Northern Ireland has a burgeoning Life and Health Sciences (LHS) sector with a vibrant academic community, globally renowned companies and a uniquely integrated health and social care system.
My new economic recovery plan - Rebuilding a Stronger Economy – identifies this as a priority sector to be targeted for future investment given its potential for growth.
We have over 250 companies in the sector, including global names such as Randox, Almac, Norbrook and Kainos. There has also been very welcome inward investment from Stryker, G&L Scientific, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, a global leader in biopharma.
Encouragingly, small and medium-sized companies also form a powerful cluster, including ProAxsis, Exploristics, Cirdan Imaging, CV6 Therapeutics, Fusion Antibodies, HeartSine, Intelesens, Diaceutics and AxisBioServices.
LHS companies had a collective turnover in excess of £1.1 billion in 2019. They employ more than 8,500 people, mostly in high value jobs.
Complementing this strong business performance, our two major universities, Ulster and Queen’s, offer a critical mass of globally competitive research expertise. Both universities rank among the top 10 in the UK for biosciences research.
With 2,100 academic staff and a combined research income of almost £170m, the universities produce sought-after graduates and world-leading research capability. Their track record in commercialisation of LHS technologies underpins a culture of innovation that makes Northern Ireland the place for LHS start-ups and global players alike to flourish and innovate.
Randox Laboratories and Almac are two globally renowned players in the field of precision medicine. Last year Almac Discovery invested £15m in a Centre for Precision Therapeutics in collaboration with Queen’s to develop new therapeutic approaches for diseases of unmet medical need. The Precision Medicine Centre of Excellence, NI Biobank and the NI Centre for Stratified Medicine are important infrastructural strengths coupled with our strong track record in oncology research.
Randox Laboratories is also partnering with Queen’s and Ulster universities on a £50m investment in three R&D centers of excellence in clinical diagnostics. Randox has committed £27m to the project, supported by a further £23m support from Invest Northern Ireland. Randox has invested over £300m to date in their proprietary Biochip Array Technology, and aims to drive significant improvements in healthcare through earlier, more accurate diagnosis.
We also have significant potential to develop capabilities in clinical trials. The NI Cancer Trials Centre and the NI Clinical Trial Network are already key infrastructural strengths. Proposals such as the establishment of a £50m Institute for Research Excellence in Advanced Clinical Healthcare as part of the Belfast Region City Deal will further enhance that capability.
Northern Ireland’s key strength in connected health is in the management of long-term chronic conditions. The Connected Health Innovation Centre based at Ulster University is focused on business-led research in this area. The proposed Centre for Digital Healthcare Technology as part of the Belfast Region City Deal will further strengthen capability by bringing together private sector, university and hospital health professionals more efficiently to drive value for both the patient and the economy.
Cross sectoral strengths in areas such as Digital, Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics also complement and enhance our LHS sector. Matrix identified this potential for collaboration across sectors in Northern Ireland as a major opportunity in its most recent LHS study.
Its recommendations led to the formation of the Health Innovation Research Alliance Northern Ireland (HIRANI), an alliance of universities, health organisations and other industry bodies, established to drive and support ambitious growth in the sector. HIRANI will drive collaboration and connectivity across business, academia and health organisations, providing a shop window for Northern Ireland’s LHS sector and offering easy access to our resources and expertise.
Altogether this makes Northern Ireland the ideal environment for cutting-edge healthcare R&D and innovations, benefitting patient health and economic growth alike.
As we face into a period of significant change associated with EU Exit and the potential reconfiguration of global supply chains in a post-Covid world, I want to work with our LHS sector to ensure it continues to be well positioned to seize the opportunities ahead to drive growth and prosperity in Northern Ireland.
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