Dr Deborah O'Neil OBE FRSE, Chair of ONE Life Sciences and BioAberdeen Ltd, and founder and CEO of NovaBiotics, shares her thoughts on a significant year ahead for life sciences in north east Scotland.
This year will be a landmark for life sciences in north east Scotland with the launch of the unique and transformational BioHub in spring. Creating a focal point for commercialisation and entrepreneurial growth in this high-value sector.
Life sciences is one of the UK’s fastest-growing industries. Biotech companies secured a record-breaking £4.5 billion investment in 2021 and more than £1.5 billion in equity finance in 2022.
Aberdeen is home to world-class innovation-led enterprises. These businesses are tackling global health challenges, from neurodegenerative diseases and infectious diseases to cancer. They share a strong entrepreneurial drive, take novel research from the lab bench to commercialisation, and attract significant investment.
TauRx, a leader in Alzheimer's disease research, announced an investment of $119 million in late 2022 triggered by phase three trial results. Adding to $64 million raised in 2021.
In May last year, Elasmogen – a biopharmaceutical company discovering and developing new therapeutics using its unique soloMER platform – secured £8 million to continue developing its pipeline of next-generation drugs through pre-clinical trials.
EnteroBiotix, a biopharmaceutical company developing novel high-diversity microbial therapeutics, closed its $21.5 million Series A financing in September 2021.
Entrepreneurship is fundamental to the sector's success in delivering health, social and economic benefits. Leaders in north east Scotland’s companies, the University of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon University, and NHS Grampian share this belief.
As a region, we are embedding entrepreneurship in the heart of the triple helix of academic, clinical and research interests. Making transformational change happen and creating the environment for our sector to grow.
Seven years ago, the private sector, led by Sir Ian Wood, chose to take a leadership role in diversifying north east Scotland’s economy. Forming Opportunity North East (ONE) as a unique economic development catalyst with a 10-year, £64 million funding commitment from The Wood Foundation, a team and resources to co-create, develop and deliver transformational projects in key sectors. Co-funding and co-investing with regional and national public and private sector partners.
Our life sciences cluster was a priority from day one. The region has research strengths in large molecules and a significant asset base, including the Scottish Biologics Facility, Rowett, and Institute for Medical Science. And a successful track record of spinouts and start-ups over decades, including TauRx, Elasmogen, EnteroBiotix, Sirakoss, Vertebrate Antibodies and the company I founded, NovaBiotics.
The missing ingredient for future success was a focal point and catalyst for commercialisation, business creation and growth.
So, ONE brought academics, clinicians and companies together and defined the regional ambition. To grow our company cluster with a transformational £40 million investment to create BioHub. A new and iconic location for life sciences with specialist accommodation and facilities and the entrepreneurial ecosystem to inspire ambition, give people the sector-specific skills and knowledge to turn research into businesses and support them at each stage of the entrepreneurial journey.
BioHub – through the leadership and delivery of ONE – went from a concept to an industry innovation project in the Aberdeen City Region Deal. Securing co-funding from ONE, the UK and Scottish governments, and Scottish Enterprise. Working with strategic partners, the University of Aberdeen and NHS Grampian.
Over the past five years, ONE has funded, developed and delivered dedicated pre-commercialisation and accelerator support, leadership programmes on commercial skills, and created one of the country's most engaged life sciences networks. And raised the region’s profile with investors, strategic partners and industry leaders in the UK and internationally.
Meanwhile, BioHub progressed through design and procurement and entered its main construction phase. The construction team maintained momentum through the many challenges posed by the pandemic.
Today, BioHub's iconic steel and glass structure rises above the city on the Foresterhill Health Campus, which is one of Europe’s largest co-located clinical, teaching and research sites. It is a physical manifestation of the Aberdeen city region's confidence in life sciences and its role in our future low-carbon economy.
When it opens in spring, BioHub will provide laboratories, incubation and collaboration space and customisable accommodation over five floors, specialist business support programmes, and access to expert networks and investors. It will ultimately be home to up to 400 bio-entrepreneurs at full occupancy. BioHub tenants will be spinouts, start-ups and scaling businesses bringing new drugs, treatments, therapies and technology to market. And creating high-skill jobs to drive economic diversification and sustainable growth.
Aberdeen’s story is one of extraordinary progress and commitment to realising the full potential of life sciences. The region has a strong and distinct life sciences cluster – BioHub will help to make more of it.
In 2023, we are entering a new era of growth for life sciences in the city region. I am hugely excited to see how the sector and its current and future entrepreneurs achieve their full potential in the years ahead. And positively impact the health and wellbeing of the nation through their innovation.
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