Foster drives development of life sciences sector

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has encouraged the continued collaboration of businesses, academia and Government to grow Northern Ireland’s Life Sciences sector.

The Minister was speaking at the ‘From Science to Society: A Northern Ireland showcase in cancer genomics and personalised medicine,’ organised by Almac, Queen’s University Belfast and Invest Northern Ireland, supported by Declan Kelly, the U.S. Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland, in the USA today.

This showcase is part of an initiative to collaborate on mutual business opportunities, with the aim of creating a unique infrastructure, capable of accelerating the delivery of personalised medicine, in the field of cancer medicine and oncology.

Speaking at the event in Washington, Arlene Foster said: “This initiative is testament to the collective determination to continue the drive to develop the sector, and build on the strong foundations already established through the inspirational work of the late Sir Allen McClay and his company, Almac, and the academic excellence of Queen’s University Belfast.

“Life Sciences are a driver for economic growth and continued investment will encourage innovation, stimulate R&D and allow us to exploit leading edge technologies in a commercial manner to take the local economy to a higher plane.”

Life Sciences have been identified as one of the priority sectors that will drive the future growth of Northern Ireland’s economy by Invest Northern Ireland and Matrix, a business led panel of experts, government and academic representatives focused on the development of our R&D, innovation and knowledge-based economy.

The Minister continued: “In recent years the balance of expenditure on economic development has been shifting towards greater emphasis on innovation and R&D. As we continue to drive higher added-value economic activity, this will continue to support the Life Sciences sector to go from strength to strength.

“We currently have over 4,100 people employed in high quality jobs in 60 companies operating locally in the sector, which has an aggregate turnover of some $600million, the majority of which is generated from export markets, including the USA.”

Commenting on these impressive figures, at the event in Washington, Employment and Learning Minister, Sir Reg Empey said: “Whilst this is hugely encouraging, there is undoubtedly much untapped potential, when we consider the calibre of our research base, with two world-class Universities and six excellent regional Further Education colleges. The Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at the Queen’s University of Belfast, is just one of the many local examples of centres of internationally recognised research expertise.

“Key to the success of the growth of the Life Sciences sector in Northern Ireland is the vital contribution made by our local base of clinicians. We have seven internationally recognised research groups in areas such as Cancer, Diabetes, Endocrinology and Nutrition amongst others.”

In conclusion Arlene Foster said: “The success to date has been based on a model of collaboration in which Government, academia and the private sector have worked together in partnership to develop a vibrant Life Sciences sector. We look to continue that success into the future through building on these existing partnerships, and developing new ones in new and challenging areas of growth.”