The startups driving innovation in life sciences

In the last two decades, life sciences has become one of the UK’s fastest growing and most innovative industries, encompassing a wide range of disciplines. In Wales the sector now employs over 11,000 people in more than 350 companies and contributes around £2 billion to the Welsh economy every year.

Thanks to the sector’s incredible success, Wales is now at the forefront of a number of exciting and groundbreaking developments across various fields, from pharmaceutical to biotechnology. And innovation is coming from all corners, not only from large multi-national firms and pioneering academics, but also from SMEs and entrepreneurs.

In fact, some of the most exciting innovations are actually coming from small startup businesses; individuals or groups of people who have a product, or sometimes just a new idea, that they want to develop and commercialise.

The Life Sciences Hub Wales recently ran a unique competition, called Boost Cymru, to find some of these new ideas, products or services and help make them market-ready.

We were impressed with the high calibre of entries to the competition, which perfectly demonstrated the scope of the sector and its incredible potential.

The overall winner, Cardiff-based Jellagen, is one of just three companies in the world, and the only one in the UK, to work with collagen harvested from jellyfish, from which it is developing products that could have a wide range of medical and non-medical applications.

Collagen is the main structural protein of the body and its ability to form strong fibres means it can be used in the manufacture of biomaterials. Its medical applications can range from wound care and soft tissue repair to bone grafts.

Another health-based startup developing an innovative product is Nemein. The Bridgend company has developed Kinisi, a portable lightweight lifting aid designed to bring dignity to people who have fallen.The device was the brainchild of an MS sufferer who wanted to develop something to help himself up after a fall that would allow him to continue living independently.

Many life sciences startups are developing systems or services, new ways of doing things, rather than products. One of those is Cotton Mouton Diagnostics, a startup that spun out of Cardiff and Exeter universities.

The medical diagnostic company is developing systems to more rapidly diagnose diseases such as sepsis. These systems can be used at the point of need, such as in a hospital ward or a GP surgery, rather than having to send samples off to laboratories and wait a couple of days for the results.

At the other end of the life sciences spectrum is Bionema. Based in the Institute of Life Science at Swansea University, the company is developing a eco-friendly bio-pesticide. Unlike commercial pesticides, Bionema’s product will protect crops from insect damage without harming the environment or non-target species.

There are many more companies like these across Wales and indeed, across the UK, that are driving innovation in life sciences and boosting the economy as a result.I am in no doubt that the life sciences sector will continue to grow in the coming years, diversifying into new and exciting cutting-edge areas of research and development.

This is a guest article by Dr Ian Barwick, CEO of Life Sciences Hub Wales.

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