Choose life in the Highlands

Inverness Campus is a designated Enterprise Area for Life Sciences
Inverness Campus is a designated Enterprise Area for Life Sciences

A deep skills pool and research excellence plus public investment in infrastructure and business support underpin the life sciences sector’s growth in and around Inverness

By Frank Simpson

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When Team Sky’s professional cyclists train, the natural biochemical signs of exercise are monitored by personal fitness-tracking devices from a Scottish company in the Highlands and Islands region. Inside Biometrics is part of a vigorous and growing life sciences sector in the Inner Moray Firth area with Inverness City at its heart.

A tracking device for the Highlands and Islands biocluster would have shown more than 70 life science organisations operating in 2015, predominantly in and around Inverness and Oban, supporting more than 1,800 jobs. The wider Scottish life sciences ecosystem employed 37,000 across 700 organisations in 2014 after four years of growth which saw turnover increase 29% to more than £4.2bn, and jobs by 13%.

“Sector growth has continued at a healthy rate in our region and Scotland as a whole,” says James Cameron, head of life sciences at regional development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

Top talent drives growth

The Inner Moray Firth biocluster of clinical research specialisms, academia and generally small, innovative companies is sustained by a pool of professional skills and research excellence complemented by public investment in physical infrastructure and business support.

“Some of the world’s top talent in the personal health-monitoring sector is here,” says Professor Selly Saini, CEO of Inside Biometrics, which won the innovation category in this month’s Scottish Life Science Awards for its KEYA Smart combined blood glucose and ketone meter for the diabetes market.

Prof Selly Saini says that some of the world’s top talent in personal health monitoring is in the area
Prof Selly Saini says that some of the world’s top talent in personal health monitoring is in the area

Founded in 2013, Inside Biometrics is a fast-growth, internationalisation story to cheer HIE, conduit for most of the public investment developing the sector regionally. Saini expects headcount to double to 70 by mid-year and will seek growth funding to scale manufacture to enter the US market in 2017. The company’s new biometric performance and fitness monitors will soon be available to consumers.

Substantial public investment

HIE’s flagship infrastructure investment is the 215-acre Inverness Campus, where £100m-plus has been invested to co-locate business development, medical research, and academia.

As a designated Enterprise Area for Life Sciences, Inverness Campus offers potential incentives including rates relief up to £275,000 per business, simplified planning protocols, and additional support for training and skills.

Six universities are represented on the campus and a neighbouring 80-acre life sciences district, home to the Centre for Health Science (CfHS); NHS Highland’s Raigmore Hospital; and blood-glucose monitoring devices company LifeScan Scotland, employing 950.

East of Inverness, the Alexander Graham Bell Centre for Digital Health, Elgin, is a research, education and business hub developed by HIE, University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and NHS Grampian. In nearby Forres, the 100-plus acre Enterprise Park Forres developed by HIE offers high quality, flexible units; 25% of it has Enterprise Area for Life Sciences status.

Enabling collaboration

“Another great strength of the Inner Moray Firth cluster is how well linked-up it all is,” says Cameron. “Companies value close, early connections that we can make with new facilities and key players in the NHS, academia and business.”

One such company is engineering R&D firm Aseptium. It relocated this month from England to the CfHS to develop automated decontamination equipment and processes for medical and laboratory application. CfHS hosts research, education, training, patient care and businesses.

“The environment facilitates information exchange between academics, the NHS, and solution providers like us,” explains Pawel de Sternberg Stojalowski, Aseptium’s managing director and founder.

“From our first conversations with HIE, University of the Highlands and Islands, and the NHS Research, Development and Innovation team at the CfHS, I was impressed by the friendliness, openness and support for our ideas. It was on a scale that I have not experienced before.”

A perfect location

Inverness Campus currently hosts An Lòchran, a research and enterprise collaboration facility; Aurora House’s laboratory and office space for life science SMEs; Scottish Vet Referrals (SVR), a ‘secondary care’ veterinary practice; and Inverness College UHI and student accommodation.

An Lòchran houses HIE; Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), offering epidemiology research and consultancy services; University of the Highlands and Islands research and teaching departments, including life sciences, as well as its STEM hub facility to spark young people’s interest in science, technology, engineering, maths and digital technology; and #hellodigital, a demonstration centre to help people maximise opportunities from next-generation digital technologies.

Aurora House’s first occupier is Aqua Pharma Ltd. Part of Norway-based Aquatic Concept Group, the company supplies the aquaculture industry with environmentally-friendly, innovative treatments for controlling parasites in sea fish.

SVR offers specialist ophthalmic clinical services for primary veterinary care practices and plans to develop other specialisms working closely with University of the Highlands and Islands, SRUC, and other businesses.

Meeting community healthcare challenges

The NHS Research, Development and Innovation team at the CfHS offers access to medical expertise and drives innovative technologies addressing NHS and healthcare challenges of the ageing population in a region where many live far from hospitals.

It is involved in FIT Homes, a multi- stakeholder project developing personal homes with in-built infrastructure to support digital solutions for rural Highlands’ communities. The first 15 such houses, due in May, will see data from in-home sensors analysed centrally to identify occupier behaviours linked to increased risk of someone falling.

“It will support assisted living by providing evidence-based alerts enabling families and agencies to intervene with preventative measures before incidents occur,” explains Susan Craw, professor of artificial intelligence (AI) at Robert Gordon University, which will analyse the data.

Expanding links between medicine and business development

Plans for a £25m expansion of the CfHS include an NHS elective care centre for orthopaedic and ophthalmology, academic and industry R&D, innovation support services, and business incubation and growth facilities.

As part of this, the University of the Highlands and Islands is developing a new facility to establish commercialisation, academic and clinical capacity to deliver growth in health, social care and life sciences.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to deliver economic growth through collaborative and commercial research,” says Professor Ian Megson, head of health research and innovation, University of the Highlands and Islands. “It will be our open innovation hub – a melting pot for researchers, health professionals and business to develop ideas from concept to commercially viable products. We are already recruiting for the project.”

All things considered, Inverness is a “phenomenal” life sciences location with “beautiful natural scenery a few minutes away”, enthuses Pawel de Sternberg Stojalowski at Aseptium. “There is a much greater sense of scientific community in Scotland. We did not simply want to be a part of it: we wanted to co-create and grow it.” Read more at invernesscampus.co.uk