From bioscience to media

It is important for us to visit and talk to people right across the UK, and last week it was the turn of the North West.

We have built up a good relationship with the Science and Industry Council in the region and we understand their priorities. However I know that we still need to do more to engage with local businesses and, no matter how hard you try, you cannot escape comparisons being made with communication closer to home.

When I visited the area I knew that questions from business would focus around the technology priority areas of bioscience and healthcare, around the chemistry and biotechnology industries, nuclear and advanced manufacturing and the large strategic investments in Media City at Salford Quays.

Because each of these areas reflects on our own strategic investment priorities for this year, I want to share a few observations about our progress in these key areas, particularly around bioscience, healthcare and the chemistry-users industry.

Firstly, bioscience and healthcare. The North-west is well positioned as one of the top UK regions in the sector, with big companies like AstraZeneca, the National Bio-Manufacturing Centre and numerous biomedical firms. We have a number of collaborative projects in biosciences running with business in the North-west, and new projects are being planned through our Innovation Platform looking at the detection and identification of infectious agents. We have also had deep discussions recently about the importance of investing in stratified medicine, with industry players the ABPI, the MRC and OSCHR. This is to do with the commercial and medical opportunities arising from the use of biomarkers to identify the patients more likely to benefit - or experience an adverse reaction - in response to a given therapy, enabling better matching of patients with therapies. This has big implications for future product development strategies, particularly in the UK’s world-leading capabilities in oncology and Inflammatory disease treatment. Discussion has brought good progress in understanding industry needs, expressed as short-term (0-3 year), mid term (3-10 years) and longer term (10 years plus). We will clearly engage North-west businesses in these important developments and we are looking at the possibility of establishing an Innovation Platform in this field early next year.

Chemistry represents a different but equally important challenge - across the UK but particularly in the northern regions. The work of the Chemistry Innovation KTN along with others has done a great job in promoting the importance of chemistry, and even more significantly, the ‘users-of-chemistry’ to the UK. This will be reinforced by the Industrial Biotechnology IGT Report to be formally issued in May.

During last week’s trip I visited the Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry (KCMC) located within Manchester University. This centre was only launched at the end of March and aims to drive industrial growth for UK chemistry-using industries through the coordination, development and exploitation of leading edge materials chemistry research. I had the opportunity to meet a number of companies involved with the KCMC including ACAL Energy, Pilkington;  nano e-print; Unilever Port Sunlight and Victrex. Whilst all were generally polite about their relationships with the Technology Strategy Board they were looking to see how they could increase their engagement with us.

Chemistry pervades everything we do, and the Technology Strategy Board’s challenge-based approach - focusing on areas such as sustainability and low carbon solutions - engages the chemistry and chemistry-users industries as an essential part of a multi-function approach. There is no doubt we have to jointly raise awareness of chemistry’s importance and play our part in showcasing the industry’s technology successes – so encouraging more children to pursue science at school and as a career, and pulling universities’ chemistry technology research through from universities to business. We have more work to do, with industry, to find the best way to do this. My commitment to the Science and Industry Council representatives I met was to work together to develop this approach, working closely with industry and with the Chemistry Innovation KTN.

Finally a few words about the Media Centre at Salford Quays which I also visited. I hadn’t fully appreciated the scope of the Media City vision, nor the extent of the Peel Group’s private investment in the project.The BBC are still finalising their co-location plans but the first building in the ‘City’ will be handed over in the coming months and the first occupants will start moving in about nine months from now. It will be complete by 2011 and will reinforce Media City’s vision of becoming a world-leading media and communications centre, providing the incubation space, the skills and people, the market opportunities and the right culture for small media and creative businesses to develop and thrive. The project links the creative industries to the ‘Digital Britain’ vision; the Technology Strategy Board will follow it closely.

The North-West is a vibrant region where innovation is alive and well, including many of our own priority areas. We will continue to develop our links with regional businesses to ensure they are well placed to best take advantage of these opportunities.


Last updated on Thursday 06 August 2009 at 09:23

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