Government injects £6.5m into synthetic biology commercialisation

Posted on 25 May 2012

Government-funded organisations have joined together to invest £6.5m to help businesses to explore new industrial applications for synthetic biology.

Through grants for feasibility studies, the funding will be put towards demonstrating the uses of synthetic biology in a commercial setting and highlight the opportunities for UK industry created by technological advancements.

Strong growth has been predicted in the synthetic biology market which is estimated to be worth just over $10bn globally in 2016. It aims to design and engineer novel biologically based parts, devices and systems, and redesign existing natural biological systems for useful purposes.

Synthetic biology has a broad range of potential applications across a variety of industrial sectors, from medicine to energy generation.  While its emerging status leads many to propose exciting and radical possibilities, there is a strong number of nearer-term commercial opportunities.

Demonstration is a critical step that determines whether a technology will move from the scientifically possible to the technologically real.  The grant funding available through the Advancing the Industrial Application of Synthetic Biology competition for projects to identify and develop new products or to improve existing products, processes or services.

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

The competition is open to UK-based companies of any size with up to £375,000 available for projects lasting between 12 and 18 months. It will open on October 8, 2012 and the deadline for registration is 14 November 2012.

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.”

There are some practical applications already starting to be seen. Biosensors for testing arsenic in water and for urinary tract infections are just two examples of technology, which will benefit the lives of thousands of vulnerable people in the developed and developing worlds once commercialised.

Professor Douglas Kell continued to say that the UK’s bioscience research community is generating the raw materials for innovation within industry. He commented that it is vital to build bridges between industry and the UK’s £38m portfolio of academic synthetic biology research “to ensure that exciting science isn’t left to languish unused in the lab.”

Announcing the investment at the University of East Anglia, Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: “This investment will help businesses understand how best to use synthetic biology responsibly to find solutions to major societal issues and deliver future growth.”