|Firstly, I would like to welcome everyone here to the DTI today. I am delighted to have been invited to talk about the Laboratory on a Chip Foresight Link Award project and what the Government is doing to encourage science.
We have a remarkable track record in this country of world class science, engineering and technology. This has been underplayed. It's something we should celebrate.
Many of mankind's most important breakthroughs in understanding about our world and the universe have been made in this country.
In terms of internationally recognised prizes, UK scientists claimed around 10% of all awards throughout the last century.
We have just 1% of world's population, but we produce 8% of the world's scientific papers. And we produce more papers per pound spent on research than any other country in the world. Our record for scientific research is second only to the US. Successful global companies recognise that the UK is the place to find innovation.
Lab on a Chip project
The key to the success of the Lab on a Chip project is innovation and partnership, a partnership of 18 which has brought together global companies, small and medium size companies and academics representing seven universities. The role of these universities to the project is crucial. They are ensuring that the UK is among the world leaders in microengineering research.
I was very pleased to see some of the work on the Lab on a Chip project when I visited LGC who manage this project a few weeks ago. I was impressed with the miniaturised devices I saw and was fascinated by their potential applications. Incidentally, there can't be many government ministers who, on their arrival for a visit, are asked to give a sample of saliva! LGC put me through this indignity and presented me with my own gene sequence an hour later - part of a programme they are conducting on pharmaco-genetics which indicates how individuals metabolise certain classes of drugs.
Innovation depends on knowledge, risk taking and the creative energy of individuals. Innovation is, therefore, not best done or planned by Government but that does not mean that Government does not have a role or responsibility.
The Government must play a part : as an investor and a facilitator of science and innovation.
Firstly, as an investor. Since coming to power the Government has invested heavily to rebuild the science base. The 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review increased the Science Budget by £1.4bn, an unprecedented increase of 15% in real terms over three years. The 1999 Budget gave basic science a further £100m for modernising laboratories.
The White Paper on Science and Innovation "Excellence and Opportunity" (published last July) announced further measures to maintain and enhance the excellence of the science base. This included:
Investing in a new £1 billion programme in partnership with the Wellcome Trust to renew the infrastructure for science;
Giving a £250 million boost to research in key new areas of genomics, e-science and basic technology;
Providing additional funding to increase over three years the basic support for post-graduate research students;
Launching in partnership with the Wolfson Foundation and the Royal Society an initial fund of £4 million a year to assist in the recruitment of up to 50 top researchers from around the world.
The second role the Government has is as a facilitator, providing the incentives and networks which stimulate innovation.
The White Paper also set out measures to do this. This included:
Running one further round of the University Challenge competition to provide seed money for knowledge transfer, and putting £15m more into Science Enterprise Centres to bring business skills into the science curriculum;
Introducing the Higher Education Innovation Fund, with over £140m over 3 years, as a permanent "third" stream of funding to reward and incentivise excellence in knowledge transfer alongside funding for research and teaching;
Doubling the number of new starts for Faraday Partnerships from four to eight a year to link the science base to business networks;
Introducing a £50m Regional Innovation Fund to help cement the role of universities as the drivers of regional competitveness.
Last February we produced a second Competitiveness White Paper "Opportunity for All in a World of Change" which picked up the agenda of the Science and Innovation White Paper as part of a wider programme for competitiveness. The White Paper provided an additional £90m for the exploitation of the commercially promising new technologies identified in the Science and Innovation White Paper: genomics, e-science and basic technology. It also takes the innovation agenda a further step forward with the introduction of University Innovation Centres which will be built around large companies and which will support start-up companies and companies in the supply chains of the large companies.
All of the initiatives that I have referred to need to focus on the future, and promoting a culture of forward thinking, which is what the Government's Foresight Programme is all about. The Foresight LINK Awards, which complement conventional LINK programmes, are one means through which we can address priority research areas identified through the Foresight process. We have already supported two successful rounds of Foresight LINK Awards with the objective of promoting high quality company/ research base partnerships. There are now over 30 FLA projects, covering areas ranging from 3-D electronic commerce to fraud detection and control.
I was delighted to be able to announce a third round of Foresight LINK Awards in March, supported by the £15 million Foresight fund, announced in last year's Science and Innovation White paper. The new round will focus on four key research areas identified by Foresight Panels last December: nanotechnology, biomaterials, mobile wireless communications and sustainable energy.
One of the projects in the first round was the Lab on a Chip project which is using techniques from microengineering to miniaturise analytical laboratories. The project consortium is two thirds of the way through a three-year project worth £3.2m. The funding for the project is provided by the industrial partners and a Foresight LINK Award which is managed through EPSRC and DTI.
Why is there so much interest in miniaturising chemical reactions to the micrometer scale? If there is one rule in the electronics industry, it has been that next year's product will be smaller, faster and will have more functions than the current model. The drive to miniaturisation has encompassed first the micrometer and now the nanometre domains. Both offer the promise of a revolutionary approach to almost every aspect of our lives.
Now this is happening to an area that has changed very little over the last century - laboratory analysis. Analysis is an import area worth an estimated £7 billion in the UK alone. Foresight LINK recognised the importance of analysis by making Lab on a Chip the top project in the first round of Awards.
Benefits from the Lab on a Chip project
When we launched the Lab on a Chip project in 1998, we said,. "It had the potential to change fundamentally the operation, planning and performance of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries". At the end of today's Seminar, we hope that we will be able to show you what we have achieved so far and how we see this research developing over the next year and beyond.
I mentioned earlier that miniaturisation could be a new beginning for analysis. What benefits will shrinking in size produce? It will not be just another incremental step in the miniaturisation of existing techniques and products. Micro-fabrication technology enables you to use smaller samples and reduce the time it takes to do the analysis. Another benefit is that it is 'greener' and safer than conventional laboratory analysis.
In fact, we are already seeing the results of the exploitation in this area in the US, where the first lab on a chip products are already in production. They have developed a LabChip® which can be used with a Bio-analyser for analysis of DNA and RNA sequences associated with particular diseases such as cancer. Later today, Mike Knapp from Caliper Technologies will explain in more detail how this technology is being exploited in the US. It can happen in the UK.
But Lab on a Chip is not just about chemical and biological analysis it has applications in the manufacture of fine chemicals, environmental monitoring, cosmetics, healthcare, fuel cells, space research, green chemistry and the food industry You will hear later about other uses for this technology. We already have some expertise in micro systems technology in the UK. XAAR (pronounced 'tsar') have developed and licensed their inkjet print-head technology world wide. Exitech and STS have developed world-class processing equipment. Epigem (who are part of the Lab on a Chip consortium) have expertise in polymer film substrates but industry needs to be more aware of the potential for micro systems.
And UK business should be at the forefront exploiting the opportunities generated by scientific change. We need the vision to seek out new ways of making use of these technologies. The Lab on a Chip project has the vision to help UK industry to take part in the 'micro systems boom'. Now we need to move forward together if this vision is to become a reality.
I hope that today's Conference can chart a path for the future and that we can all work together to ensure the future success of this exciting project.