Building a cluster

Building a cluster

Glasgow’s new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital – the largest in Western Europe – is allowing the city to develop a world-class life sciences cluster.

Standing in the foyer of the new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow and looking up towards the top of the bright and airy atrium, it’s hard not to be impressed. The £842 million facility has 14 floors, 1,109 patient rooms, a 500-seater restaurant and even a helipad on the roof.

Each of the rooms on the general wards has its own private shower and toilet, while patients have access to free televisions, radios and wireless internet connections. The building brings together the services that were previously offered at three adult hospitals onto a single site. While it might have been the multi-coloured meeting rooms sticking out from the walls that grabbed the attention of the media when the site was officially opening in 2015, the hospital is simply one piece in a much larger jigsaw puzzle. The QUEH is surrounded by a campus that includes the Royal Hospital for Children, the Institute of Neurological Sciences, a maternity unit, and a unit for care of the elderly and rehabilitation.

Having such a rich variety of services available on one site has allowed the University of Glasgow and its partners to create a world-class life sciences cluster, with the QUEH at its heart. As well as the medical facilities, the campus is home to the Queen Elizabeth Teaching & Learning Centre (QELTC), a £27m facility that provides training for clinicians at each and every stage of their careers, all the way through from undergraduate medical students to the doctors, nurses and other medics who are continuing their professional development in the neighbouring hospital.

Cluster QELTC 3

The first two occupants of the 10,000sq ft innovation floor in the QELTC are biomedical informatics company Aridhia and the Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS-IC), a public private partnership that brings together Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow universities with the National Health Service (NHS), global biotechnology company Thermo Fisher Scientific and Aridhia. Stratified medicine involves finding the right treatment for each individual patient, based on their genes and using the very latest imaging technology to examine their body. The QELTC is also hosting one of the six centres of excellence for the UK-wide Precision Medicine Catapult.

The centre will act as a hub that can feed into wider UK efforts in stratified medicine. Having both the catapult’s centre and the SMS-IC on the same site means the two organisations can work together, avoiding duplication of efforts.

Next door to the QELTC is the Imaging Centre of Excellence (ICE), a £16m building that will be home to a magnetic response imaging (MRI) scanner cable of producing a magnetic field measuring seven Tesla (7T) in strength, one of the most powerful in the world. The 7T scanner and the other imaging instruments at ICE will not only bring benefits for patients and for medical research, but will also act as an economic development tool.

One of the floors in the ICE is available for industrial partners, which will work with clinicians and academics to develop the hardware and software needed to power 7T scanners and to handle the vast amounts of data that are produced by modern imaging techniques. The QELTC also has incubation space to help start-up and spin-out companies get off the ground, along with facilities for more-established businesses that want to form collaborations and partnerships.

Specialist clinical research facilities within one of the other buildings on the campus have also been purpose-built for advanced clinical trials, meaning that pharmaceutical companies can access services at each and every stage of the drug development process, taking candidates from the very basic scientific research stages all the way through to bedside tests in the clinic.

“It can sometimes be difficult for companies to engage with the healthcare sector,” explains David Sibbald, who is executive chairman of Aridhia and chair of the SMS-IC. “In the past, it’s very much been the domain of the universities and the domain of the NHS.

“Yet when it comes to precision medicine, there needs to be genuine collaboration between industry, academia and the health service. If any one of those groups was to try to figure it out by itself – or even two of those groups together – then they would fail.

“It’s a new model that requires domain expertise from those three areas to come together and collaborate in quite a deep way. It’s not superficial collaboration – it’s about bringing different assets, different areas of expertise, different technologies to the party and working on it together.

David Sibbald“It’s important that we’re in an environment or a space where that innovation and collaborative research and development (R&D) can take place. That’s what’s really important about the cluster that’s getting built-up around the hospital – it’s creating a sandbox in which lots of different people can play and participate.

“It might sound a little old-fashioned to talk about the need for a physical space for that when we live in a globally-connected virtual world but the reality is that it’s an incredibly difficult journey to get that research into clinical practice and there are all sorts of scientific, technical, regulatory, health economic and ethics challenges that we need to get through. It’s easier and better if you can create a culture in which the three groups work together.”

Sibbald adds: “Having a cluster means that we can bring together academics, business people and clinicians so that they can see that actually they’re not that different from each other and their motivations aren’t that different. Even though they all speak slightly different languages, they can still work together.

“It helps to break down cultural barriers. I can see that first-hand because I’ve lived through that journey.”

One company that has already been attracted to the innovation floor of the QELTC is Singapore-based HistoIndex, which was spun-out from the Institute of Bioengineering & Nanotechnology at the Agency for Science, Technology & Research in Singapore in 2010.

HistoIndex’s lead product is the Genesis 200, an automated imaging system that can produce both two-dimensional and three-dimensional images of a tissue sample and carry out a full quantitative analysis to help pathologists determine the stage to which a disease has progressed. The device doesn’t need the samples to be labelled or stained, which reduces the chances of human error and increases the objectivity of the diagnosis.

HistoIndex’s products and suite of software and services are already being used in more than 100 hospitals, universities and pharmaceutical companies throughout the world, helping clinicians to diagnose and identify the stages to which diseases like fibrosis and cancers have progressed, as well as helping researchers to carry out experiments to develop drugs and treatments. With more than a dozen strategic partnerships, HistoIndex’s Genesis Imaging Services (GIS) labs have opened doors for clinicians, researchers and healthcare professionals all over the world. Each of the 13 international GIS partners has a Genesis 200 imaging system in its facility and its own network of dedicated users. The only GIS lab in the UK is based at the QEUH where it has begun to have an impact on both the scientific and medical communities.

“The initiatives that are taking place in Scotland around personalised medicine – such as the SMS-IC – are very exciting,” explains Gideon Ho, the chief executive and co-founder of HistoIndex. “The whole ecosystem is being developed in such a way that I feel it will serve our products and services very well.

“Scotland is unique because of the harmonisation of the National Health Service (NHS). When I speak to people in other parts of the UK, they all have a list of acronyms and abbreviations that I need to be acquainted with, which could vary from one health board to another, but in Scotland there is a concerted approach.

“Scotland is a great pilot site for us. From Scotland, we can push out products and services to other parts of the UK and also to other parts of Europe, regardless of the current issues regarding Brexit.” Ho studied for his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Glasgow and then gained his master’s degree in engineering from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He later returned to Glasgow to complete his doctorate in bioengineering at the University of Strathclyde, which is also based in Glasgow.

Cluster QELTC 4

“The University of Glasgow has been very approachable and supportive,” he adds. “I got to know Dame Anna Dominiczak, Glasgow’s Regius professor of medicine, when she was here in Singapore and she invited me to speak at the university’s industry day last year. [2015]

“They have awesome facilities in Glasgow – the newly-built QEUH is futuristic, and full of state-of-the-art technologies. We are beginning to collaborate with a number of groups at the university that are carrying out clinical research into areas including cancer, fibrosis and kidney transplant.

“They have a vision about where they want to take integrative diagnostics in personalised medicine and that appeals to me. You want to partner with somebody who shares a vision
with you.”