Life science-derived output from Scottish universities plummets during pandemic


The number of life science start-ups and spin-offs has increased by almost a quarter in the UK, but is lagging behind in Scotland.

The latest report from property investor JLL and life sciences developer We are Pioneer Group shows a significant increase from when it last surveyed the industry in 2019, but the disparity between UK growth in its overall and level of foothold in Scotland is largely attributed to a decline in the number of companies emerging from Scottish universities.

While Scottish universities continue to contribute around 33% of the total number of start-ups in the sector, this figure is down significantly from almost 50% in the 2019 report.

The University of Edinburgh leads Scottish universities and ranks seventh in the UK.

The amount invested in Scottish start-ups over the five-year period covered by the report was a record £253m – up from the £82m recorded in the 2019 report – and driven by d major fundraisers by companies like Amphista Therapeutics and Enterobiotix.

Public sector investor Scottish Enterprise has participated in half of the investments in life sciences start-ups in Scotland.

In the UK, the pharmaceutical and biotech sub-sector, which includes companies developing new drugs and vaccines, has seen the strongest growth – and accounts for 56% of the increase in new life science start-ups. The sub-sector also secured 69% of total UK investment in life science start-ups.

Investors are also increasingly supporting the creation of new companies using artificial intelligence to discover medicines or deliver health care more efficiently, with the share of investment garnered by these companies more than tripling from the last report.

The profile of start-ups in Scotland closely matches that of the UK as a whole, but with slightly more pharma and biotech companies and less in digital health.

Dr Glenn Crocker, Executive Director of Venture Capital Investments at We Are Pioneer Group, said: “The increase in the number and levels of investment in new life science companies is very good news, because today’s start-ups are the billion-delivering five-year-old companies – and this ultimately represents a huge opportunity to deliver life-changing technologies to patients.

“With our science parks in Glasgow and Edinburgh, the significant investment in spin-outs from Scottish universities and the efforts of Scottish Enterprise, there is a real ecosystem to support life science start-ups in Scotland.

Chris Walters, Head of UK Life Sciences at JLL, added: “The UK is uniquely positioned to succeed in the life sciences, as it has a range of world-class universities to complement the financial and digital powerhouse of London.

“This success story is not London-centric, however, with the number of new start-ups being created across the UK almost double the rate of a decade ago.”

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