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Establishing a breeding ground for health innovation through data-driven bioscience

Anna Stamp, Interim Programme Director at Edinburgh BioQuarter, as published in UKSPA Breakthrough, the UK Science Park Association magazine.

“ What is now proved was once only imagined.”

This well-known quote from the poet William Blake perfectly surmises the innovation sector today. 2020 will surely be remembered as when innovation was never more needed as the world wrestled to control external forces wreaking havoc on our health and global economies. How individuals and organisations have adapted, pivoted plans and sought to triumph through the unrelenting challenge caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has been tremendous.

While across the country many blows have been dealt because of coronavirus, we have seen organisations unite with a common purpose to succeed – particularly in the health and life sciences sectors. The advancements within these ecosystems have been inspiring and demonstrated the value of establishing health innovation districts where such organisations can come together to solve a common problem any time – and not just when pandemics strike.

The concept of innovation districts is relatively new, but they have already proven themselves in supporting economic growth. Notable examples include Texas Medical City (Houston) and St Louis’ Cortex (Missouri) which have focused on the regeneration of otherwise forgotten areas of the cities and delivered vast socio-economic benefits to the local communities. As an Arup report cites: “ Innovation districts are emerging as the destinations that can help UK cities create, scale up and attract fast-growing firms, together with new products and processes which will drive more productive and inclusive economic growth.”

This is exactly what is being sought at Edinburgh BioQuarter; a 167-acre site within three miles of Edinburgh city centre. Already an established home to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Hospital, University of Edinburgh Medical School and its research institutes, alongside a growing number of global life sciences companies; BioQuarter partners – which include City of Edinburgh Council, NHS Lothian, Scottish Enterprise and University of Edinburgh – believe the development brings together the prowess and skills on one site to become a world-leading health innovation district.

With globally significant research being led through the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian putting the development in the spotlight – including STOPCOVID, a project bringing together 150 researchers at the University’s Centre for Inflammation Research, BioQuarter is already on track to achieve these ambitions. Organisations based at BioQuarter are linked by a common goal, tackling local, national and global health challenges. And thanks to the proximity and connections that exist between anchor institutions, we can accelerate the time it takes to deliver new drugs, health treatments and technologies to patients.

BioQuarter is at the forefront of Scotland’s data and health tech capabilities – the country has one of the most advanced health informatics systems in the world with a long tradition of using linked health service data for research. Edinburgh has ambitions to  become “the data capital of Europe”, and as part of this programme, BioQuarter will be home to the £68m Usher Institute, a data-driven health and social care hub approved under the £1.3 billion City Deal with funding from UK and Scottish Governments. This development will curate and make accessible around 270 new health and social care data assets, house over 1000 health data experts, including clinicians, researchers, students and data scientists and has ambitious targets to create 50 spin out companies.

The opportunities at BioQuarter are extremely exciting with 61 acres of available land for expansion as part of its masterplan; we have one of the biggest mixed-use development opportunities in Europe.

We know that the triple helix – bringing together public, private and governmental support – is a tried and tested model for success. We are on the cusp of something special and there is an opportunity to unlock our innovation ecosystem.  To do this, we are looking to identify a private sector partner to join BioQuarter’s existing partners on a journey to create Edinburgh’s £1 billion Health Innovation District. We have entered an OEJU Procurement Process which will launch in Q1 2021. Interest in the project is high – with a recent virtual Bidder’s Day attracting over 150 companies from around the world including Asia, Europe and the USA.

Speaking as a panellist on the Bidders Day, Professor Kev Dhaliwal, Chair of Molecular Imaging and Healthcare Technology / Honorary Consultant in Respiratory Medicine and lead on the STOPCOVID project said that: “ The greatest strength of BioQuarter is in its proximity and mixing of people in one place. The innovation ecosystem is born out of human capital mixing on the site; everything coming together creates a unique appetite for the innovation ecosystem. Anyone can be an innovator at BioQuarter.”

The opportunity for researchers and clinicians to be based on one site and work side by side while also near those requiring treatment is significant and has already benefited many.

Indeed, what is already being achieved on the site is more than noteworthy. With a growing pipeline of organisations interested in having a base within BioQuarter, the future of the site is bright. Added to a time where solving healthcare challenges has never been more important makes BioQuarter an extremely attractive community to be a part of.

Article written for UKSPA Breakthough and published in Autumn 2020 edition.

Anna Stamp is responsible for the process of selecting a commercial private sector partner for the joint venture, developing the masterplan and placemaking strategy that will deliver the partners’ vision and manage the ongoing commercialisation activity of Edinburgh BioQuarter’s ecosystem.

If you have interest in shaping Edinburgh’s Health Innovation District, our Prior Information Notice is available to view via the Public Contracts Scotland website. On the PCS website you can also find out more about the opportunity available by completing our procurement questionnaire.

A replay of the virtual Bidder’s Day can be watched here.