The life sciences sector is at the forefront of the UK's response to coronavirus. It is supporting testing, developing equipment, repurposing drugs to treat patients with the virus and leading efforts to develop a vaccine at an accelerated pace.
Writing in the May/June 2020 issue of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce’s Business Bulletin, Professor Stephen Logan, chair of the Opportunity North East (ONE) life sciences sector board, sets out the prospects for the sector as it addresses the COVID-19 pandemic and looks ahead to the economic recovery phase. Read the full article below.
The life sciences sector is at the forefront of the UK's response to coronavirus. It is supporting testing, developing equipment, repurposing drugs to treat patients with the virus and leading efforts to develop a vaccine at an accelerated pace. The industry, like others, is grappling with the impact of the pandemic on the day to day business of developing new therapies and technology, trialling these in clinical settings and raising funds to enable this work.
We must make every effort to support the sector, which will make a significant contribution to the health and the well-being of our communities and the growth of our health economy in the years ahead.
SMEs drive a significant proportion of innovation, research and development in life sciences nationally. Government has already announced a package of support for the UK's most innovative companies that face financial uncertainty due to COVID-19 and is supporting research to address the pandemic.
There are challenges for life sciences businesses not working on COVID-19. These include significant delays to their research projects and clinical trials in hospitals, supply chain issues and access to research facilities, and a general decline in investor confidence. The pandemic fallout has severe implications for the development of new treatments for patients and the medium-term growth of the sector.
If we look ahead there are opportunities. Firstly, new ways of working have been introduced rapidly, including digital healthcare with patients and clinicians engaging remotely on a scale unimaginable earlier this year. North east Scotland has well-developed digital health expertise, including health data science, and building on this is part of our strategy to grow the sector. Secondly, the frequency of secondary bacterial lung infections in COVID-19 patients underscores the need for new antimicrobial resistance treatments. Aberdeen-based NovaBiotics is fast-tracking repurposing of its experimental drug Nylexa for use in these circumstances. Thirdly, drug development takes a long time and is expensive. The current accelerated approach to vaccine development may result in acceptance of new methods that could be adopted in the future to reduce the time and cost involved in clinical testing of novel therapies and bring treatments to market quicker.
We need the life sciences sector nationally to bounce back quickly once the COVID emergency has passed. Its continued growth is a priority for both the UK Government and the Scottish Government. Achieving this will require funding from government and the private sector. Regulators will have to be open to try new ways of working while maintaining safety. We will need more collaboration and risk-sharing between big pharma and early-stage companies.
For north east Scotland, life sciences is a priority sector with high-growth potential. Our regional strengths – including biologics and digital health - are growth areas that can transform future healthcare. The ONE-led action and investment already underway to support the sector is relevant to both the post-pandemic recovery phase and the medium to long term growth of the company cluster in and around Aberdeen.
You can read the May/June issue of Business Bulletin online here.