News & Analysis

Government publishes £2bn Vision for Engineering Biology

5th December 2023
Paige West

Science, Research, and Innovation Minister Andrew Griffith unveils the Government's £2 billion plan to harness the vast potential of engineering biology.

This emerging field, which can revolutionise sustainable food production, medical treatments, and fuel creation, is becoming a focus of governmental efforts.

Engineering biology applies strict engineering principles to biological systems, enabling the creation or redesign of biological entities like cells or proteins. It has already led to significant developments, including lifesaving mRNA vaccines for COVID-19. Recognised as one of the five key technologies by the government, it is poised for rapid growth.

After thorough engagement with industry stakeholders, the Government’s Engineering Vision outlines the strategy for leveraging this £2 billion investment over the next decade. This investment aligns with the Prime Minister's priorities, fostering UK economic growth and creating higher-paying jobs across various sectors. The plan includes investments in world-class R&D, infrastructure for innovation, regulatory support for market-ready engineering biology products, and securing necessary skills and infrastructure for global leadership in transformative technologies.

The UK aims to be a global leader in responsible engineering biology innovation by 2030. This involves working with industry and international partners to harness its benefits and address potential risks. A new Engineering Biology Steering Group is being established, comprising policymakers, business leaders, and innovators, to guide this technological focus.

During the Vision's launch, Minister Griffith will visit, a synthetic biology company in Cambridge. He will inaugurate a new wing of their laboratory facilities, symbolising the Government’s collaboration with leading industry players. Griffith will also speak at SynbiTECH in London, where he will reveal the Vision.

This announcement builds upon the £3.5 billion investment declared in the Spring Budget, aimed at establishing the UK as a science and technology superpower. This includes a £2.5 billion Quantum Strategy and £1 billion for supercomputing and AI research.

Science Secretary Michelle Donelan stated: “Engineering Biology has the potential to redefine our world in ways that were previously unimaginable. Today’s £2 billion commitment not only reflects our determination to push the boundaries of what UK science can achieve, from transforming medicine to tackling climate change, but also champions the five critical technologies that will define our future. Our Vision will solidify the UK's global leadership in safe and responsible engineering biology development. Through ongoing investments in transformative technologies, we are not just building a stronger economy; we are fostering job creation and bettering lives across the nation.”

Minister for Science, Innovation and Research Andrew Griffith said: “Engineering biology is, in many ways, the future of science: using engineering to harness the power of nature to overhaul what is possible – from the treatment of disease to how we sustainably produce food and fuel. I am determined to ensure that the UK remains at the cutting-edge of this exciting field. This £2 billion Vision sets out how we will bring all the levers of investment, policy and regulation to bear in ensuring that, safely and responsibly, we seize the potential for engineering biology breakthroughs to boost our economy, create jobs, and improve everyone’s quality of life.”

The Engineering Biology Vision identifies six priorities, including the new Steering Group, to deliver the technology's benefits. The Government's plan involves targeted public investment in R&D, developing infrastructure to support innovation, cultivating a diverse talent pool, regulatory support for market entry, promoting the adoption of engineering biology in the economy, and leading global discussions on responsible innovation in this field.

Jen Keane, Co-founder, and CEO of Modern Synthesis, commented: "Today marks a transformative moment in the pursuit of groundbreaking and responsible biological advancements. As a company that leverages biology to bring life to new materials, Modern Synthesis applauds the UK Government's visionary commitment of £2 billion over the next decade. We view this commitment as a resounding endorsement of the bioeconomy’s immense potential to catalyse breakthroughs which solve societal challenges at scale. We are further encouraged by the Government’s emphasis on nurturing a diverse talent pool and building dedicated facilities to support startups and scaleups like Modern Synthesis. This forward-thinking approach will not only build the critical capacity that the UK needs to lead in biological innovation, but also shore up the nation's ability to tap into the immense economic value that bio-derived products hold.”

Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “Engineering biology has the potential to deliver transformational benefits for our society and economy and I am delighted to see the government set out its vision today with a strategic approach to developing this emerging sector, backed by investment. Engineering biology blends fields such as genomics and data science, as well as core engineering principles and techniques, drawing on many of the UK’s strengths in research and innovation and offering exciting opportunities to bring cheaper, greener products and manufacturing methods to market. We welcome the establishment of the Engineering Biology Steering Group to bring together expertise across the industrial, startup and academic communities. As our Academy has highlighted for over a decade, engagement with industry and the entrepreneurial ecosystem is critical, and an engineering-led approach essential, to unlock the full potential of this highly disruptive technology and deliver benefits at meaningful scale.”

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