Scotland has always been at the forefront of life science research, with Edinburgh playing a key role. From Lister's discovery of antiseptic, Simpson's discovery of chloroform, the creation of the first genetically engineered vaccine (for hepatitis B) to the cloning of the world's first mammal, Dolly the sheep, Edinburgh has continued to deliver over the centuries. Medicine has always been strong in Edinburgh. Following the introduction of the NHS in 1948, Edinburgh University pioneered teaching for general practice; it was also the first university to enable nurses to gain degrees. A new way to administer anti-tuberculosis drugs known as the "Edinburgh Method" saw TB almost eliminated in Edinburgh within six years, while the UK's first successful kidney transplant was carried out by Professor Sir Michael Woodruff in Edinburgh over 50 years ago.
Today, there continues to be a strong and vibrant life science sector in Edinburgh and the Lothians, which together account for almost half of Scotland's biotechnology industry. The development of the Edinburgh BioQuarter over the past few years perhaps epitomises the direction in which the life science sector needs to take if Scotland is to remain a significant player on the world stage. About six years ago, the University of Edinburgh joined forces with Scottish Enterprise and NHS Lothian to create the Edinburgh BioQuarter. Its aims were to foster deeper links with industry through collaborative research, to create new companies based on Edinburgh's research base, and to encourage a culture of commercialisation in the NHS and among academics. A critical element in delivering these aims was to assemble a team of industrialists to work hand in glove with Edinburgh University'sCollege of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine and NHS Lothian. I was asked to build and lead this team, which I have subsequently done, pulling in experienced executives from international biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, venture capital funds, and contract research organisations. In the three and a half years since we started, I'm proud to say that we have created seven new life science businesses. These include i2eye Diagnostics - developers of the world's first visual field analyser for children and vulnerable adults and winner of Scottish Enterprises 'Best New Life Science Company in Scotland' award earlier this year and Aquila BioMedical, a pre-clinical contract research organisation for certain inflammatory and neurological disorders which has already won major contracts with global pharmaceutical companies.
Our pipeline of new life science companies continues to grow, with a further 13 potential spin out businesses being created over the next couple of years. On the industrial collaboration front, the team has also delivered a number of key research agreements with major international biopharmaceutical companies including UK-based GlaxoSmithKline and Astra Zeneca, US-based Biogen Idec and Belgium- based Galapagos. Collaborations are also in place with the Crack-it consortium, led by Johnson & Johnson (US), as well as a research programme for fibrosis with Galecto Biotech AB (Sweden). Further deals are on the way and Edinburgh is building its reputation as a world-class academic medical centre that the pharmaceutical industry wants to work with.
Our ultimate vision is to build a community, where scientists, clinicians, industrialists and patients come together to create an ecosystem where innovation and commercialisation go hand in hand. I believe the scale of innovation within the health service and academia is vast and could transform the way in which we tackle healthcare needs and treat disease - provided we put in place processes and resources to identify and support it.
Scotland is a small country, but punches well above its weight in the life sciences. Major projects such as the Edinburgh BioQuarter not only help Edinburgh, but act as a window to the rest of the country helping to ensure that Scotland remains at the forefront of medical science and that the discoveries and innovations made by Scottish scientists continue to deliver benefits to patients around the world.
Mike Capaldi is commercialisation director at Edinburgh BioQuarter