Glasgow nucleus of unique ‘triple helix’ precision medicine project
Updated: Jun 10, 2019
Scotland is positioning itself at the forefront of precision medicine, the implementation of which could generate estimated health savings of £70bn
The global IMPORTANCE of precision medicine (PM) cannot be downplayed in terms of its potential impact, not only on health, but in terms of the economic prosperity it can offer both the companies and regions who will be at the forefront of the technologies that will underpin it. It was estimated the global PM market value in 2016 was $43 billion and this figure is projected to rise to around $134bn by 2025. Driven by demand for cost savings on drugs that are currently being wasted by the fact that they don’t work in mass dispensation, here then is the life science market that offers the top prize. In Scotland alone, analysis by the University of Glasgow Health Economics and Health Technology Assessment team suggests that over a 50-year period, a 10% reduction in the burden of five key disease types, including age-related ills and cancer, through the implementation of PM, would generate cumulative health savings in Scotland of around £70bn. That’s one reason why Glasgow City Region, the second-largest life science cluster in the UK with more than 230 companies, is among those which has clearly seen the future in PM – sometimes known as stratified or personalized medicine – and is now seeking to lead the field by making a unique contribution in drawing complementary strengths together in a way that is not happening in the rest of the world.
It is an ethos known as the “triple helix”, bringing together the NHS, university academics and companies working in PM seamlessly as bedfellows for the first time. Spearheaded by Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak and Dr Carol Clugston of the University of Glasgow, the project seeks to ensure the city region – and Scotland as a whole – is the go-to place for international companies who can contribute to the ongoing research into PM in this highly competitive global sector. “In the future, precision medicine will simply become medicine – and we intend to make sure that happens,” insists Dr Clugston. And the Glasgow City Region message is resonating around the global life science community, particularly in the United States. That’s why BioSpyder Technologies, the Californian molecular profiling company, invested more than $12.5m to create a new subsidiary, BioClavis, in Glasgow. The personalized diagnostics spin-out was supported with a $5.7m grant from Scottish Enterprise, creating 43 jobs initially. BioSpyder considered a range of locations around Europe (in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands), but soon realized the $1bn QEUH campus in Glasgow’s Govan area was the best location for setting up BioClavis. Naturally, the US company looked at the Golden Triangle of life sciences in the UK – Cambridge, Oxford and London – but like many other investors ruled it out not because of lower office cost, but because of recruiting technicians who could not afford to live there. The first key attractor in Glasgow was the scale and quality of clinical data and samples they would be able to access. QEUH has one of the largest pathology laboratories in the UK and Europe, and a large biorepository, which is networked to others across Scotland. The company also saw the networking infrastructure as a real asset of Glasgow, specifically the integration of industry, academics and clinicians at the Clinical Innovation Zone (CIZ). And home in the CIZ means BioClavis and other PM companies find themselves at the heart of the hospital. Here everyone literally comes together with PM researchers and developers rubbing shoulders with clinicians, so offering contacts for a unique entry into the NHS market that has proved difficult, if not impossible, to access in the past. Nor did BioSpyder overlook that the university hospital campus is also home to the University of Glasgow’s dedicated centre for PM and imaging and so offers access to a goldmine of “cradle to the grave” electronic patient records, clinical trial infrastructure, partner identification, and logistical and financial support. Or that the Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre is located in the Clinical Innovation Zone. A pan-Scottish collaboration, funded by the Scottish Funding Council andindustry, its role is to support industry to work with the NHS and academics to drive PM. Each of the companies in the CIZ have also been handpicked for their interest in collaboration, not just with the NHS and their neighbors, but further afield, as the university hospital is the heart of a burgeoning Scotland bioscience corridor. BioClavis for one has taken full advantage of the NHS links offered by the CIZ and has used this as a springboard for collaboration, not only in the region, but also throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK. Such has been the success of the Clinical Innovation Zone that it won
a UK Science Park Association award this year in the “location setting the pace” category The plan now is to develop a new linked campus adjacent to the hospital – the Clyde Waterfront
Innovation Campus – which, along with other innovation facilities such as a nanofabrication centre for quantum technology, will provide a “Living Lab” for PM. The Living Lab project will strengthen Glasgow’s ecosystem by establishing new innovation pathways in a real-world clinical setting and a dedicated Health Innovation Hub that offers grow-on space and enabling “soft” infrastructures. “We have a choice in Scotland. Are we going to be at the forefront of precision medicine, or are we going to be buying these technologies from other countries?” asks Dr Clugston. “Quite honestly, we want to be the former.”