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Scotland’s life sciences: a booming sector

Record investment for a thriving sector

Total investment in Scottish life sciences companies topped £40 million in 2015 – demonstrating the sector’s continued success, and investor confidence in it.

So what drew the investors’ eyes? Innovations like a new treatment for Type 2 diabetes, new applications for a stroke management product, and developments in devices and pharmaceuticals for cystic fibrosis all played their part.

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Celtic Renewables received an £11 million grant to develop biofuel from whisky industry residues.


That’s not to mention TauRx, which raised a significant sum — $135 million — to fund clinical trials of their novel treatment for Alzheimer’s. It was one of the top ten global investment rounds in 2015, and excellent news for the company’s research base in Aberdeen.

It wasn’t all private investors either. The Scottish Investment Bank (SIB) played its part too by raising and matching investment. It contributed £8.8 million and leveraged a further £16.8 million from the private sector, for 35 unique companies.

Many of Scotland’s biggest players expanded their presence in 2015 too. There was new activity from indigenous and international companies like GSK, Capsugel, Piramal and Symbiosis, as well as Quotient, McFarlan Smith, Thermo Fisher (pictured), and Almac.

Setting up in Scotland

And some even established their first foothold in Scotland. Cellexus relocated from Cambridgeshire to Dundee, and both HCi Viocare and Orion Health announced plans to set up bases in Glasgow. In animal health, University of Edinburgh’s Easter Bush Campus proved to be the best location for two new companies, Sinovet and Greengage Lighting. Good news indeed. These businesses all help us to grow a healthy life sciences hub in Scotland.

We also saw investment through acquisitions by international companies in 2015. Nikon bought medical technology company Optos, which will become the cornerstone of its new medical group. Biopta was acquired by Reprocell, a Japanese stem cell specialist. Meanwhile, medical technology giant Medtronic purchased anaesthesia specialist Aircraft Medical; Merck bought IOmet Pharma, and French specialist Sartorius Stedim acquired BioOutsource. Combined, these acquisitions show just how attractive Scotland is as a place to invest – and a great location to build and grow a life sciences business.

Leading the way in product innovation

There was excellent news in product development – from positive results in clinical trials to new rounds of investment. For instance, MGB Biopharma completed a Phase I clinical trial for its novel class of anti-infectives to address the global problem of antibiotic resistance.

NovaBiotics also developed anti-infectives in 2015, and attracted another £5 million investment for its efforts. That takes its total investment to date up to £17 million, confirming its place as the frontrunner in the field and allowing it to take its treatments for cystic fibrosis to the next phase.

Exceptional results in cancer research

Scotland showed promising results in cancer research in 2015. NuCana Biomed presented ground-breaking clinical results in gynaecological cancers in May. Results from the first two phases of clinical trials for its product, Acelarin, showed an exceptional 93% disease control rate – and it’s now ready for Phase III.

In December, TC Biopharm (TCB) announced its clinical study has begun, treating patients suffering from several different tumour types including melanoma, lung and kidney cancer. TCB’s lead product, ImmuniCell, uses white blood cells to target and kill cancerous tissue. Made at TCB’s facility near Glasgow, the product gives UK patients access to an entirely new, world-leading treatment for cancer.

Beyond clinical trials, there was also plenty of innovation going on. Synpromics had an excellent year, closing significant rounds of investment and collaborating with partners across the world. The company is developing synthetic promoters to improve production yields – with applications in everything from agriculture to enhanced gene therapies.

The highest award for 30 years of outstanding research

In one of the biggest stories for life sciences research in 2015, University of Edinburgh won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in recognition of 30 years of research into cardiovascular disease. It’s the highest form of national recognition open to a UK academic institution. And it’s well earned: the University’s British Heart Foundation Centre for Cardiovascular Science has been a leader in improving prevention and diagnosis of heart disease.

In 30 achievement-filled years, the centre has published over 100 research studies – and built a global reputation as the innovation hub for heart disease in the process. Today, it’s a world leader in science and research, from proving a link to air pollution, to developing a new clinical risk score and establishing treatments to prevent recurrent heart attacks.  

Scottish companies went global

Internationalisation is critical to the growth of a life sciences company – and more than 70 percent of our companies are already exporting. In 2015 we provided increased support through trade missions and introduced “bootcamps” for companies interested in new markets.

Touch Bionics extended its reach

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Touch Bionics opened a new centre in Germany for users of its advanced prosthetics.

In the world of intelligent prosthetics, Touch Bionics opened a Touch Life Centre in Germany in September 2015 – designed as a leading training facility for its users. There are already similar centres in the USA and closer to home in Livingston, and the company’s expansion reflects its growing success. With reported sales of £15 million in 2015, as well as releasing improved products – it’s bringing new levels of strength, control and sensitivity to its bionic hands.

Activity in Cambridge, India and New Zealand

Elsewhere, Omega expanded its presence in India, providing in-vitro diagnostic products for use in hospitals, blood banks, clinics and laboratories. And Collagen Solutions, formed in 2013, bought businesses in Cambridge and New Zealand, putting it on track for a valuation of £100 million within the next five years. The company provides medical-grade collagen for novel treatments, and has its sights firmly set on expansion in China in the near future.

Our work to expand Scotland’s manufacturing base

We’ve got our priorities straight when it comes to manufacturing in Scotland. In September we launched the Life and Chemical Sciences Manufacturing Strategy for Scotland. It aims to achieve five things: change perceptions, commercialise research, attract investment, encourage companies to bring manufacturing back to Scotland, and provide better facilities for new technology. It’ll reinforce Scotland as a key location for the sector – and forms the bedrock of our ambitious plans for the future.

In industrial biotechnology, Scotland exceeded many of the targets set in 2013, and one of the largest awards in the sector (£11 million) was for a biotech project. The money will help Celtic Renewables develop advanced biofuels from the residues of the whisky industry.

Developments like these put us in a superb position to host EFIB2016, the premier European industrial biotechnology conference.

Recipe for success in 2016

Looking ahead to 2016, the sector’s success will continue to rely on internationalisation, innovation, investment and developing the workforce for the future. Scotland’s Life Sciences Advisory Board (LiSAB) is evolving to increase industry involvement and leadership to help focus the sector’s strategy to 2020. More immediately, it will be interesting to see the impacts of the great investments into Scotland’s innovation centres. 

As you can see, Scotland’s life sciences sector is a diverse and thriving one – full of innovative companies collaborating with some of the world’s best academic institutions. It’s no surprise that employment in the sector has steadily increased over the past three years and there are now more than 30,000 working in Life Sciences in Scotland.

It’s this vibrant cluster that makes Scotland an excellent place to invest in and grow life sciences companies. Get in touch to find out more.

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