An eye to future markets

OK, so the dead slow train wreck of the eurozone grinds on - sovereign bond yields up again, bank shares falling yet further.

But it's not all bad news. So let's look on the bright side. Optos, which makes retinal imaging devices, has just delivered healthy full-year figures.

You can sense its orientation by the fact that the Dunfermline company's results are announced in US dollars.

Revenue in the year to end-September was up 35% to £91m (duly converted) and pre-tax profits rose by 73% to £14m.

There were new markets being tapped in the Middle East, Japan and Australia.

Selling wellbeing

The news was relayed to the stock market as Scottish Enterprise set out the business opportunities across the health and wellness sector.

The numbers are rather impressive, even if its Scottish business clients were to get a small share, or to grow the share they've already got.

Take, for a start, the cost of treating the big chronic non-communicable diseases; cardiovascular, cancers, diabetes, chronic respiratory and mental illness.

Total value of that market within the next 20 years: £19.5 trillion. That's £19,500,000,000,000.

So to cut back on the healthcare costs of that, the idea is to tap markets that maintain health and wellbeing rather than waiting for the expensive diagnosis and treatment.

And Scotland happens to excel at the lifestyle stuff that needs correcting - excelling, that is, in a bad way.

Wrinkled baby boomers

Obesity, for instance. Scots are not world leaders, but we know a thing or two about bad diets. The country has more than 20 companies in the supply chain of monitoring food safety, and has world leading researchers in nutrition and metabolism.

Scottish Enterprise is highlighting prospects for the market in diet management and weight loss products already worth £250bn, a third of that in the US.

Smoking isn't all bad, given the size of the market for smoking cessation products. It's worth more than £2bn, and there's more business to be had out of addition research. Again, Scottish universities ought to be spinning out some research on this.

The personal care market is, of course, gigantic, with sales of grooming products in 2008 above $388bn, and baby boomers need ever more wrinkle cream.

Scotland's missed the boat on getting into a big share of that. But it's reckoned it could do more to exploit its reputation for the wild and pure outdoors with natural product lines from the sea and land.

Dental care is one of Scotland's research strengths at three schools, drilling its expertise from the country's woeful dental health records. There should be potential to harness that too, we're told, with diagnostics and materials.

Insomniac Americans

The biggest surprise - for me at least - is the scale of the market in helping people sleep.

Nearly one in four Americans complain of chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders. It's reckoned it costs the country £40bn in lost productivity each year.

The global market for tackling sleep disorders is valued at £16bn, two thirds of that in the US. It's growing at nearly 6% per year.

It turns out both Edinburgh and Glasgow universities are big on sleep research, particularly targeting the problem of apnea.

So, another opportunity for Scottish businezzzz...

However, all these market opportunities are highlighted on the day when Dundee's in vitro testing specialist Axis-Shield was formally de-listed from the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange - taken over by its Massachusetts rival, Alere.

That's a reminder of what tends to happen to Scotland's life science firms when they seize such market opportunities. And it's not clear anything can be done to stop it.