On Friday 10 February, I was delighted to attend an event called "Britain's Northern Superpower: Building a Greater Glasgow", organised by the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and Our Scottish Future alongside my colleague, Stuart Murray, partner in Brodies' Energy and Infrastructure team. That morning, the Right Honourable Gordon Brown told approximately 400 delegates that Glasgow has all of the attributes to lead the world in precision medicine; that precision medicine could be the new shipbuilding on the Clyde. The former Prime Minister referred to the world leading medical research centres Glasgow now has, including:

  • The Living Laboratory for Precision Medicine;
  • Innovation Hubs within the Glasgow City Innovation District; and
  • The Imagine Centre of Excellence at Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

Lord Sainsbury, founder of the Centre for Cities, who also spoke that day, highlighted that a key issue for Glasgow, and for other historic leading industrial cities such as Sheffield, Birmingham and Manchester, is that since the skilled jobs associated with the relevant industries have declined, it has proved difficult - if not impossible - to replace those jobs with skilled work of the same standard. To do so, Lord Sainsbury agreed that Glasgow's aim should be to use its strong industrial heritage to encourage investment from businesses engaged in the advanced manufacturing industries of the future.

Both Lord Sainsbury and Tony Danker, Director General of the CBI, emphasised the importance of good infrastructure in facilitating sustainable economic growth. In particular, the need for a coordinated approach to transport and housing was acknowledged as essential to Glasgow's growth agenda, both to reduce commuting time and improve access to labour markets.

These suggestions and observations are exciting for Glasgow, and the feeling in the room that day was one of real hope and possibility. Against that background, I took the opportunity to speak in further detail with Stuart and with Brodies partner David Gallagher about what planned, sustained growth in the life sciences sector might look like for the city and about delivering the infrastructure to support that.

Looking, firstly, at the development of Glasgow's life sciences sector, David is a graduate of Entrepreneurial Scotland's executive leadership program at Babson College (Boston, MA) and previous Chair of the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine's European Committee for Reimbursement of Advanced Therapies. He also co-founded one of the UK’s most successful cell therapy companies, developing therapeutics to treat a variety of cancerous tumours, helping to raise $32 million from equity investment, grant funding and corporate partnerships with key pharmaceutical partners. He is, therefore, well placed to respond to some of the questions that arise from the proposal that life sciences and, more specifically, precision medicine, might follow in the footsteps of the great tradition of shipbuilding on the Clyde.

When I asked David about the opportunities and challenges the aim of becoming a global centre of excellence in precision medicine might present for Glasgow, he explained the following:

  • Biotechnology companies typically have a 1 in 10 success rate, fuelled by commercial risk and the length of time it can take for a product to reach the market. This rate improves in mature ecosystems such as the "Golden Triangle" of Oxford, Cambridge and London and the well-developed infrastructure of Massachusetts, USA.
  • Operating in a global market, the opportunity for Glasgow to become a global centre for excellence does not come solely from state-backed financial support, but also from investment in joined-up infrastructure to:
    • enable Scottish innovation to collaborate with others across the rest of the UK, particularly in the south of England market; and
    • facilitate access to patients for clinical trials of precision medicines, which will enable swift access to the global market and attract growth capital from the world's leading players.
  • The UK has dropped in the global rankings for late-stage clinical research, moving from fourth place in the world in 2017 to tenth place in 2021 in respect of Phase III trials (trials with medicines closest to market). The UK Government is keen to bring that decline to a halt and reverse it, and has been vocal in its aim of encouraging integration between commercial research and development organisations and centres of excellence, health services and academia. In 2021, an independent Review of the Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape was launched, with the final report and recommendations having been published earlier this month.  On 6 March 2023, the Right Honourable Michele Donelan, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, confirmed that the UK Government will provide its detailed response to that in the months ahead. Against that background, it is clear that the voice of industry will be crucial in developing future frameworks to ensure the UK's commercial innovation remains competitive on the global stage.

Stuart is an infrastructure projects lawyer with extensive experience advising local authorities, project sponsors, service providers, contractors and funders on a wide range of social and economic infrastructure PPP programmes across both the UK and Ireland. He has advised clients in the education, health, student accommodation, waste water, municipal waste and transport/roads sectors, and has worked on some of the country's largest infrastructure projects. The Legal 500 UK 2023 named Stuart as a "Rising Star" in respect of projects work, and he had interesting insight to offer into the delivery of the infrastructure that will be needed to support and encourage the type of growth described by Lord Sainsbury and the Right Honourable Gordon Brown:

  • Major infrastructure projects are notoriously complex and take time to properly develop, procure and deliver. However, the clear economic and social benefits of excellent infrastructure means that the speed of its development and delivery is, in fact, key to harnessing those benefits. This is particularly true where the area of targeted economic growth which the infrastructure is designed to support is one involving significant and speedy technological advancement, as is the case with the life sciences sector.
  • In the current climate, infrastructure projects need to be planned and procured in a way that maximises flexibility and adaptability in their delivery. Future-proofing from the outset is what will allow these projects to be delivered as efficiently as possible in an economic landscape that can change without warning and which is increasingly shaped by the rapid development of technology, the importance of sustainability, and the transition to Net Zero.
  • Key to unlocking Glasgow's potential will, therefore, be enthusiasm to embrace an approach to the development and delivery of major infrastructure that is both flexible - capable of accommodating technological developments and weathering economic storms - and supportive of the transition to Net Zero.

Whilst it is clear that, like any city focused on regeneration and renewal, the road ahead may be long, it also looks like the future for the Dear Green Place is, indeed, bright.