Dr Colin MilesLast week’s announcement that £40 million of funding will become available to invest in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy will help the UK become a world leader in this exciting sector, says Dr Colin Miles the Head of Strategy Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy at BBSRC.

The industrial biotechnology and bioenergy sector (including biopharmaceuticals and biorenewables, IBBE) represents an area of huge potential for UK science and the economy with the IB market worth between £4 and £12 billion by 2025.

The £15 million funding, from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) will establish up to 10 networks between academia and industry and additional support from the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), will contribute to a £25 million IB Catalyst to make the most of research projects stemming from these networks.

The networks mechanisms will attract new researchers into the area of IBBE with specific skills that will be useful to the IBBE community. We have highlighted genomics, systems and synthetic biology as key areas to be adopted and used in research projects. The networks will also be multidisciplinary working across the boundaries of biology, chemistry and engineering and encouraging the participation of mathematics, computational modelling, environmental science, economics and social science.

This investment will grow the UK’s IBBE research community, supporting the translation of new ideas into commercial applications by providing fora to promote academic-business interactions, which will lead to new collaborative research projects. The networks idea aims to join up the small and fragmented industrial community that is made up of many small companies and only a few large multinationals by providing a mechanism enabling them to link up with the research community and each other.

The networks will also provide a vehicle for proof-of-concept funding, giving emerging projects a bit of a boost through the support for preliminary data: the peer review process often looks for preliminary data before a grant is considered and this may well give projects the edge they need to get funded.

The proposal to develop an Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst springs from the recognition that the Catalyst model is effective at driving translation of research towards outcome, and therefore delivering impact from the research investment.

The IB Catalyst is modelled on the MRC/TSB Biomedical Catalyst and will encourage major challenge-led research projects derived from the networking activities. Launching in 2014 it will be designed to provide the support for the best proposals from the UK, speeding up the process of turning research into commercial applications.

The initial call will allocate funds up to a value of £25 million, £20 million from BBSRC and £5 million from the Technology Strategy Board allowing industry to receive funding for more applied research. The aim will be to build this investment to a scale comparable to the £180 million Biomedical Catalyst already in existence.

The schemes are now live at the BBSRC website.