The Scotsman: Get on Board for This Year’s Life Sciences Conference

Collaboration is key to achieving the ambitious £8billion life sciences growth target argues David Lee, Chair of The Scotsman’s annual Life Sciences Conference.  

Ambitious growth targets are great. They look wonderful on a page and make headline-writing simple. During my 20 years as a daily newspaper journalist, I always appreciated that.

Food and drink in Scotland – a £30 billion industry by 2030 . Nice, round numbers; a 30:30 vision: big, ambitious, exciting.

Life sciences in Scotland – £8 billion by 2025 . Not quite so big, but perhaps even more exciting, with the promise of improvements in our health and well-being, environment and food security. When it comes to the last point, is the output of a food security business counted under food and drink or life sciences? Surely not both? That would be double-counting.

Anyway, we all like big targets – but how do we reach them? Setting targets is one thing; reaching them is a much tougher proposition.

For life sciences, it’s got to be about collaboration, or what is often called The Triple Helix. In a life sciences context, that means businesses, the NHS and the Scottish Government (and its agencies) all inter-twining beautifully to take the industry into the sunny uplands. In the real world, it’s never so seamless – but Scotland is having a pretty good shot at making that Triple Helix work.

When The Scotsman Conferences was asked to bring the sector together for a full-day life sciences event last November, we were excited, but realistic. The ambition? To bring the whole sector together to discuss the Life Sciences Scotland Strategy.

We knew the big guns from Government, NHS and business would turn out to fire up the debate, but how could we ensure smaller businesses showed up? After all, life sciences is driven in large part by bright new ideas, creativity, innovation (call it what you will) – and it’s the small businesses who really bring that to the table.

In the end, we were fairly happy, with around 40 different businesses represented at the event – but we wanted more. We always want more.

We want more so we can link small businesses with larger businesses who can share their experience. We want to link them with the NHS to understand access to market, to funders and to the agencies and experts who can deliver the advice they desperately need – advice about funding, about recruiting talent, about exports.

Dave Tudor wants this too. As Chair of the Industry Leadership Group (ILG) for Life Sciences Scotland, he’s in the driving seat when it comes to, erm, driving the strategy forward. But let’s imagine Dave Tudor is driving a bus or a train – without any passengers, there is no chance of hitting your financial targets.

Dave put across an inclusive and often inspiring message at the conference (at Strathclyde’s rather fine Technology and Innovation Centre) last November. He painted a picture of a healthy, vibrant Scottish life sciences sector going places in a burgeoning global market. But he stressed that he wanted everybody on that bus.

His ILG colleagues Clive Badman, Deborah O’Neil, Dave Scott and Ken Sutherland (all clearly on the bus) built on the four pillars of the life sciences strategy that Dave had articulated: innovation and commercialisation; sustainable production; internationalisation; and the business environment. All four pillars must be strong or the house will collapse. These themes were developed in four discussion groups at the conference, to give all delegates a chance to have their say. These sessions weren’t perfect, but they provided valuable feedback about what delegates thought about the life sciences strategy – and what they want.

We were pleased with the content, attendance and theme of the 2017 event, but we want 2018 to be bigger and better. Brexit has gone from theoretical discussion point to a very real business challenge coming over the horizon. Investment, skills and growing markets remain major challenges for all life sciences businesses.

These key themes will form the heart of the 2018 event. We hope to see many more people from Scotland’s life sciences community there. If so, we will need a much bigger bus.

Further detail about The Scotsman’s 2018 Life Sciences Conference will be announced at Scotland’s Life Sciences Dinner & Annual Awards on the 28th of February. For information about how your organisation can get involved email Adam Fenech (Scotsman Conferences) or phone 07885 982 183.