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Jun 15, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 12)

Scotland Steadily Builds a Biotech Presence

Country Positions Itself to Attract Greater Investment and Draw in More Firms

  • Buildup of the Scottish life science infrastructure should take no one by surprise. From pioneering work on insulin, penicillin, and interferon to the cloning of Dolly the sheep, Scotland has long been a major player on the biomedical stage.

    A variety of interested parties—from the U.K. and Scottish governments to the National Health Service to research institutions—have been developing and mobilizing physical and financial resources to attract the kind of investment they feel would allow them to better capitalize on the country’s intellectual prowess, in other words, to be able to do more translational research and spin out and attract more biotech companies.

    A key aspect of this is to encourage critical mass. “Good science is all about scientists coming together, interacting, and exchanging ideas,” says Mike Capaldi, Ph.D., commercialization director of the Edinburgh BioQuarter. The Edinburgh area boasts at least eight science parks, including the Easter Bush Research Center—which houses the Roslin Institute, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Sciences, and the Scottish Agricultural College—and several business incubators.

    Among these is the Edinburgh BioQuarter, located a few kilometers from the city center on what is still mostly sheep pasture. The University of Edinburgh has created several units there, such as the Scottish Center for Regenerative Medicine, the Queens Medical Research Institute, and the Brain and Body Institute, to draw researchers from different disciplines who are working on similar problems, “pull them out of the little departments and little schools dotted around Edinburgh, and bring them to major research institutes,” explains Dr. Capaldi.

    A major teaching hospital is on the campus, with another slated to open in 2016, for a total of about 1,300 beds. “Researchers with a medical focus will be able to quickly move into the patient environment,” Dr. Capaldi says.

    But it’s not all academics. A three-story bioincubator will begin operations this fall, and there is plenty of land for expansion. The hope is that startups and small biotechs will want to (re-)locate there, and larger ones will see the benefit of expanding to the BioQuarter as well.

    Aquila BioMedical plans to be among the Edinburgh BioQuarter bioincubator’s first tenants, harnessing the “leading experts we have here to function as research directors,” says director Howard Marriage, Ph.D. As an advanced preclinical CRO, Aquila is tapping into what Dr. Marriage sees as the emerging business model for the industry—the virtually integrated pharmaceutical company (VIPCO)—in which functions from R&D to sales and distribution will be outsourced.

    The company will offer both wet lab and in silico services to help select better, more effective drug candidates by examining and modeling the mechanisms behind the interactions. “Because of the infrastructure that we’re setting up here, we can actually bring in models from other academics and from other companies that are forming here,” Dr. Marriage says.

    Initially, Aquila will focus on the molecular mechanisms of multiple sclerosis—a major area of research in Edinburgh—and other T cell-mediated disorders.

  • In Silico

    FIOS Genomics is among several companies spun out of the University of Edinburgh in recent years to provide services to the biotech community.

    The CRO makes use of its in-house-developed software tools and high-performance computing platform, which gives it the speed, scalability, and flexibility to analyze large volumes of complex data that are typically generated from the use of next-generation sequencing and gene-expression technologies, explains Gary Rubin, Ph.D., director of operations. But “most importantly, this is linked to the expertise in the company that provides expert analysis and interpretation of the data.”

    “So we try to provide the more meaningful, insightful information from the data through data mining, data exploration, and linking that to our own knowledge base in specific therapeutic areas such as oncology, inflammation, and immunology.”

    “There is quite a high manual input,” adds Anton Enright, Ph.D., the company’s bioinformatics and technical lead. It draws from both public and internal resources to “attach the key elements to the data and transform it from pure data to actual information, with interpretation on it as well.”

    Although FIOS operates purely in silico, it partners with laboratory service providers and CROs to provide wet-lab services as needed.


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