The success of an Aberdeen geneticist in translating research into industry inspired a Nobel prize-winning scientist who developed the world’s biggest-selling drug.
Sir Greg Winter, a Cambridge-based Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, shared the insight at the Scottish Life Sciences – The Summit 2020 in Aberdeen on Thursday. Sir Greg said Prof Bill Harris’s work on antibodies at the University of Aberdeen in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and his pioneering Scotgen biologics spinout, helped inspire his breakthroughs in antibody research and commercialisation.
Sir Greg, who shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2018, was speaking at King’s College Conference Centre alongside Dr John McCafferty. The pair were co-founders of Cambridge Antibody Technology in 1989, that became the UK’s biggest biotech success story and sold for more than £700m in 2006. They discovered Humira, the world’s biggest-selling drug with annual sales of circa $20 billion.
Speaking at the summit, co-created by Opportunity North East (ONE) and The Times and Sunday Times Scotland, and supported by the University of Aberdeen and global investment managers Baillie Gifford, Sir Greg said a visit to Aberdeen and Bill Harris demonstrated what was possible. He said: “In the back of my mind all the time was… if they can do it in Aberdeen, we can do it in Cambridge. It persuaded me that with the right energy, you could do anything.”
More than 140 life scientists from industry, academia and clinical backgrounds attended the one-day summit. Speakers and panel discussions covered the region’s collaborative environment, strengths in biologics, showcased innovative Aberdeen-based life sciences companies, explored finance and investment for the sector, and heard clinical perspectives on the application of biotherapeutics.
The event highlighted the regional ambition to double the number of life sciences companies in and around Aberdeen and develop drugs and products to tackle modern health challenges, including cancer, diabetes and antimicrobial resistance. North east companies taking part included Elasmogen, EnteroBiotix, NovaBiotics and TauRX.
ONE is leading significant action and investment to realise the industry growth ambition, to support life sciences company creation and growth at all stages from spinout and start-up through to high-growth enterprise. The delivery of the £40 million BioHub on Foresterhill Health Campus is the sector’s transformational project. BioHub is an Aberdeen City Region Deal supported project. It has secured £20 million of capital funding from the UK Government and Scottish Government and £3.6 million from ONE to provide bespoke business support and operate the hub. The City region Deal is a partnership between Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council and ONE.
ONE chief executive Jennifer Craw opened the summit, saying: “This is your opportunity to shape the future, challenge, learn from each other, make new connections and work together, to be inspired and continue to develop drugs, diagnostics, treatments and therapies that will combat disease to build a strong health economy.”
Prof Stephen Logan, who chairs ONE’s life sciences sector board, highlighted the strong collaborative links between academics, researchers and clinicians in the region, which have contributed to many successful company spinouts from the University of Aberdeen, including Scotgen.
“Life sciences and biologics are key to this region’s economic future. There is a demonstrated strength in innovation and an ambition to remain a central element of the national biologics landscape for years to come. This sector will continue to grow and to flourish and will ensure that Aberdeen remains one of the UK’s most productive life sciences clusters,” said Prof Logan.
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