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1bn shot in the arm from life sciences

life science is contributing about 1 billion a year to the economy and is set to overtake electronics in terms of employment. Picture: Ian Rutherford

SCOTTISH Enterprise has declared the life sciences sector to be in rude health on the eve of a major investment conference.

The sector is contributing about 1 billion a year to the economy and is set to overtake electronics in terms of employment, meaning Scotland could take a world-leading position.

According to a new report, Life Sciences in Scotland, the combined turnover of the 590 life sciences organisations operating in Scotland is 2.5bn a year, and they employ 30,000 people. Scottish Enterprise, which compiled the figures, said this translated into a contribution of 1 billion a year to the economy.

The employment figure excludes academic research in life sciences-related subjects, which Scottish Enterprise estimates employs a further 15,000 people.

Ken Snowden, director of the Scottish Enterprise Life Science team, said the industry was growing at about 6 per cent per year in terms of both employment and turnover.

With many of the companies in Scotland involved in early stage development of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and yet to generate significant sales, the turnover growth rate could easily increase in the future.

Snowden said: "What these figures don't take into account is the long lead times for drug development, when a company is investing tens of millions in research and development to take their products to market and become profitable.

"As a result, we can expect to see further substantial growth over the coming years, particularly as we see world class developments such as Edinburgh BioQuarter and the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine deliver the critical mass of commercial activity required to make a long-term and sustainable impact on the Scottish economy."

The Scottish Executive has long played up the prospects of the sector. Already Scotland is home to about a fifth of the UK's life sciences companies.

The report on the state of the Scottish sector, compiled by Young Company Finance, is due to be published in Glasgow today at the two-day BioEquity Europe conference, Europe's largest investment event for the life sciences sector.

Jonathan Harris, who edited the report said: "Our report gives examples of many young companies, over a wide range of activities and stages of development, which are commercialising world-class science and technology."

The event will see 70 life sciences companies from across Europe pitch for funding from 600 investors from Europe and the US.

This is the second time that Scotland has hosted the BioEquity conference, the first being in Edinburgh in 2004.

Scottish Enterprise, which is hosting the event, says that as well as providing a springboard for Scottish companies, the conference helps maintain Scotland's reputation and standing in the sector.

While only six of the 70 companies making full presentations at the conference this week are from Scotland, a further dozen were making informal presentations to investors yesterday.

Collectively the companies presenting in Glasgow are seeking to raise tens of millions of pounds in investment. However, several of the Scottish firms are not making pitches for immediate funding. Ardana, Pro-Strakan and Cyclacel, which are all listed companies, are expected to use the opportunity to update analysts and the investment community generally.

Scott Johnstone, chief executive of University of Glasgow spin-out Antoxis, which is developing treatments for conditions including ischaemic stroke and Alzheimer's disease, said its presentation was primarily to put the company on the radar of the investment community for future fundraising exercises.

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