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Clinical Trials can further boost Scotland's Life Science sector

The life sciences sector has grown to become one of the most important elements of Scotland's economy.

Ian Scholes
Ian Scholes

In addition to the financial contribution it makes, it is also a sector which has enhanced our global reputation for excellence and innovation.

Successive Scottish Governments have recognised the value of the sector and have given it public support, understanding its prospects for long term future economic growth. As Scottish Enterprise succinctly puts it: "We have the most comprehensive national life sciences strategy in the world, endorsed by the whole community; industry, academia, NHS clinicians and government."

It's fair to say that this supportive approach has played its part in helping Scotland emerge as a world leader in life sciences in recent years.

Given our current standing in the sector, which features successful life science businesses, globally respected research professionals and clinical experts, we are well placed to give it a further boost by increasing the volume of international clinical trials that we conduct within Scotland.

Clinical trials are carried out by drug companies and other life sciences businesses but the ultimate aims go beyond commercial gain. As well as being an important means of testing the effectiveness of a specific drug, they are often more focused on research and development to increase understanding for the next generation of what are often specialist diseases or conditions.

As a corporate global travel services provider, clinical trials have become a key aspect of our business. While we have been involved in more than 30 trials across 19 countries in recent years, unfortunately very little of this work is currently being conducted in Scotland. Instead we are active in moving people to other international markets.

While the movement of people for clinical trials is partly determined by where a specific rare disease is found, as we've seen in some of the work done in central American and Asia Pacific destinations, it also occurs in places where there is an established life sciences sector including continental Europe and North America.

While Scotland does have a history of conducting clinical trials there is so much more that can be done to build on this globally. The door is now firmly open for the Scottish life sciences sector to better establish itself as a key global centre for this important activity. We have already been awarded 'prime site' status for clinical trials by two of the world's top clinical research organisations, Quintiles and PPD, and through Scottish Development International (SDI) there are further efforts going on to promote more of this activity within the Scottish sector.

SDI has highlighted the many strengths of Scotland's life sciences sector, which include patient identification from cradle to grave; solid collaboration across NHS, academia, government and industry; globally competitive trial recruitment and start-up times; a bio-banking resource which is unrivalled in Europe; a globally recognised electronic health record system and the fact we are home to some of the world's top medical schools focusing on research and therapeutics.

From our own experience of working within the sector, we know that Scotland is an ideal location for clinical trials as the companies, universities and other research facilities are based in accessible locations with proven outsourcing capabilities. Thanks partly to Government support and to the high levels of investment and accompanying expertise the sector is also commercially focused, cost effective and compliant with a high standard regulatory regime.

It's also important to recognise that the economic benefits of clinical trials go well beyond the life sciences sector. In addition to the uplift it gives to service firms which support the sector (our company is a prime example of this), there is also a positive impact for Scottish universities which see direct benefit from further engagement in locally based trials.

While some excellent work is being done to promote clinical trials in Scotland we know from the international logistical work that we are engaged in that the potential is much greater. Given Scotland's global reputation in life sciences it's encouraging to see that there are efforts to secure a greater share of this activity. Not only can we see a benefit in economic terms but when you consider some of the health challenges that a nation like Scotland is facing this can have a positive impact across all aspects of society.

Ian Scholes is the Director of European Operations at Colpitts World Travel

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