Interview: Diane Harbison, BioCity Scotland

“We are looking at how we do things differently”

Diane Harbison BioCityIn a giant science lab on the eastern fringe of Glasgow, scores of technicians are busy solving some of our most pressing problems.

BioCity Scotland, the incubator for medical technologies, is a home for experts working in everything from stem cell research to pigments used in food packaging. Some of this early stage research will one day make it on to the supermarket shelves.

Diane Harbison, who was brought in as managing director 10 months ago, is excited about prospects for the three year old facility and is close to announcing new tenants as it gears up for its next stage of growth.

Since its launch in 2012, it has quickly become a focal point for Scotland’s life sciences industry and is on target to host 50 companies in the next five years.

Today sees the launch of its Innovation Hub at a conference which will bring a number of life science experts together to consider new ways of developing the sector.

Collaboration between companies and with academia will be a theme of the two-day event.

Ms Harbison said there is a keen desire to build on relationships that can provide a stepping stone to bringing research to market.

“We have spoken to all the universities in Scotland and so far 14 of the 16 have agreed to work with us,” she says.

Glasgow School of Art is among the institutions supporting the initiative. It is providing advice on design of devices which is regarded an important element in the commercial process.

Ms Harbison says: “It could be a blood pressure device or a puffer used by asthma sufferers – it has to be usable. That is where the designers come in.”

Today’s conference will be attended by leading figures in the sector and will provide an opportunity for the latest ideas to be exchanged.

“We are looking at how people can do things differently and we have some of the big pharmaceuticals companies represented,” said Ms Harbison, whose background includes spells at Pfizer and the Edinburgh BioQuarter.

BioCity Scotland is 50% occupied and ahead of a similar facility in Nottingham at its stage of development. It aims to employ 500 staff when full. Nottingham BioCity, set up in 2003, is a joint shareholder with the Roslin Institute.

Partner companies include multinational pharmaceuticals company Johnson & Johnson Innovation Centre, venture capitalist Epidarex Capital, and technology giant Toshiba.

Ms Harbison says BioCity is a “catalyst” that helps bring activity to market. “We have a robust pipeline of companies interested in coming here and we will be making announcements on new tenants in the next couple of months,” she says.

The conference – “Supercharging the Innovation Engine” – will feature a wide range of speakers from academia, industry, pharma and corporate partners.  Headline speakers include:

  • Iain Uings, Director of Discovery Partnerships at GlaxoSmithKline;
  • Dr Kurt Hertogs, Head of Platform Innovation & Incubator Strategy, Johnson & Johnson Innovation
  • Dr Rob Pinnock: Director of Scientific Liaison for the UK, Ireland, Portugal & Spain, Merck
  • Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal and Vice Chancellor of University of Strathclyde
  • Dr Max Mizra, Pfizer

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