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Earlier this month, representatives from across the synthetic biology community gathered at the Royal Society to take part in an open discussion – Synthetic Biology: does industry get it? The conference, organised through the Royal Society’s Science, Industry and Translation Programme, was co-organised by BIA CEO Steve Bates, along with Professor Ben Davis FRS (University of Oxford) and Professor Paul Freemont (Imperial). Speakers discussed the potential of synthetic biology to address some of the key challenges of our time, as well as the barriers to fulfilling its full potential. Read on for our highlights from the day.

What is synthetic biology?

Synthetic biology is an interdisciplinary area that involves the application of engineering principles to biology. The field, in its broadest sense, is opening up a suite of possibilities for the design and redesign of biology to create new products and processes – advances in research and new toolkits could see the application of synthetic biology across a variety of industry sectors from pharmaceuticals to energy.

Improvements in the speed and cost of DNA synthesis in recent years have driven innovation at an exponential rate. Many international bodies predict that synthetic biology will have a significant impact on the economy, growth and jobs over the coming years, with the UK well positioned to play a leading role in the development of this burgeoning field.

A wealth of potential

Morning presentations from Professor Christina Smolke, Stanford University and Dr Jason Kelly, Ginkgo BioWorks both highlighted the strength of biotechnology as a manufacturing platform, offering nanoscale precision at continent scale production.

50% of our medicines are derived from nature, with 50% of those originating from plants – one obvious example being opioids. However, as explained by Professor Smolke, there are limitations to relying on nature directly to produce these and other products – a point also picked up by Jason Kelly when describing the manufacture of rose oil. Manufacturing with biotechnology has the potential to transform supply chains, providing a more cost effective and efficient route.

In an inspiring presentation, Dr Kelly shared his vision for the future: consumer biotech product launches (think Apple’s latest iPhone but for a synthetic spider silk shoe). From clothing made of bioengineered spider silk, to recreating the fragrance of extinct flowers, the falling cost of genetic engineering is opening new markets to biotechnology. And investors are interested – in the first half of 2016, over $900 million was raised by synthetic biology companies.

Synthetic biology also has the potential to catalyse the re-invention of industries and technologies. Presentations from Dr Andrew Phillips, Microsoft and Dr Jeremy Shears, Shell looked at applications from programming biology, to its role in the energy transition as we steer towards lower carbon and renewable energy sources.

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Credit: Royal Society

Does industry get it?

Across a multitude of sectors, there were some clear examples of uptake by industry on show at the conference. Multinational companies are becoming increasingly involved in the synthetic biology field, some funding research within their own companies but collaboration with SMEs and academia playing a more significant role.

Embracing this kind of disruptive technology can lead to great success for companies, but at a risk. Pfizer’s Dr Edmund Graziani emphasised the importance of driving internal innovation within a company – if not us, then someone else will capitalise on this opportunity. He sees collaborations as a useful way for larger companies to approach new technology and keep up with the rapid pace of innovation.

This was echoed by a number of the larger companies present on the day, including Dr Phillips, Microsoft who highlighted their work with BIA member company Synthace, and GE Healthcare who recently signed a collaboration with Synpromics, another BIA member. Dr Jeremy Shears also spoke to Shell’s network of research partnerships with universities, looking to academics for unique and experimental technologies.

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However, challenges to the wider uptake of synthetic biology by industry remain. These include the clear need to demonstrate profitability in order to displace existing processes; concerns over public perception and difficulties around the language and definitions used in the field. Critically, these barriers risk meaning that the full potential of synbio is not well understood.

So what else can we do to ensure the success of this flourishing industry? Persistence is key, it appears, when it comes to industry. And as synbio technologies begin to drip into the mainstream, building public trust through transparency, openness and dialogue from the beginning is paramount to its success – with companies such as the UK’s Oxitec already leading the charge in this area.

Find out more about the synthetic biology start-up scene in Europe here.

Last week over 700 life science professionals descended upon The Brewery in London for the 21st Annual BIA Gala Dinner. With speeches from Lord Prior of Brampton, Alzheimer’s Research UK Ambassador Shaheen Larrieux and the presentation of this year’s BIA Lifetime Achievement award to Kate Bingham.

Watch a slideshow of photographs from the evening below, or visit our Flickr page to view the album in full.

 

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Find out what happened at the 2016 UK Bioscience Forum and why our members find it such a useful event.

Don’t forget to get this year’s date in your diary – 12 October 2017

Do you have a video you would like the sector to see? Contact us.

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On 12 December, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Life Sciences held its annual Winter Reception to celebrate the vitality of the UK life sciences sector and showcase some of the innovative technologies produced by British companies.

BIA members GE Healthcare, uMotif and Applikon exhibited alongside Roche, Woundcheck, Boston Scientific and Medtronic.

GE Healthcare gave MPs and other guests the opportunity to tour their advanced therapy manufacturing facilities using a virtual-reality headset. Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, Iain Wright MP, was particularly impressed (pictured).

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Applikon brought along their MiniBio bioreactor, which can be used for a range of processes, including screening studies, media optimisation and cell culture. Applikon exhibited on behalf of the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership, which recently published its Advanced Therapies Manufacturing Plan.

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uMotif demonstrated their software that use data to provide new insights for health services and all phases of clinical research, including real-world evidence.

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The APPG for Life Sciences, is a cross-party group of MPs and peers founded in 2015 by Kit Malthouse MP to raise awareness of the valuable contribution the life sciences sector provides to the health and wealth of the nation. The BIA supports the APPG in collaboration with ABPI, BIVDA and ABHI.

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Guests heard from the APPG’s vice-chair, Jo Churchill MP, the former Life Sciences Minister and now Chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board, George Freeman MP, and Michael Cumper from the heart patients’ organisation, the Somerville Foundation.

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George Freeman MP told the reception “Our world-leading life science sector – which generates over £60 billion and over 220,000 jobs for the UK economy each year, and provides products which the NHS and UK patients rely on every day – is of critical importance to the country.”

View all photos from the event on our Flickr page.

Only one week to go until this year’s BIA Gala Dinner, where we’ll be raising funds for our Charity of the Year, Alzheimer’s Research UK!

The below infographic outlines one of our biggest global healthcare challenges, dementia, and how UK bioscience is working to tackle it.

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Watch our video to find out more about dementia here.

For more information on our ‘Celebrating UK Biocience’ project, visit the website.

Last week the BIA headed to a wet and windy San Francisco for Biotech Showcase. We were joined by members and partner organisations to wave the flag for British biotech on an international stage. Here we take a look at the highlights.

Addressing the threats and opportunities of Brexit

With Trump’s inauguration in less-than a fortnight, Brexit wasn’t top of the agenda at Biotech Showcase. But interest was still high as delegates crowded into the BIA’s panel workshop to hear how the UK bioscience sector is addressing the threats and opportunities of the momentous decision.

Biotech Showcase panel

BIA’s CEO Steve Bates chaired the session, which featured five Brits, including himself, and one American. In his opening remarks, UK Government Minister Lord Prior said he believes Brexit is a “catalytic event” for British innovation and stressed that the government is working hand-in-hand with industry to make the most of it. He highlighted the recently-announced 20% increase in public funding for research and innovation and the government’s underwriting of EU funding up to 2020. Later in the session he said the government would be announcing further support for research collaboration this year.

MedCity Chairman and CEO of Immunocore Eliot Forster continued the up-beat message, noting that his company has seen an increase in job applications from Europeans despite Brexit. He stressed the need for continued access to global talent, including from the EU, which in his opinion the government understands.

Alison Dennis, a Partner at law firm Fieldfisher, didn’t shy away from highlighting the difficulty of extracting the UK from the EU regulatory regime and said that a transition period would be needed to allow companies time to plan and adjust. However, there is great expertise in the UK’s regulatory agencies, such as NICE and the MHRA, she said. Outside the EU, this could allow the UK to respond much quicker to new technologies than our EU counterparts, meaning a much more innovation-friendly system could be developed.

The London Stock Exchange’s Chris Mayo surprised many in the room by pointing out that UK healthcare IPOs outperformed those in the US in both 2015 and 2016, suggesting that the financing environment is strong. He added that a number of specialist fundraising vehicles have also launched recently making the UK a unique market. This paired with the weak pound could attract foreign investors to the UK scene he said.

The only panellist without a “Downton Abbey accent”, as Steve put it, was AstraZeneca’s Steve Twait. However, he praised the talent of the UK science base and said that his company was continuing with its investment in a new Cambridge HQ and research campus because of the great opportunities for collaboration with academia.

As Steve put it at the beginning of the session, the fundamental strengths of UK life sciences remain unchanged following Brexit. And those fundamentals look to get stronger as the Government focusses on supporting the sector and investing in innovation as part of its life sciences strategy.

BIA members in the spotlight

img_0255There was a strong showing from British biotech presenting this year, including 11 BIA members: Abcodia; Abzena; Altimmune; Biosignatures; Cell Medica; hVIVO; Immodulon Therapeutics; Mereo BioPharma; Oxford BioMedica; ReNeuron; and Scancell.

It was great to see the strength of UK science on display. ReNeuron, for example, showcased the UK’s leading position in regenerative medicine with their cell-based therapies for motor disability resulting from stroke and for the blindness-causing disease, retinitis pigmentosa. And Immodulon demonstrated the global interest in UK science in their presentation, which included a project investigating the use of Mycobacterium vaccae to treat post-traumatic stress disorder funded by the US military through DARPA.

Toasting UK bioscience

The highlight of the BIA’s trip to San Francisco was the UK reception, hosted with our partners, to celebrate British bioscience. We were delighted to welcome so many of our members as well as our global colleagues.

The popularity of the event not only showed what a positive and open sector we have in the UK but also the interest in it from the US and international community. Thank you to everyone who attended the evening and made it such an enjoyable and successful event.

The BIA would like to thank our partners for supporting all the above activity in San Francisco: the Department for International Trade, Fieldfisher, London Stock Exchange, London Partners, and MedCity.

Get ready for JP Morgan week by watching yesterday’s BIA webinar below, including who is attending, what is going on, and how to make the most out of your time in San Francisco during one of the busiest biotech weeks in the calendar.

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As we head towards Christmas, we take a look at BIA’s year in numbers…

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We had a great time in Newcastle for last week’s bioProcessUK conference. Watch the slideshow below for pictures from the event, or visit Flickr to browse the album at your own pace.

 

bayer-reception-bio-europeLast week the BIA team joined our United Life Sciences colleagues at BIO-Europe in Cologne as part of the UK delegation of businesses in attendance to show that the UK is very much open for business post Brexit.

59 BIA member companies attended this year’s conference, which hosted over 3,600 attendees from 1,900 companies in over 60 countries. Delegates took part in more than 20,000 one-to-one meetings and put on over 150 company presentations. Alongside all of this there was a packed agenda of plenary sessions and workshops – here are some of our highlights from the conference.

An interesting session on Big pharma’s approach to digital health tackled issues such as privacy and using data to support patients without becoming big brother, as well as the changing role of the patient. The panel discussed how in the past, patients had been passive receivers of healthcare but with internet access and a wealth of data freely available they are now approaching doctors with their own diagnoses and putting greater demands on healthcare systems. Panellists also debated the pros and cons of wearable technology – one of the positives being that it can enable easier monitoring of a patient’s health between the times that they are accessing healthcare. However, they also discussed the challenges of ensuring that this data is integrated seamlessly, works as it should and ensuring that what is being collected is genuinely valuable to physicians.

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In How EU companies can succeed outside of the EU, the panel gave advice to delegates on how to prepare their organisations for the US market – a challenge for both UK and EU companies. The emphasis was on the importance of having excellent quality science and four top tips to come out of the session were:

  1. Ensure that your IP is perfect and that you have an effective company structure – get another company to look at your corporate documents and IP.
  2. Get the right people across all business functions (science, operations, business) that have worked outside their comfort zone and own geography
  3. Get to know investors before you need them
  4. Be proactive and look for funding outside of traditional lanes

Innovative funding for SMEs in Europe ran through the many schemes open to companies and advice on how to best access these schemes. As part of this session there was also a great case study from Norwegian company, Biovotec, who are using eggshell membrane to treat wounds – it works like a collagen dressing would but is far less costly.

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The panel for An Autobahn for rare drug development showed the importance of collaboration between industry, academia and charity/patient organisations. It was interesting to hear about how each type of organisation can help open up new access to new treatments for rare diseases. Whether this be charity organisations de-risking assets that industry deem too risky, or industry helping academia to better understand its assets so that they can get more shots on goal – further collaboration is key.

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Diversity is key for all businesses, and a particularly hot topic for life sciences. The Diversity Working Group Workshop was full of robust discussion, outlining the importance of not just gender diversity, but diversity on all levels and in all shapes. Why? Besides the fact that there’s a significant amount of data to back up the success of businesses who do have a diverse employee and leadership base, it also prevents groupthink – the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group, resulting typically in unchallenged, poor-quality decision-making. It’s important to think on both a company level, as well as an individual level, and success will come to those who are self-aware enough to be able to work across both. From the solutions-focused group of leaders, the challenge was launched: what are you doing to change things?

If you are interested in BIO-Europe Spring then we will be in touch with more information in the coming weeks on how to register and reduced rates for UK delegates through our United Life Sciences partner, BioPartner.