Opinion piece by David Bunton, Chair of the Board, Precision Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre & Chief Exec., REPROCELL

A recent survey by Price Waterhouse about the potential for precision medicine shows that global leaders in the pharmaceuticals industry are aware of its promise; 92% identify precision medicine as an opportunity and 84 percent have it on their corporate agenda. They cite the clear advantages in drug development, by reducing time-to-market and improving the efficiency of R&D. Despite this, most companies have yet to harness the full potential of precision medicine.

Scotland has a key role to play in the development of precision medicine by turning collaboration with academia, the NHS and industry into improved treatment outcomes and opportunities for its life sciences companies.   There is impetus as Scotland is fast becoming one of the biggest life science industry clusters across Europe. Employing over 40,000 professionals across 750 organisations, Scotland produces 70% of the media for European biomanufacturing and is responsible for over 50% of Europe’s biosafety testing.

As Chair of the Precision Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (PMS-IC) I am tasked with supporting an excellent team of scientists in their ambition to accelerate the adoption of precision medicine.  As Chief Executive of REPROCELL Europe, a life sciences company based in Glasgow that provides innovative solutions to a global market, I bring commercial experience and a desire to see new technology benefit patients, the NHS and the Scottish economy.

We are at an important stage in the evolution of precision medicine by creating opportunities for accurate diagnosis and treatment based on an individual’s unique biology.  By understanding the factors that control how each of us responds to medicines, we can help healthcare specialists tailor treatments at much earlier stages of a disease, greatly improving outcomes. Moreover, by avoiding ineffective medicines, and reducing side-effects, precision medicine will decrease healthcare costs and ultimately contribute towards a “net-zero” NHS.

The work of the Innovation Centre is at a key stage of identifying predictors of disease progression and optimal treatment regimens for many chronic conditions with a high prevalence in Scotland, such as cancer, MS, autoimmune diseases and liver diseases.
The pace of R&D and open spirit of collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown what is possible. We must use this momentum to accelerate the translation of science from the lab to the market. Success creates a virtuous positive feedback cycle and provides evidence of the value of precision medicine; however, to achieve this, there needs to be rapid, flexible routes to work with the NHS – to help innovators demonstrate the potential to match up their ideas to unmet medical needs and market opportunities.  Rapid technology assessment will also encourage greater numbers of start-ups and spin outs and make Scotland the “go-to” place for start-ups and investors.  

Scotland is differentiated by the combination of world class clinical and academic research, high quality patient data, access to patient samples, a single healthcare provider and large cohorts of patients with chronic diseases.  It is already widely recognised as a key location for hosting clinical trials and has strong relationships with the global pharmaceutical industry; however, other countries, such as Norway, Finland and Estonia, are trailblazers and provide stern competition, meaning we need to move even faster. We also need to improve access to electronic health data, including communicating the benefits and safety of such research to patients and the wider public.  

Most healthcare professionals agree that now is the time to move away from ‘one size fits all’ approaches; in time, precision medicine may remodel the entire healthcare industry.  It is therefore time to get down to the business of accelerating the implementation of this innovative approach.

David Bunton, Chair of the Board, Precision Medicine Innovation Centre.