New government investment will highlight growth opportunities from synthetic biology

New government investment will highlight growth opportunities from synthetic biology

24 May 2012

The Government is to boost innovation and stimulate growth in a key emerging technology by investing up to £6.5 million to encourage businesses to explore new industrial applications for synthetic biology.

Through grants for feasibility studies, the funding aims to demonstrate the feasibility of using synthetic biology in a commercial setting and highlight the opportunities for UK industry created by technological advancements in synthetic biology.

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

Announcing the investment in a major speech today at the University of East Anglia, Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts will say:

“Synthetic biology is a promising area of science with a wide range of possible applications with huge commercial potential.  Through regular and focussed investment by the research councils and the Technology Strategy Board, the UK’s research base has excellent capability in this area. This investment will help businesses understand how best to use synthetic biology responsibly to find solutions to major societal issues and deliver future growth and prosperity.”

 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.  The UK’s world-leading bioscience research community is generating the raw materials that will help businesses innovate now and in future and this call is a great opportunity to build bridges between our £38m portfolio of academic synthetic biology research and industry. This will help to ensure that exciting science isn’t left to languish unused in the lab.”

Professor David Delpy, CEO of EPSRC said:

“The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has substantial investments in synthetic biology, today we are working with five universities in the Flowers Consortium to push the field further forward and this builds on our previous investment in the flagship EPSRC Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation at Imperial College, which we funded back in 2009. Engineering leadership is critical to the UK’s future success in this area and we will continue to grow our investment so that the UK’s research base continues to be world-leading as this field develops.

“This initiative with the Technology Strategy Board and others will see the translation from research to industry happen more quickly. Already some practical applications are starting to be seen – biosensors for testing arsenic in water and for urinary tract infections – which once commercialised will benefit the lives of thousands of vulnerable people in the developed and developing worlds.”

Synthetic biology is an emerging, multidisciplinary approach at the intersection of engineering, bioscience, chemistry, and information technology.  It aims to design and engineer novel biologically based parts, devices and systems, and redesign existing natural biological systems for useful purposes.

The global market for synthetic biology has been estimated at just over $10bn in 2016 (with a compound annual growth rate of 45% between 2011 and 2016) spread across a wide range of product areas.* Synthetic biology has a broad range of potential applications across a variety of industrial sectors, from medicine to energy generation. Whilst its emerging status leads many to propose exciting and radical possibilities, synthetic biology can also provide a significant 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 this competition will enable businesses to demonstrate the feasibility of applying synthetic biology to real commercial situations.  Projects will identify a commercial opportunity to which synthetic biology can be applied and test the feasibility through a programme of experimentation, aiming to acquire new knowledge in order to develop new products or to significantly improve existing products, processes or services.  Applicants will need to consider the main ethical, societal and regulatory implications for their anticipated commercial use of the technology and their approach to responsible innovation will be reviewed as part of the assessment process.

The Advancing the Industrial Application of Synthetic Biology competition for feasibility funding opens on 8 October 2012 and the deadline for registration is 14 November 2012.  Applications must then be submitted by 21 November 2012. 

The competition is open to UK-based companies of any size and to research organisations.  Projects must be business-led and collaborative.  Up to 75% public sector funding may be available, and the maximum grant for each project is £375,000.  Projects are expected to last between 12 and 18 months.

The Technology Strategy Board will organise consortia-building events to showcase the academic expertise available in the UK and encourage networking opportunities from which collaborations may develop.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will also announce today that it will invest almost £5 million to help the UK’s world-leading researchers in synthetic biology to establish platform technology in the emerging field. 

And in parallel to the initiative, the ESRC will be supporting social scientific work on opportunities for the use of synthetic biology and potential risks and regulation.

Further information about the Advancing the Industrial Application of Synthetic Biology funding opportunity is available at: Synthetic Biology competition.  Further information about the EPSRC investment is available from their website:

View the full press release including notes to editors here


Last updated on Thursday 24 May 2012 at 11:52

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