How to combine innovation with positive social impact

World-class scientific and technological innovation can go hand in hand with a positive social impact, delegates heard at Real Asset Media’s Investing in Health Tech and Precision Medicine briefing, which took place online this week on the REALX.Global platform.

Carol Clugston.

An example is the life sciences hub created in Glasgow, where the development of precision medicine innovations and their adoption into healthcare will improve health outcomes and deliver savings for the NHS, but also drive economic development in the region, bring new industry and create employment at all levels.

“Genuine partnerships have delivered a significant skills base and have accelerated the development of the existing ecosystem,” said Carol Clugston, dean of corporate engagement and innovation, chief operating officer, University of Glasgow. “The Living Laboratory is located in Govan, an area of high deprivation. We did not choose a leafy suburb of the city, but an area ripe for development and regeneration.”

These objectives are in line with the government’s Levelling up agenda, which seeks to promote economic growth in the north of the UK. Glasgow City region has just been chosen as one of three new “innovation accelerators” in the UK that will qualify for “£100 million of new government funding to turbo-charge local growth”, according to the Levelling Up White Paper.

In Glasgow, land and house prices are much lower than in the Cambridge-Oxford-London biotech and life sciences cluster.

“Accessibility and affordability are key and they set us apart from the golden triangle,” said Clugston. “We have access to a talent pool that can afford to live here, and our 800 workers can commute easily to the lab.”

It is a significant element that plays in the mix that has made the cluster a success.

The tech and innovation cluster created around the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow

Accessibility and affordability “allow us to employ and retain staff,” said Harper VanSteenhouse, President, BioClavis. “It contributes to their well-being that they can have a good quality of life and they can buy a house. It’s very different in California, where it’s very hard to afford a house”.

The spirit of partnership is also creating a positive working environment that contributes to people’s wellbeing.

“I come from the San Diego biotech cluster, but the level of collaboration is even better in Scotland,” said VanSteenhouse. “It is a friendlier and more sustainable environment to work in and competition is healthy but not cut-throat. There’s a genuine interest in the overall good and success that will be beneficial for everyone.”

The next step is expanding the campus to create more physical space and making access even easier. The hospital is a short distance from Glasgow city centre and ten minutes away from the international airport and the University’s main campus. Soon a new bridge that is being built on the river Clyde will connect the living lab to the West End of the city, making it yet more easily accessible.

The Govan area was chosen also for the availability of land allowing for expansion. The campus has already grown significantly but more expansion will take place in the next few years.

“We started off with one clinical innovation zone and that very quickly got companies interested and they moved into the area,” said Marian McNeil, CEO, Precision Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre. “So the opportunity that the living lab bid has given us is to expand that and build new buildings specifically designed for precision medicine, to help companies come in with purpose-built lab facilities or data centres.”

New purpose-built labs and research facilities will open in the next few years and some 500 new jobs will be created in the life sciences cluster.