Tom Keighley

Government to invest £6.5m in synthetic biology

The Government is set to invest up to £6.5m to encourage businesses to explore new industrial applications for synthetic biology.

Through grants for feasibility studies, the funding aims to demonstrate the feasibility of using synthetic biology in a commercial setting and highlight the opportunities for UK industry, created by technological advancements in synthetic biology.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts announced the investment at the University of East Anglia.

He said: “Synthetic biology is a promising area of science with a wide range of possible applications with huge commercial potential.

“Through regular and focussed investment by the research councils and the Technology Strategy Board, the UK’s research base has excellent capability in this area.

“This investment will help businesses understand how best to use synthetic biology responsibly to find solutions to major societal issues and deliver future growth and prosperity.”

Synthetic biology is an emerging science, at the intersection of engineering, bioscience, chemistry, and IT.

The global market for synthetic biology has been estimated at just over $10bn in 2016, with a compound annual growth rate of 45% between 2011 and 2016.

Demonstration is a critical step that determines whether a technology will move from the scientifically possible to the technologically real.

Projects will identify a commercial opportunity to which synthetic biology can be applied and test the feasibility through a programme of experimentation, aiming to acquire new knowledge in order to develop new products or to significantly improve existing products, processes or services.

BBSRC Chief Executive, Professor Douglas Kell, said: “Synthetic biology, as a suite of technologies that effectively can produce anything from renewable resources, represents a major component of BBSRC’s contribution to the sustainable Bioeconomy, presently worth 2 trillion Euros and 22 million jobs in Europe alone.

“The UK’s world-leading bioscience research community is generating the raw materials that will help businesses innovate now and in future and this call is a great opportunity to build bridges between our £38m portfolio of academic synthetic biology research and industry. This will help to ensure that exciting science isn’t left to languish unused in the lab.”

Professor David Delpy, CEO of EPSRC said: “The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has substantial investments in synthetic biology, today we are working with five universities in the Flowers Consortium to push the field further forward and this builds on our previous investment in the flagship EPSRC Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation at Imperial College, which we funded back in 2009.

“Engineering leadership is critical to the UK’s future success in this area and we will continue to grow our investment so that the UK’s research base continues to be world-leading as this field develops.

“This initiative with the Technology Strategy Board and others will see the translation from research to industry happen more quickly.

“Already some practical applications are starting to be seen – biosensors for testing arsenic in water and for urinary tract infections – which once commercialised will benefit the lives of thousands of vulnerable people in the developed and developing worlds.”

The initiative is funded by the Technology Strategy Board, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and is part of the TSB’s programme for emerging technologies and industries.

The Advancing the Industrial Application of Synthetic Biology competition for feasibility funding opens on October 8, and the deadline for registration for November 14.

The competition is open to UK-based companies of any size and to research organisations and projects must be business-led and collaborative.

Applicants will need to consider the main ethical, societal and regulatory implications for their anticipated commercial use of the technology and their approach to responsible innovation will be reviewed as part of the assessment process.

Up to 75% public sector funding may be available, and the maximum grant for each project is £375,000 and projects are expected to last between 12 to 18 months.

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