Download the report

2008 Life & Health Sciences Report

Over the past five years, Northern Ireland industry, academia and government have made significant commitment to the development of life sciences capabilities. According to Invest NI data, in excess of $160 million has been budgeted for infrastructure enhancement, collaborative research, new product development and staff development initiatives.

This illustrates the local stakeholders’ determination to maximise the opportunities deriving from a long history of technological innovation, backed by a highly educated, young workforce and an internationally recognised research base.

The business sector counts approximately 60 companies, offering a very diverse range of products, services and capabilities. Data from Invest NI and DETI suggests that the industry, as a whole, has a combined turnover of around £310m and employs approximately 4,000 people. This tends to be a high value-added sector and export-oriented, with around 80% of sales generated from external markets.

The academic sector offers a strong science base, both in life sciences and related sectors, through its two world class universities and the six regional Colleges of Further & Higher Education. Examples are the nanotechnology and advanced materials research institute (that includes NIBEC and the Centre for Advanced Cardiovascular Research), the Biomedical Sciences Research Institute, the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, the Northern Ireland Clinical Cancer Centre and the McClay Research Centre for Pharmaceutical Sciences.

In addition to its intrinsic clinical practice expertise, the clinical sector is placing an increasing focus on clinical research and development (also known as translational medicine) and commercialisation of innovation arising from its activities. its strengths lie in the seven recognised research groups and the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network that includes HSC Innovations.

Home based care opportunities

The Life and Health Sciences Horizon Panel recommends that Northern Ireland becomes the first UK region committed to the early adoption of a telehealth system within the Health and Social Care practice. This means establishing a strong local capability across the telehealth continuum, and deploy this locally to achieve whole connectivity between the health sector and the home within 15-20 years.

The home based care market encompasses a wide range of products and services. The underpinning technologies and systems necessary to deliver those services can be sub-divided into four key domains along the telehealth continuum, as summarised in the diagram opposite. The overall aim of the model proposed for Northern Ireland is to join-up local capability across all four of these domains in an integrated manner and in a real clinical setting. The panel concluded that to maximise the market opportunity in this area, telehealth technology should be implemented within our own health system. This would allow the DHSSPS to benefit from savings achieved from the delivery of health services in this manner, whilst improving patient care. At the same time, it would create an attractive Whole System Integration Test Bed for local and international technology providers, who could use Northern Ireland as a gateway to UK and European home care export markets.

Personalised medicine opportunities

As the market intelligence indicates, in the longer term this sector has the potential to transform the way medicine is delivered. Many nations have identified the opportunities offered by this high risk – high reward sector, and investment in research and commercialisation in this space has intensified in recent years.

The Life and Health Sciences Horizon Panel has identified an opportunity for Northern Ireland to carve out a share of this growing market, by becoming a centre for Integrated Research & Development in Personalised Medicine. This would fuel the development of Personalised Medicine in Northern Ireland, and place the local cluster on the international map in this highly dynamic sector. The competitive advantage would be conferred by the integrated nature of the services provided, harnessing academic scientific expertise, clinical data and practice and a focus on commercialisable outputs.

The panel believes that the sector could be stimulated locally by creating the environment for the initiation of commercially-targeted R&D projects, focussing funding and support towards applied research not elsewhere funded and the gap between initial Proof of Concept and Phase II Clinical trials. Being open to the full spectrum of the personalised medicine technologies and practices, is expected to stimulate interest from across the sector and allow the most economically valuable proposals to emerge.

Key stakeholder inputs & outputs



  • A commitment to a connected health’ agenda and establishment of NI as a test-bed for associated technology
  • A commitment to a joined up approach to the market opportunity
  • Embrace an attitude of change


  • Stimulate indigenous companies
  • Create a knowledge base from which export potential can be exploited
  • Attract FDI companies interested in using NI as a gateway to UK and European markets
  • Demonstration of the government’s commitment to smarter working practices to improve patient care

Academic sector


  • Social studies
  • ICT capability
  • Curricula for new disciplines in eHealth


  • Graduates to fulfil a new model of health delivery
  • Growing reputation in the Connected Health field

Business sector


  • An investment in new technologies
  • A long-term contractual commitment to the public sector


  • An opportunity to participate in a locally significant market
  • Potential to export proven technology and know-how to US and European markets

Clinical sector


  • A commitment to changing working practices
  • Adjusting reward structures


  • A new model of healthcare management
  • Improved health and quality of life for relevant patient groups through enhanced independent living
  • Improved work practices for health professionals
  • Realisation of cost-savings which can be redistributed towards other priority areas, thus increasing productivity levels

Framework conditions

The health technologies and life sciences sector has the potential to become a major contributor to Northern Ireland’s knowledge based economy. There are however number of prerequisites to successfully realising the market opportunities identified by the Horizon Panel.

Summary of proposals

Two distinct market opportunities have been identified by the life & health sciences panel – personalised medicine and homebased care. Whilst they have a number of common features, the two models offer different propositions in terms of the type of capability impacted locally, economic impact, timescale and risk factors. The two market proposals are summarised below.

Key recommendations for precision medicine

  • Large, emerging market across all segments, driven by need for more effective treatments & shift to preventative medicine, and the innovation & patent crisis in the pharmaceuticals sector
  • Obstacles: costs, data availability, ethical concerns, reimbursement policy
  • Number of players & government investment increasing globally
  • High risk, high reward market
  • NI has some of the building blocks in place, but lacking critical mass
  • Focus on clear commercialisable applications in the personalised medicine space
  • Open/Bottom-up approach – based on competitive projects
  • Create a virtual mechanism, using existing physical infrastructure & tech transfer structures
  • Support collaborative networks, resource development, profile raising
  • Use funding to incentivise collaboration, technology transfer and attract international players
  • Potential for immediate engagement of existing companies and impact on their commercially-targeted R&D activity
  • Draws on and stimulates R&D in related and complementary fields
  • Additional funding leveraged through public sources (UK, RoI and European sources) and major international players
  • Attract PhD and other highly skilled professionals. Retain indigenous talent
  • Longer term – creation of new companies
  • Long-term economic impact (10 years +)
  • High risk portfolio
  • Building critical mass and profile through sustained investment
  • Combining academic and clinical capability will confer a strong competitive advantage
  • Commitment from all stakeholders

Key recommendations for home based care

  • Developing market, driven by the need for more efficient healthcare provision and increasing consumer demand for enhanced quality of life
  • Market currently dominated by pilots. Proven benefits, but also show that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’
  • Main technology platforms exist, albeit requiring further development
  • Obstacles to adoption: Device & IT interoperability, variation in regional policy, healthcare system resistance to technology & change, reimbursement policy
  • NI capability lagging behind
  • Focus on telehealth and telecare segments (excludes telemedicine and house aids)
  • Adoption within mainstream healthcare system to become NI’s competitive differentiator
  • Top-down approach, with decision on policy and strategic approach to roll-out resting exclusively with DHSSPS
  • Phased roll-out
  • High FDI traction prospects
  • Technology platforms available internationally, albeit requiring improvement
  • Lower risk and more immediate economic impact on both patient care and local economy (3 years +)
  • Significant interest in full adoption from DHSSPS locally, which would be a key competitive advantage compared to other pilot based schemes.
  • Limited indigenous scientific capability locally
  • Global market prospects dependent of adoption rates in each country
  • Adjust reimbursement strategy to incentivise adoption
  • Embedding behavioural changes – among healthcare professionals and patients

The panel

Bernie Hannigan

Public Health England

From 2008 until 2014 Professor Bernie Hannigan was Director of R&D for Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety. Previously she was at the University of Ulster in a range of posts including Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research & Innovation) and she is now an Honorary Professor.

Albert Sherrard

BioBusiness NI

Albert Sherrard was Vice President, Manufacturing Europe of Tyco Healthcare division at Tyco International. Since his retirement in 2004, he has acted as a consultant to the medical device industry in Ireland. He served as Chairman of BioBusiness Northern Ireland since October 2006. He is a Director of HeartSine and was a member of the Invest NI International Life Sciences Panel.

Alan Stitt


Professor Stitt was appointed to the McCauley Chair of Experimental Ophthalmology in Queen’s University Belfast, in March 2001. He is also the Director of the Centre for Vision & Vascular Science (CVVS)

Bert Rima


Professor Bert Rima is Deputy Head of School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Science. He has 30 years’ experience of teaching and research in all aspects of virology and, since 1993, has held a Chair in molecular biology at Queens University Belfast.

John Lamont


John Lamont is Chief Scientist at Randox and also a Senior Manager.  John manages molecular biology R&D, external research collaborations, develops strategic alliances with companies and manages the company’s portfolio of IP and licensing contracts.

Michael Neely


Dr Michael Neely is the Assistant Director of the HSC Research and Development (HSC R&D) Division of the Public Health Directorate.

David Brownlee

HSC Innovations

David Brownlee is the Innovation Advisor for Health and Social Care (HSC) where he heads up the HSC Innovations regional service. After a period of Medical Research Council funded post-doctoral research, he then moved into technology transfer at the University of Southampton.

Neville McClenaghan

UU & Diabetica Ltd

Professor McClenaghan has over 110 peer-reviewed publications, has been invited to speak at many national and international conferences. Patent holder, academic co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Diabetica Limted, a UU start-up company focused on innovative diabetes therapeutics.

Peter Donnelly

Biobusiness NI

Dr Peter Donnelly is a founding, director and the Chief Executive Officer of BioBusiness Ltd. BioBusiness is the All-Ireland Business Association for the Life and Health Sciences Sector and delivers programmes and support for the development and growth of the industrial sector.

Stephen Barr


Almac Sciences’ Managing Director, Dr Stephen Barr, joined QuChem Limited in 1994 as a synthetic chemist, having completed a two year Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Queen’s University of Belfast. Following the merger of QuChem Ltd and Syngal to form Almac Sciences, he was promoted to Vice President with full responsibility for all technical operations, becoming Managing Director in 2001.

Tony Bjourson


Tony Bjourson was born in Strabane, Co Tyrone in Northern Ireland. He was appointed Director of the Biomedical Sciences Research Institute (BMSRI) at the University of Ulster in late 2007 and currently manages the 240 Researchers within the BMSRI.

Werner Dubitzky


Since 2002 Professor Werner Dubitzky has held the Chair of Bioinformatics at the Biomedical Sciences Research Institute, Faculty of Life and Health Science, at the University of Ulster at Coleraine, Northern Ireland, UK.