Dr Kath Mackay is Chief Scientific Officer for Bruntwood SciTech., the UK’s leading property provider for the science and tech sector in the UK.
Tell us more about your role at Bruntwood SciTech.
We create, develop and operate innovation districts, campuses and hubs to support science, tech and innovation-based companies across the UK. My role is to inject health and life science expertise into the business, and that could be ensuring we deliver the right facilities and infrastructure for our life science customers, but also developing the right ecosystem so that businesses and organisations can leverage this and be successful. Through our bespoke business support services, we help businesses get ‘investor ready’ – accelerating their chances of accessing key funding. Specifically from a life science and health perspective, through our strategic partnerships with city councils and NHS trusts, we work to link our businesses directly into the health system so they can initiate trials, get access to experts, and understand what’s needed from a patient perspective.
What do you enjoy most about working in your sector?
I really enjoy working in the health and life science sector – I like to be a part of bringing the latest scientific and tech developments to human health effectively. I personally like working at the interface between the public and the private sector, bringing together different organisations to grow the much needed ecosystems where innovation can exist. I get to work with lots of different organisations with lots of different cultures – working with hospital trusts, private sector, universities, councils etc. And I really like being at the interface of that – pulling together what is needed to make a company successful. That is, I think, is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
How important is innovation within your sector?
Innovation is absolutely critical. Finding new ways of doing things is really important – that could be innovative new modalities or improvements and changes to the way we do things to make them better. My role is to create and run innovation clusters and one of the interesting challenges that we have at the moment is how we create the right facilities and infrastructure for health and life science organisations, against what is now quite an ambitious sustainability agenda. So, there’s got to be real innovation for us to operate sites and clusters with net zero in mind. It’s a challenge – especially in the life science sector – but I think it’s absolutely fascinating, because it will involve innovation and change around many different areas. It’s about innovation in the way we work, how we get to our sites and move around our sites and how we design and deliver new facilities. It’s something we’ve all got to work towards in an incredibly industrial sector.
I also believe that more broadly, innovation goes hand in glove with life sciences and healthcare. We need to develop new ways to create and test medicines and diagnostics. It’s got to be more and more cost effective against public sector buyers and a constrained health system. We’re really expecting more for less in terms of public budgets. There needs to be innovation in the way we develop medicines and diagnostics because the route to market needs to be shortened to get the best products into humans, and to develop the right tests.
What professional achievement are you most proud of?
My roles have always centred around making the right environment for others to be successful.. I used to work for Innovate UK, which is part of UK Research and innovation and the way that the government incentivises innovation in business. When I was there, I was very fortunate to be on the executive team and have a hand in creating and supporting a lot of the health and life science infrastructure that exists today – that businesses rely on as support and enables growth. I had a role in creating the Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC), which is a piece of infrastructure concerned with supporting businesses to make medicines quicker and more effectively. MDC is actually based at our Alderley Park campus so it’s been a nice full circle moment for me.
I was also part of a group to pull together a commercial consortium that effectively led the whole genome sequencing of UK Biobank, so that that raised a lot of health data onto the market for businesses to use to develop their products and services.
There are many other initiatives that I could list, but I think I really liked having that central role, thinking about the future and thinking about what businesses would need from an infrastructure point of view and making the appropriate investments into the UK sector so it could be successful long-term.
In more recent times, my role in Bruntwood SciTech is around creating the right conditions for companies to flourish. I take a lot of satisfaction from the companies in our networks that we support. I like seeing when they close investment rounds and raise finance for a first time, when they start their first clinical trial and get their product into humans for the first time, or maybe when they open a manufacturing centre and manufacture a medicine or a diagnostic for the first time. I get a lot of personal satisfaction from watching the companies that we support hit their first milestones.
What are the challenges of being a woman working in your sector?
I think over recent years, it’s been easier being a woman in the health and life science sector. The roles of equality and equity are much better understood, and I think there’s a greater acceptance and encouragement of being a woman working in this field. But I think there’s a lot more that we need to do to create more opportunities for women in senior roles – specifically at executive levels and on the boards of companies. In the health and life science sector, there is still room for improvement that way. I think there’s also a lot more that needs to be done in the public sector, universities, NHS trusts, councils, etc, to see more women visible in those senior roles.
What advice would you give to other women working in your sector?
The environment is changing, so be ambitious! Go for those senior roles, get yourself visible, really make the most of those opportunities and don’t hold back. If you need some encouragement, I think there’s something that’s really powerful in finding a mentor or an advocate in your organisation. Find someone to encourage you, who’s a few steps ahead, to really get the low-down on the challenges and how to overcome them.
What would you say were the key challenges in your sector that currently prevent innovation from moving forward?
The sheer volume of people that we need to be in our scientific companies needs addressing. We work with many companies that have recruitment challenges and just the amount of people that we need in some of these life science businesses is something that is potentially a bottleneck. I talk about life sciences, but science more broadly is a worldwide collaborative sport. It’s a global sector where you need to pull on many different disciplines, but also many different countries for those big global programmes and for research and innovation to be successful – and we can’t do that on our own. There’s an acceptance that we need people to come to the UK, and work as post-docs and principal investigators in labs for a number of years to succeed. That, I think, has generally been challenged over the last few years because of politics, and we’re seeing companies that are struggling to recruit. Ultimately that’s holding us back from our science superpower ambitions.
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