Government backing to revolutionise UK engineering biology firms

The UK firms harnessing the power of biology to deliver new medical therapies, means of recycling, and environmentally-friendly food sources will be under the spotlight at Downing Street (Wednesday 19 July) as science leaders and Ministers meet to unleash the full potential of the UK’s engineering biology sector.

Science and Technology Secretary, Chloe Smith, has invited businesses from across the country – from small startups to medium-sized companies – to present their transformational inventions, as she launches the start of a call for evidence that will run until September, seeking vital advice on driving engineering biology policy development in the UK.

Engineering biology describes the application of rigorous engineering principles to biology, enabling the construction of new or redesigned biological systems, such as cells or proteins. It has the potential to change the way we grow food, create medical treatments, and produce the fuel we need to run our cars, homes and offices. 

One example of engineering biology in action is the creation of revolutionary mRNA vaccines for Covid by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which were used widely in the UK and helped save millions of lives across the world.

The UK is one of the leaders in engineering biology thanks in part to early, forward-thinking investment by the Government over the last decade, including more than £100 million being invested through UK Research & Innovation’s Synthetic Biology for Growth programme. As one of the five critical technologies being pursued by the Government, the UK’s engineering biology sector has the potential to grow at tremendous speed, driving forward the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy.

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Chloe Smith, said: “Engineering biology has the power to be truly revolutionary. From tackling previously untreatable diseases to transforming waste into rocket fuel, the potential really is limitless.

“Today’s meeting with leaders from some of Britain's most innovative engineering biology businesses is the starting point in establishing a booming sector that transforms the way we eat, live, and fuel our economy, as we put our ambition to make the UK a science and technology superpower into practice.”

Gathering at the heart of Government, businesses from across the sector will be invited to showcase their ideas for capitalising on rapidly evolving technologies that will keep the country competitive in engineering biology.

The Secretary of State, and Science Minister George Freeman, will then lead a roundtable discussion to determine the UK’s existing strengths in the sector; what further opportunities can be seized and how Government can back the industry for the good of our country’s economy, health, security, and prosperity.

A dozen UK firms are invited to the meeting – including Scarlet Therapeutics in Bristol, whose work to produce and modify red blood cells in labs has led to treating previously untreatable diseases such as hyperammonemia and Colorfix in Norwich, which has modified microbes to produce eco-friendly clothes dyes that would otherwise have involved toxic chemicals.

Ministers will also hear from Edinburgh’s Celtic Renewables, whose patented method of turning waste products, rather than petroleum, into high-value chemicals, acetone, butanol, and ethanol, is helping the environment.

And in food, Algenuity in Bedfordshire will outline how variants of Chlorella algae are producing dairy and other animal protein substitute such as eggs at scale, while Ivy Farm will demonstrate the role of bioreactors in producing chicken and steaks without a farm, to reduce the environmental impact of meat-based meals.

Professor Nigel Scruton FRS, Chief Scientist and Co-Founder of C3 BIOTECH said: “As a leading SME that has developed high performance synthetic fuels by engineering biology, C3 BIOTECH is delighted to contribute to discussions with UK Government at Downing Street on how best to support the engineering biology sector in the UK.”

In March, engineering biology was earmarked as one of five critical technologies – alongside artificial intelligence, future telecommunications, semi-conductors, and quantum technologies – to deliver prosperity and security for the UK on our own terms alongside benefits to global society.

The call for evidence fulfils a key pledge in the Government’s Science and Technology Framework, to establish a strategic approach to engineering biology and its applications across the economy to maximise opportunities and mitigate the risks.

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