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Scottish Mission Promotes International Partnerships in Biomedical Research

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SEATTLE--Representatives of Scottish biomedical research institutes toured the Pacific Northwest last week appealing to US and Canadian firms to develop bioinformatics and other biotech research partnerships with universities and institutes in Scotland. Cheryl Teague, commercial liaison manager for the Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences at Glasgow University, said the response from firms was positive, if surprised at Scotland's assertiveness. "Our answer is that we have a lot to offer," Teague said.

Delegates argued the benefits for North American firms partnering with Scottish researchers: research costs are lower partly due to lower pay scales there than in the US (a top Scottish professor might earn a salary equivalent to $60,000, Teague said); international liaisons can benefit American firms which, Teague said, tend to be insular; and outsourcing research rather than building up in-house staff and equipment is more cost-effective.

Plus, Scotland has a wealth of scientific knowledge, delegates said. "Scotland's academic science base produces twice as many graduates as England's," Teague said. "Glasgow University has the largest single science base in the UK," she added.

The nonprofit Scottish Biomedical Foundation (SBF), which represents over 1,500 biomedical research teams at six Scottish universities, last year succeeded in arranging two such collaborations.

In one, Glasgow University and the University of Strathclyde were funded by Yoshitomi Pharma ceutical Industries to conduct schizophrenia research. The Japanese company invested £3 million to establish a neuroscience research institute on the Glasgow campus, supporting 12 full-time and six part-time positions for research to develop drugs to treat schizophrenia.

SBF secured almost equivalent funding for a three-year research project from Kowa, another Japanese pharmaceutical firm. The Strathclyde Institute for Drug Research and Strathclyde's biological sciences department together with the University of Edinburgh's Center for Genome Research and chemistry department, have collaborated to create highly evolved inflammation therapeutic products for the Japanese firm.

What draws Japanese firms to invest in a Scottish research institute? "The Japanese market has been inward looking," said SBF Marketing Director Lynne Cadenhead. "They are realizing they need to internationalize their research." And, Scotland has the expertise, SBF CEO Steven Hammond said. Glasgow alone has some 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students in biosciences and health-related disciplines, according to SBF marketing materials.

Partnering across the pond

Teague said North American firms she met with here saw few barriers to partnering with researchers "across the pond." And for Scottish scientists, getting overseas collaborators is imperative. "American universities can look to American industry. But we don't have that amount of industry in Scotland," said Teague.

During her tour here, Cadenhead met with pharmaceuticals to determine their research needs. Then, she said, back in Scotland she will scan the SBF database for projects that could make a match for a corporate research program.

Teague said Glasgow's database alone includes details of research capabilities in infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, molecular medicine, protein engineering, protein structure, neurosciences, functional genomics, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and computer science, to name a few. Later this year Glasgow will comply with industry requests for university-sponsored bioinformatics training for industry scientists, she added.

For now, the point of the Scottish delegation is to keep research in Scotland and generate employment and investment in the country, said Cadenhead.

That makes US universities competition to the group. But eventually, she said, the Scottish multisite, multidisciplinary approach could be a model for universities to link up internationally to provide companies with gobal research partnerships.

--Adrienne Burke

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