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Preclinical contract research excellence in Scotland


An integral part of this thriving sector, is Scotland’s large cluster of preclincial contract research organisations (CROs), from global leaders to smaller, more niche service providers offering innovative models for testing the safety and efficacy of new therapies. This enables pharma companies to make better informed and early ‘go/no-go’ decisions on potential drug candidates before embarking on costly clinical trials.

Global leaders with a base in Scotland include BioReliance, Sartorius Stedim BioOutsource and Charles River. BioReliance, a subsidiary of Merck KGaA, offer a wide range of biopharmaceutical testing and manufacturing services, including cell biology product characterisation, virology, mycoplasma testing, bacteriology and viral clearance testing from its two Scottish sites. Sartorius Stedim BioOutsource provide contract testing services to assess the quality and safety of biologics and vaccines, including a range of off-the-shelf assays for biosimilar characterisation and comparability, plus bio-safety testing of cell banks and bulk harvest. Charles River offer all aspects of preclinical testing and currently employ over 750 skilled employees in Scotland.

Scotland's strength

Scotland’s strength though lies in the proliferation of smaller, more niche companies with highly specialised expertise and in the degree to which they interact to ensure a wide range of services.

DC Biosciences offers cutting edge services in proteomics to companies including Genentech, Janssen and Pfizer. The company’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Frank Rao, thinks that this field will become increasingly important, especially in areas like early stage cancer diagnosis as proteomic analysis can detect shifts that genomic analysis cannot. DC Bioscience is at the leading edge of proteomics technology and competes well on costs. In addition, Dr Rao says the company is benefitting from “the very vibrant environment at the moment in Scotland...a lot of the companies are in good communication with one another, so for example if there is a particular aspect of a project we can’t do, the chances are we know a company in Scotland that can help”.

Dr Rao praises “the critical mass of companies in Scotland” and organisations like Scottish Enterprise which facilitate interactions between pharmaceutical companies, organising meet-and-greet events while Scottish Development International help facilitate meetings with potential international clients.

Another successful specialist company is Tissue Solutions, which supplies blood and tissue for a range of applications across the whole discovery process, including target identification, target validation and biomarker studies. Tissue Solutions act as a virtual biobank with a network of around 120 suppliers globally. The company’s large industry network means it has a very good idea of what is being worked on globally and its advice, as well as its, services are in high demand, with clients including the world’s top ten pharma companies.

Tissue Solutions Chief Executive, Dr Morag McFarlane, thinks that the proliferation of more specialist companies in Scotland is its main strength. She says “If you look at projects – target ID validation, finding a suitable target and then testing all the way through to clinical trials – you can do that all in Scotland”.

Scotland has both niche expertise and general service provision Dr McFarlane argues, “it is all here, it’s just getting everybody involved and letting the world know a bit more about it as well”. She adds that the quality of science education in the country means that recruiting staff is not a problem: “There are a lot of strong life science graduates [and] even those who went to university in Scotland and then went away overseas, quite often they come back”.

Scotland's large preclinical services cluster

There is a large cluster of companies in Scotland which offer specialist preclinical services and models across the entire breadth of the industry. Some examples include:

  • ReproCELL Europe, a provider of leading-edge products and services in the fields of drug discovery and stem cell research. The company is developing unique and competitive products and services to accelerate research in stem cells, human tissues and 3D cell culture.
  • Micromatrices, which uses innovative molecular visualisation/localisation technologies to understand the biological effects of drugs/environmental chemicals in vivo and in in vitro model systems.
  • Fios Genomics, specialiszes in the analysis of high-dimensional, multi-variant datasets
  • Aquila BioMedical offers leading research expertise in immuno-oncology, immunology and multiplex histology
  • Clyde Biosciences, specialiszes in cardiovascular drug safety testing, including in iPS-derived heart cells.
  • Censo Biotechnologies, enables the discovery and development of new targeted treatments for disease by using stem cell technology to predict how drugs will behave across a given population.

With so many diverse specialist companies operating here, Scotland is rich in expertise and offers the full end to end service for preclinical services.

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