University of Dundee

Economic Impact

The School's global reputation for research excellence has enabled us to forge important strategic partnerships and attract inward investment from industrial collaborators as well as create new high-growth life sciences spin-out companies. 

This has had significant local impacts, stimulating the emergence of a regional life sciences cluster which makes a major contribution to the Tay Cities regional economy.

Translation and collaboration with industry and external organisations

Whilst basic research is at the core of what we do, we work in collaboration with a variety of external stakeholders to translate our work to solve “real world” problems. Three examples from the School that exemplify this work are:

1. Drug Discovery Unit

Our Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) tackles unmet medical need through small molecule drug discovery, bridging the gap between academic scientific research and commercial drug discovery and development. Collaboration is at the heart of everything that the Unit does.

Since opening in 2006, the DDU has grown to over 100 staff making it one of the largest, fully integrated drug discovery facilities working across multiple diseases in the UK. Their work is supported by funding from a number of sources including Wellcome, the Medical Research Council, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Medicines for Malaria Venture, and through multi-million-pound partnerships with pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Takeda and Pfizer.

2. Division of Signal Transduction Therapy

We are home to the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT), founded in 1998, which is the world’s longest running collaboration between academic research laboratories and the pharmaceutical industry. Based within the Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit (MRC-PPU) the consortium with the pharmaceutical industry, including Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck, has attracted £58 million in funding since its inception. 

The DSTT is widely regarded as a model for how academia and industry can interact productively. The funding enables our scientists to continue their fundamental research in multiple therapeutic areas, including cancer, arthritis, lupus, hypertension and Parkinson’s disease.

3. Exploiting protein degradation technologies

Regulating protein function through targeted degradation using proteolysis targeting chimeras (PROTACs) is a major new field of drug discovery. PROTACs are designed to harness the cell’s natural disposal system (the ubiquitin-proteasome) to specifically remove disease-causing proteins. Professor Alessio Ciulli at the University of Dundee is pioneering new structure-guided low molecular weight PROTACs and has helped transform this area of chemical biology into one of the most exciting areas of drug discovery. This includes significant drug discovery partnerships with pharmaceutical companies such as Boehringer Ingelheim (BI). 


Image: 5T35 - The PROTAC MZ1 in complex with the second bromodomain of Brd4 and pVHL:ElonginC:ElonginB

Nurturing new talent and business ideas 

A Translation and Commercialisation Support Group (TransComm) was established in 2018 with 10 core members and expertise spanning commercialisation, technology-transfer, innovation funding, entrepreneurship and life sciences/biotech. The group is made up of key Principal investigators and professional services staff. This team constantly scans for spin-out opportunities and helps scientists wanting to commercialise to obtain the right advice and help at the right time. This proactive mechanism is key to translating discovery science into spinout and licensing opportunities.  The TransComm group coordinates Venture Capital Funder visits, linking interests of funders with projects requiring investment.  

The Dundee Centre for Entrepreneurship operates a number of initiatives to support the entrepreneurial potential of staff, students and recent graduates. They offer the help of local business experts, who provide training, mentoring, inspirational talks and competitions with associated prize funding. One scheme, the Dundee Accelerator Programme assists early-stage businesses to improve their business offering, growth and investment potential. The Centre also provides pathways for Scottish-wide schemes including Converge Challenge and Scottish Edge, where several Life Sciences staff have enjoyed success at the start of their business endeavors. Examples include Platinum Informatics, TenBio Ltd and In4Derm. 

Start-ups and Spin-outs

We have a successful record in launching spin-out companies which has helped drive the establishment of a life sciences cluster which makes a major contribution to the Tay Cities regional economy.