Exciting opportunities for biomedicine in Scotland…
Exciting opportunities for biomedicine in Scotland
Scotland’s universities have a long tradition of excellence in biomedical and life sciences research. This issue highlights how this expertise has underpinned the development of many innovative Scottish biomedical companies, turning exciting ideas into new drugs and other pharmaceutical solutions, which have major international impact.
These are challenging times for the pharmaceutical industry. The difficulty of producing safe new drugs that can meet stringent safety regulations and be brought to market has resulted in high risks and hugely increased costs. As a result, pharma has severely cut back on its in-house research and development, and looks to reduce costs and risk by outsourcing many aspects of the drug discovery pipeline. Thus pharma increasingly looks to identify promising new drug candidates developed by smaller biomedical and biotechnology firms that can test the feasibility of new methods and technologies. This provides a great opportunity for the biotechnology sector in Scotland, thanks to the strength of basic research in Scottish universities and the resulting pool of highly trained and well educated personnel able to staff new biomedical companies. If we are willing to invest in innovation, and are willing to take risks and not insist on short-term financial returns, many Scottish companies can flourish, effectively filling a gap in the market created by the financial and technological realities of modern pharma.
While Scotland is exceptionally well placed to take advantage of the changing face of pharma, we should never be complacent. Professor Roland Wolf, while noting that “Research collaborations between universities, the pharmaceutical industry and biotechnology companies are an integral and highly successful component of all Scottish universities,” suggests that there has been a slowdown in the rate of forming new companies, and that “new ways are needed to support academics as founders of companies in achieving the correct balance between academic and commercial work.” (see Profile of CXR Biosciences on Page 20 and Viewpoint on Page 27).
The new Chief Scientist for Scotland, Professor Andrew Morris, highlights the many advantages in Scotland for conducting healthcare research, thanks to the strength of basic research and excellent healthcare and the efficient organisation of healthcare informatics. However, Professor Morris also argues that Scotland must be careful to avoid damaging internal competition and continue to improve efficiency in the face of increasing external competition (see Profile of Aridhia on Page 8 and Viewpoint on Page 26).
NovaBiotics (Page 4) is a good example of an innovative company making a name for itself in a specialist area of biotechnology, backed by investors who are willing to wait for returns. The Aberdeen-based company is developing a range of drugs based on antimicrobial peptides, including a new treatment for nail fungus – a market worth billions of dollars a year. “We design the drugs and license the recipe to pharma,” says chief executive Deborah O'Neil.
Biomedicine is not only about drugs – it is also about outcomes. Aridhia (Page 8) is a highly successful company using informatics as a powerful tool to fight chronic diseases, developing solutions for healthcare – and self-care – based on intelligent analysis of healthcare data. For drugs to be effective, it is critical that they are delivered efficiently to their site of action and in the right doses. This is where Glasgow-based XstalBio (Page 11) comes to the fore, developing delivery solutions for new therapeutic proteins, vaccines and peptides.
There is no simple formula for success in the biotechnology sector, as our Profile of MD Biosciences (Page 14) suggests. “We had no intellectual property (IP),” says co-founder Professor Paul Garside. “But who says that you need IP to spin out a successful biomedical company?”
MGB Biopharma (Page 17) is not just developing new anti-bacterial drugs, but a new way of doing pre-clinical research – and a new way of building a drug development business.
Aberdeen’s Antoxis (Page 23) is developing a chemical platform, based on the flavonoids found in fruit and vegetables, to develop a new range of powerful drugs to treat established diseases such as cancer, and provide novel small molecules for use in the regenerative medicine industry.
This issue of Science Scotland demonstrates the huge potential in Scotland for combining academic excellence with commercial opportunity. Biomedicine already plays an important role in the Scottish economy and offers the prospect for huge growth potential in future.
Professor Angus Lamond FRS FRSE
Professor of Biochemistry, University of Dundee