David Bunton, Chair, Precision Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre shares his thoughts with Glasgow City of Science and Innovation on why he believes Scotland has a golden future in precision medicine:

As Chair of the Precision Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre I clearly have a vested interest, but precision medicine offers a unique opportunity to save lives, improve our economy and reduce our environmental impact. Precision medicine is the opposite of a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, instead tailoring healthcare to the individual. This powers better treatment and diagnosis, including earlier interventions, more effective medicine development and aims to prescribe the right drug, first time. 

Most of us can appreciate the potential to revolutionise healthcare, benefitting not only patients but also the NHS. The exciting news is that Scotland has laid the foundations to be a global leader in precision medicine. Successes achieved so far include research on MS, liver disease, ovarian cancer and personalised cancer treatments, like CAR-T cell therapy.  

With the costs of R&D rising to over £1 billion per marketed drug, precision medicine is being applied to the drug discovery process, supporting future innovation. Taking a precise approach also ensures expensive treatments are given to those patients likely to receive the most benefit soon after their diagnosis, reducing the need for later clinical care. 

The benefits extend beyond health, with net-zero goals making precision medicine obvious. Medicines contribute around 25% of carbon emissions within the NHS. Precision medicine can radically reduce such emissions. 

So, why Scotland? We already have a strong life science sector, turning over £7 billion and making £3 billion in international sales. We are renowned for manufacturing, pharmaceutical services, diagnostics and medical devices. Precision medicine could further support both life sciences and the wider economy, building recognition and creating a virtuous cycle of investment.

Precision medicine also builds on Scotland’s track record in AI and ‘big data’, providing an opportunity to leverage our existing talents and technology clusters. AI is moving at an incredible pace and will be a key element in the delivery of precision medicine. The global market for healthcare IT is estimated to reach $289 billion by 2026, so we need to use our skills to grab a chunk of this. Scotland already has the infrastructure in place, in terms of labs, an engaged population for trials and electronic health records.

The Precision Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre accelerates the advancement and adoption of precision medicine. As we approach our 10-year anniversary, we’ve been considering our four priorities for the next decade. Firstly, implementation of precision medicine in Scotland, moving from research into commercialisation. Precision medicine projects require long term investment but will soon start delivering significant impact. We need to invest in areas with the greatest inefficiencies and unmet medical needs. 

Second, data. Scotland has globally significant healthcare data, with 30-years of patient demographics. This is incredibly rare, and we need to ensure we’re making the most of this data, while retaining public trust and support.

Thirdly, thinking internationally. It’s time to start selling our experience rather than discussing it amongst ourselves. Scotland has a great reputation for innovation and it’s time to capitalise on this globally. 

Finally, economics. Precision medicine needs effective public-private partnerships, with the NHS as a key partner. We need to quantify the benefits of precision medicine by calculating hard numbers for the savings unlocked. 

Precision medicine is a golden long-term opportunity, not a quick fix. With an ageing population, the push towards value-based healthcare and urgent net-zero targets, the drivers are only getting stronger. With a global outlook and more commercial focus, we can realise this unique opportunity for Scotland. 

David Bunton, Chair, Precision Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre www.precisionmedicinescotland.com and CEO, Reprocell Europe www.reprocell.com