, but it is also a center for multinational life sciences companies such as Wyeth and Johnson & Johnson. And the country’s unique connectivity and talent has attracted some of the world’s leading clinical research organizations (CROs) including Quintiles, Aptuit, and Charles River Laboratories. With its high-tech infrastructure and academic collaboration, Scotland today supports a network of more than 40 CROs conducting all stages of R&D research.
Also working at the forefront of leading-edge drug research and development are companies indigenous to Scotland, including ProStrakan, Cyclacel, and Scottish Biomedical. These companies both add to and benefit from Scotland’s rich pool of innovation.
Capacity to encourage discovery
Scotland’s high-tech infrastructure, including the $1 billion Edinburgh BioQuarter, will only serve to reinforce the nation’s world-leading capabilities in areas such as drug discovery and development, stem cell science, medical technologies, translational medicine, bioinformatics, and specialist manufacturing.
Developed in partnership with Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc, the new Edinburgh BioQuarter is home to the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM). Combining the academic excellence of the University of Edinburgh, the clinical expertise of Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary, and a government-supported research campus with 1.5 million square feet of accommodation, the BioQuarter typifies Scotland’s collaborative approach and positions Edinburgh as one of the world’s leading centers for biomedical investment.
Bringing together industry, academia, and government, Scotland has developed an integrated and dynamic approach designed to create an environment that encourages drug discovery and a globally sustainable life sciences sector.
Scotland’s life sciences environment is ripe for long-term success as an international center of excellence and a home for companies looking to access skilled researchers, world-class facilities, and a supportive medical community. Scotland epitomizes connectivity and collaboration that works; building on historic strengths, designed for the future.
About the Author
With 18 years experience in the Life Science industry, Rhona Allison has responsibility for setting and delivering Scottish Enterprise’s Life Science strategy to support the economic growth and development of the Life Sciences sector in Scotland.
Filed Under: Drug Discovery