‘Triple helix’ key to Glasgow Life Sciences hub’s success

There are many components to creating a successful life sciences cluster, experts agreed at Real Asset Media’s Investing in Health Tech and Precision Medicine briefing, which took place online this week on the REALX.Global platform.

“Infrastructure is more than just bricks and mortar,” said Carol Clugston, dean of corporate engagement and innovation, chief operating officer, University of Glasgow. “The physical infrastructure investment is key, but it’s also about the strength of partnerships and the right culture.”

Marian McNeil.

A sense of place is as important as the right space: it is a combination of  supportive infrastructure, a rooted presence in the community, strong relationships across sectors and a shared vision.

“Scotland has a real competitive advantage in the health tech and life sciences sectors because of its culture of collaboration between business, academia and the NHS,” said Ivan McKee MSP, Minister for trade, Investment & Innovation, Scottish Government. “It’s a significant part of the economy already but it’s growing very fast.”

A decision was made to invest in precision medicine, a sector that had a global market value of $43 billion in 2016 but is forecast to be worth $134 billion by 2025.

Glasgow has managed to create a “triple helix” strategic partnership between industry, the university and the NHS, working together to create a unique ecosystem that facilitates cross-sector collaboration and encourages innovation.

The Precision Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre is based at Glasgow’s £1 billion Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, the largest university hospital in Europe and one of the largest in the world, but the collaborative approach extends to other Scottish cities, universities and companies.  

“We’re connected into all the innovation centres in Scotland so we can compare notes, communicate and consult,” said Marian McNeil, CEO, Precision Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre. “It is an incredible network”.

Careful planning required for life sciences and innovation hub

A successful life sciences and innovation hub needs careful planning. The seeds that are now flowering in Glasgow were sown a long time ago. The Precision Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre was formed in 2013 by a consortium of public and private partners and based at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

Then a Living Laboratory was established to develop new products and services, alongside a specially developed innovation zone to attract companies.

The expansion of the cluster with the addition of the Living Lab provides opportunities for partners to drive developments from laboratory to health services, assuring the applicability of innovations for clinical practice and accelerating the route to national and global markets.

“The NHS has been very forward looking, letting us bring industry at the heart of the campus to have the full benefit of the relationship,” said Clugston. Everyone has played a role in making the cluster a success.

“Innovation needs a positive environment and Glasgow provides it, with brainstorming and ideas generation, access to clinical expertise and the market,” said Harper VanSteenhouse, president, BioClavis. “The whole then becomes greater than the parts. For a young company like ours being in a Uni campus gave us a layer of credibility and a sense of stability which has been a huge benefit to us.”

BioClavis, which has invented a new molecular profiling technology and is applying it to diagnostics and therapeutics development, is based in the teaching and learning centre of the university hospital.

Innovation and infrastructure combine to increase productivity

“We are located about 200 metres away from a massive bio-repository and pathology department staffed with world leading experts that can help us do our jobs better and in turn help us create innovative diagnostic tools that can get out there and help their patients,” VanSteenhouse said. “The combination of infrastructure and innovation can be used to add to productivity and efficiency. A good community is also good for business.”

The Glasgow model has clearly worked but it is not easy to replicate elsewhere.

“Other locations will find it difficult to establish themselves without that access to academia and the NHS,” said Emma Goodford, partner, department head, national offices, Knight Frank. “Companies will want to go where the triple helix is.”