Collaboration and partnership have always been vital components of scientific success, and the old adage that “two heads are better than one” has never been more apt.
Today this is especially true in a research context, where group collaborations are often more successful and have more impact than solo research due to the costs and complexities involved.
The Life Sciences Hub Wales exists to promote collaboration and partnership in the sector in Wales, bringing together academic, business, clinical and professional services and funding organisations.
We are also keen to look outwards, to foster international relationships that will have tangible benefits to life sciences businesses here in Wales.
It’s fair to say that Brexit poses a particular challenge to that agenda. At the moment much joint work takes place across the European Union, aided by the free movement of people and backed by EU investment.
There are fears that funding and collaboration could be jeopardised by Brexit.
That’s why we were pleased to read reports that scientific institutions in the UK and US are in talks to extend their relationship post-Brexit.
The two countries are renowned as global ‘superpowers’ when it comes to science, and an agreement of this nature would ensure that continues to be the case, making it easier for their scientists to travel, collaborate and share facilities. Agreements like these will be vital in a post-Brexit world.
The Life Sciences Hub works to showcase Welsh life sciences globally, not just in Europe, and we are determined that will continue. We have a number of mechanisms in place to achieve that aim.
One of our first international agreements was the historic memorandum of understanding we signed with Sherbrooke Innopole, our equivalent body in Quebec, Canada.
The agreement has opened up valuable opportunities for life sciences companies in both countries that they would not have otherwise had.
Last summer we strengthened our overseas relationships by signing an international partnership agreement with four science parks and clusters – Sherbrooke Innopole, Inartis Foundation/Health Valley in Switzerland, LifeTechValley in Belgium and Medicon Village in Sweden.
The agreement, called Twins’ International MultiHelix, will benefit each organisation’s members by helping with investments and strengthening their work in an international setting.
The Hub is also a member of the Council of European BioRegions (CEBR), a network of life science clusters across Europe that has hundreds of cluster partners across the world.
CEBR exists to create a European platform for cluster-driven initiatives, to create a profile for European clusters on the world stage and to transform competitiveness into co-operation.
The Hub is also a proud supporter of BioWales, the Welsh Government’s flagship event for the life sciences sector. Up to 700 delegates from across the world are expected to attend this year’s event, being held at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre on 7 and 8 March.
This year’s Health and Wealth theme focuses on the latest developments in cell therapy, regenerative medicine and medical technologies, in which Wales is particularly strong. Among the keynote speakers are leading figures from GSK, Pfizer, GE Healthcare and Microsoft.
This year’s event, the first since the Brexit vote, will be an important opportunity to confirm that the Welsh life sciences sector is still open to the world.
We are also particularly encouraged by the potential of CALIN, the new Ireland-Wales life sciences network.
Launched with €11.96m of EU funding, CALIN (which stands for Celtic Advanced Life Science Innovation Network) aims to connect SMEs with world-leading HE institutions including Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea Universities in Wales, and University College Dublin, The National University of Ireland Galway and Tyndall National Institute, University College Cork in Ireland.
Focusing on precision medicine (diagnostics, devices and therapeutics), regenerative medicine and bio-compatibility and safety evaluation, CALIN will engage with businesses to support advanced life science product development through collaborative R&D.
It hopes to engage and assist over 240 SMEs throughout Wales and Ireland.
Forward-looking, positive, cross-border collaborations like this must continue post-Brexit.
We believe that the strength of the life sciences sector in Wales, from our world class academic research institutions to our thriving startup scene, will continue to make us an attractive scientific partner in future, both within and beyond Europe.
While the ultimate outcome of the UK’s decision to leave the EU is still uncertain, we are clear that the Hub will continue to seek international collaborations and partnerships for the benefit of our members, whatever the political circumstances.
Dr Penny Owen is the interim executive chair of the Life Sciences Hub Wales. She has more than 20 years’ experience of working in the life sciences sector, specifically in R&D, marketing and operations.