Archives for category: Industrial Biotechnology

Earlier this month, for the third year we travelled to San Francisco with the UK delegation to SynBioBeta, a key conference for the synthetic biology or ‘engineering biology’ community. Here, we take a look back at some highlights of the trip – three days immersed in this burgeoning synthetic biology business and science community – and include a few links to find out more.

Supported by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), this year the trade mission organisers and funders were SynbiCITE, the synthetic biology innovation and knowledge centre based at Imperial College London.

The 2015 UK delegation included BIA members SynbiCITE, Synthace, Synpromics, Touchlight Genetics and ZuvaSyntha, alongside Alcmene Bioworks, Bento Bioworks, BioVernier, Desktop Genetics, LabGenius, Nanocage Technologies, Skillfluence, and SynbiSTRAIN; more information on all the companies is included in the trade mission brochure. Also at the conference were staff from the Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology at the University of Edinburgh, and BIA member Ingenza.

Prior to the SynBioBeta conference the delegation was kindly hosted for visits to six local companies, including sink-or-swim start-up incubator Indie-Bio, sonic liquid handling systems company Labcyte, cell-free protein synthesis company Sutro Biopharma, and REG Life Sciences (whose interesting background is explained here). We also returned to two of last year’s hosts – DNA design and assembly platform TeselaGen, and robotic cloud laboratory provider Transcriptic.

Sessions and lightning talks from the two-day conference covered topics such as biodesign, open source biology, gene editing, automation and international policy, while workshops included ‘designing experiments for Cas9-mediated gene knockouts’, and ‘protocols for cloud-based biology’. In the inaugural ‘SynBioBetas’ awards it was great to see recognition for BIA Board member Lord David Willetts, who was named the Best UK Industry Enabler for his efforts supporting the UK synthetic biology sector in his former role as Minister for Universities and Science.

A notable and important change at the SynBioBeta conference this year was the increased level of interest in the UK companies, as evidenced by the numerous conversations and business leads generated around the UKTI lounge area. As well as continuing to see exciting new start-ups emerging (some of which have received a great deal of interest from potential collaborators), there are also signs that the UK synbio scene is maturing; just one example illustrating this is the recent announcement from Synthace and MSD on their collaboration to develop a biomanufacturing platform for a number of undisclosed molecules.

For a flavour of this year’s trade mission and conference we’ve included a selection of photos below and you can look back over the tweets using the hashtag #SBBSF15.

The next SynBioBeta conference, SynBioBeta London 2016 will take place at Imperial College London on 6-8 April 2016 and is accepting speaker applications now.

If you are interested to find out more about the synthetic biology industry and the application of engineering principles to tackle biological challenges, contact Zoë Freeman, Secretariat for the BIA’s Synthetic Biology Advisory Committee

The industrial biotechnology sector in the UK is growing. Estimates suggest that the potential size of the UK market could reach between £4 billion to £12 billion by 2025. Modelled on the Biomedical Catalyst, round four of the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst will open later this week, with an additional £34 million funding available from Innovate UK, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Earlier this year, BIA member Green Biologics Ltd were awarded an early stage feasibility study grant as part of the competition – read their story below.

Green Biologics Ltd’s (GBL) January 2015 announcement of the successful completion of a fundraising round of $42 million came hard on the heels of the announcement that we had closed on the purchase of our first commercial plant – a Minnesota ethanol plant that will be retrofitted for the production of n-butanol.

Our process is based on an old technology. Solventogenic clostridial strains have been used since the early 1900s, initially for acetone production during the First World War, and then for making n-butanol. GBL has transformed and optimised these processes and generated new strains for the 21st century, enabling us to once again exploit this Acetone Butanol Ethanol (ABE) fermentation pathway. Our goal is to make renewable n-biobutanol sustainably but also cost-competitively with existing petrochemical manufacturing processes. However this is just the beginning for GBL. Solventogenic clostridia are robust industrial workhorses and with the increasing availability of tools for genetic manipulation, coupled with the rapidly developing field of synthetic biology, they are a promising platform for manufacturing a variety of high-value chemicals. It is with an eye toward this future metabolic expansion that we have been awarded funding through an Innovate UK Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst early stage feasibility study grant. Starting in April 2015 we will seek to demonstrate our proprietary genome engineering tools through the construction of a number of recombinant strains, each designed to demonstrate a new capability; feedstock utilisation, feedstock conversion or new metabolic product synthesis.

It is a challenging task because the synthetic biology ‘standardised parts’ for clostridia are very much a work in progress. Codon optimising and synthesising a gene target is now the easy bit – a number of companies provide this service, and even with the AT rich clostridial genome this is a fairly standard service for us. But as we venture further down the route of inserting new pathways and functionality into the cells, the simplest of questions start to become problematic. How do we regulate gene expression? How do we build functional artificial operons? And how do we make sure non-endogenous proteins are correctly folded and reach their required destination? With our molecular biology strengths these are not insurmountable. Perhaps the key questions therefore are what effect will these new features have on the clostridial physiology? How will the cellular metabolic pathways be affected and what unexpected consequences are we going to encounter? At this stage these are very much unknowns.

GBL also needs to consider responsible innovation. It is important to us that we understand and respond to the risks and potential societal benefits resulting from our research. As our technology matures and work begins on our US butanol plant, we are actively engaged with the local community and this will no doubt be a learning process for us going forward.

Despite the challenges, we are looking forward to starting this project. The need for creative solutions to overcome hurdles is motivating and ultimately success will allow us to showcase the use of these versatile microbes as platform hosts for a whole range of industrial biotech processes. We are ready to reboot this old technology for the greening of the chemical industry in the 21st century.

Round 4 of the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst opens on 21 May. A webinar briefing for the competition will take place on 28 May.

Full details of all current Innovate UK funding competitions can be found here. A range of funding opportunities are also regularly highlighted and updated on the BIA website – click here for details.

Vince Cable visits Ingenza

Vince Cable visits Ingenza

Another week, another key deal for our sector. Today Heptares Therapeutics announced it is to be acquired by Japanese biopharmaceutical company, Sosei, for up to $400 million. This significant deal secures significant investment into the company well into the future. I understand that Heptares will be run as a largely autonomous wholly-owned subsidiary and its operations at Welwyn will be staying and will become a major global drug discovery and development hub for Sosei here in the UK. Congratulations to Malcolm Weir and the Heptares team.

A boost for industrial biotechnology last week as Vince Cable announced the latest winners of Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst funding, worth a combined £20 million. Cable made the announcement on a visit to Ingenza in Edinburgh, one of the many BIA members to win funding in this latest round. The 23 winning projects cover a wide range of applications – from developing new antibiotics to making biofuel from household waste – showcasing the huge spectrum of potential benefits from this emerging and rapidly developing field. So congratulations to all 12 BIA members who received funding – I look forward to hearing more on the projects as they develop.

On the topic of catalysts, I’m looking forward to our CEO dinner in Oxford later this week where we’ll be discussing the past, present and future of the Biomedical Catalyst. The BMC has been one of the key focuses of BIA lobbying and advocacy work and has proved itself to be a great success from the current government. Since the scheme was launched in 2012 over £200 million has been invested through the scheme and it has leveraged a further £100 million in industry co-commitment. Over 25 BIA member companies have won funding from the scheme, including Modern Biosciences who recently wrote us a blog on the vital role it has played in their journey. As we head into an election year where the future of the scheme will be under the consideration by whoever holds the keys to power after 7 May, I’m sure there will be plenty of lively discussion over dinner on Wednesday – I’ll report back next week with any highlights. The following morning we’ll also be holding our Breakfast with the BIA – the second of the investor-ready road show events. I hope to see some of you there.

On the regulatory front, last week the BIA inputted, together with EuropaBio, to an important consultation by the EMA on proposals on how the transparency requirements of the EU Clinical Trials Regulation will be applied to data and information in clinical trial applications which will be stored in the new EU database. In our response, the BIA has supported the need for a balanced approach to be taken that respects both the rights of patients and the public to be able to access information held on the EU database concerning ongoing clinical trials, as well as the needs of developers and researchers to protect their investments and cutting edge research and development of new innovative medicines. We’ll be taking forward our engagement in the coming weeks and will report back with any developments.

We are currently drafting the BIA’s response to a review by Dame Anne Dowling on Business-University Research Collaborations. It’s not long since the House of Commons undertook a similar inquiry (and you can see our response to that here), but Science Minister Greg Clark has particularly asked for the Dowling Review to look at case studies of long-term collaborations and successful practices (in the UK and elsewhere and in any sector) that have led to fruitful partnerships. The whole aim is to identify the barriers to collaboration and make recommendations for practices that can be replicated more widely, including areas where the future government can give effective support, perhaps through schemes or incentives. If you have experience of a long-term collaboration you’d like to share some thoughts on the topic and input into our response, we’d like to hear from you – please get in touch with Zoe.

The BIA has been approached to facilitate a chapter in the upcoming edition of European Biotechnology, which would also feature 20 to 25 UK biotech company profiles. If you think you would be interested in contributing, please get in touch.

Finally, a couple of KTN events which may be of interest – the Biopharmaceutical Analytical Symposium is taking place on the 4th and 5th March in Leeds, and the Delivering Stratified Medicine meeting on 26 March.



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.