Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Science and Innovation
Royal Institute Of British Architects, 11 May 2006
Having personally launched the Beacons Projects in November 2002 at the Globe Theatre here in London, I am delighted to be here today to celebrate your achievements in bringing these projects to fruition.
The Beacon Projects have their foundation in the 2001 'Opportunity for All' White Paper. These Projects gave us a platform upon which world-class researchers could reach out to the UK bioscience industry by supporting industry-focused research in leading academic teams. The idea was to generate a market-focussed approach to research within the academic community, and a key outcome of the projects has been to demonstrate the mutually beneficial effect of early interaction between industry and the research base.
These teams comprise of top academics in their respective fields that have come together to develop new technology, instrumentation and techniques to improve our understanding of diseases such as diabetes and cancer, and their treatment.
The research is both highly innovative and high risk, but it also offers correspondingly high rewards to UK industry, particularly when you consider the amount of time and money invested by the pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and healthcare industries in bringing products to market. Novel and innovative ways of predicting and simulating biological systems provides an excellent opportunity to do this more resource effectively.
Each project comprises multi-disciplinary teams of research scientists, all of whose skills and expertise are necessary to deliver real results. It is this interdisciplinary approach that lies at the heart of this innovative programme, and is of fundamental importance if we are to develop quickly in the field of systems biology. Biologists coming together with physicists, mathematicians, statisticians and computer scientists to solve biological problems.
For the researchers involved, I believe that the Beacon projects have provided a unique opportunity to look beyond conventional horizons so that ideas can be developed in novel and imaginative ways - with the ultimate aim of commercialisation.
The projects have proved to be successful both academically and commercially. In addition to the continuing release of numerous high impact papers to the scientific community, the projects have also been successful in leveraging additional funding from industry, and other sources. As a direct result of these projects, numerous patents have been filed, and commercial licenses negotiated, with further exploitation possibilities to come. Two new systems biology centres have been established, along with a bioinformatics research network, and one of the projects has also secured funding under the DTI-led Technology Programme. This is all very encouraging considering that a number of the projects still have some considerable time to run.
The Beacons Project was one of the schemes that led to the setting up in 2004 of the Technology Programme and the Technology Strategy Board. The Technology Strategy Board is business-driven and is identifying emerging technologies where the UK has the research capacity to create a competitive advantage. Government has allocated £370m over three years to the Technology Programme that the Board oversees, with additional funding coming from Research Councils and the regions. It is already supporting rapid developments taking place today in technology areas such as bioprocessing, nanotechnology, stem cells, and more broadly, systems biology.
The Life Sciences sector has done very well through the Technology Programme, having been successful in securing significant funding at every competition so far. We have already committed nearly £50m for the bioscience sector since 2004. Most recently in April, we launched two new calls for proposals worth £12m (£8m for Safety Biomarkers and £4m for the exploitation of bioscience for industry). And we have three Knowledge Transfer Networks playing a vital part in bringing together the communities in the very broad area of bioscience and healthcare - bioProcess UK, Bioscience for Business and Healthcare Technologies. Also in April, the Technology Strategy Board published a medium-term strategy for Bioscience and Healthcare setting out priorities for the future where we would very much welcome business input.
But today is about celebrating the achievements of the Beacons projects. They are highly relevant to industry, and I hope we will see further industrial participation in the future.
I would like to congratulate all of the project leaders and their fellow researchers, who together have worked so hard to bring these projects to completion. I would also like to thank all the Research Councils that have contributed so positively to the selection and running of these projects, and to acknowledge the contribution of the Beacons Guidance Team, whose expert advice and support has helped ensure that maximum benefit is derived from these groundbreaking projects.
The success of the British economy in the future will depend critically on science and technology and our ability to innovate, and the Beacons projects are a pioneering and successful example of what we need to do.