Why the UK must support the commercialisation of IBBE research

A letter to the UK Government on behalf of the commissioning group for the report ‘Developing a Strategy for Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (IBBE) in the UK’

As recognised by Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy:

“Unlike in the past, industrial strategy must be about creating the right conditions for new and growing enterprise to thrive, not protecting the position of incumbents. A modern British industrial strategy must make this country a fertile ground for new businesses and new industries which will challenge and in some cases displace the companies and industries of today.”

The breadth of IBBE’s industrial application, coupled with the UK’s excellent scientific research base means that there are fewer industrial areas better placed to deliver against the central thrust of the Industrial Strategy. This relatively embryonic sector will shape the UK’s future role and standing in major international industrial markets (currently comprising c.£34bn revenue). More significantly, IBBE is recognised internationally as the key enabling technology that can help address major societal challenges through new methods of manufacturing consumer products, new materials (such as industrial composites and biodegradable plastics) and sustainable energy in the form of liquid and gaseous biofuels, while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making more effective use of agricultural, food and municipal wastes.

The report provides evidence of the value of IBBE to the UK in the form of economic data, covering investment, company growth and UK region, along with future growth potential. The UK has particular strength in high growth and emerging IBBE markets, including in the manufacture of high value, low volume chemicals and the manufacture of recombinant biologics using new technologies from the UK’s academic leadership in genomic, systems and synthetic biology, partnered with leading multinational companies and UK-based SMEs.

I would like to draw your attention to this report and its recommendations, highlighted in the executive summary. We believe that the UK has the opportunity to realise enormous benefits from the growing IBBE technology sector, but to be mindful that there are significant risks that could effect this growth which need to be addressed as a matter of some urgency.

The UK IBBE community cannot continue to develop and grow unless it is fully supported by the UK government in terms of both specific policy and investment.   Perhaps now more than ever, in order to overtake with international competitors, IBBE requires the UK government to have foresight, to build on the UK’s industrial and academic IB expertise, thus demonstrating its commitment to IBBE on the global stage.

Please take a moment to read the summary report Developing a Strategy for Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy in the UK.

We would welcome the chance to discuss this further with you in person.

Dr Jen Vandehoven, CBMNet Network Manager

Dr Mark Corbett, BIOCATNET Network Manager

On behalf of:

Prof Jeff Green, University of Sheffield, CBMNet Director

Prof Gavin Thomas, University of York, CBMNet Co-director

Prof Nicholas Turner, University of Manchester, BIOCATNET Director

Prof John Ward, University College London, BIOCATNET Co-director

Prof David Leak, University of Bath, P2P Network Director

Prof Joe Gallagher, P2P Network Co-director

Prof Nigel Minton, C1Net Director

Prof David Fell, C1Net Director

Who we represent

In 2013-14, BBSRC, with support from EPSRC, committed £18M to fund 13 unique collaborative Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (BBSRC NIBB) to tackle research challenges, translate research and deliver key benefits in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (IBBE). These multidisciplinary networks foster collaborations between academia, industry, policy makers and NGOs, driving innovation in order to harness the potential of biological resources for producing and processing materials, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals and energy. By April 2017, the BBSRC NIBB collectively represent over 3020 UK based academic members and 820 different companies.

In March 2017 RSM was commissioned by a consortium of four BBSRC NIBB, acting on behalf of the members of all 13 networks, to produce a report on the UK’s industrial biotechnology landscape. The study comprised a range of primary and secondary research including: an extensive desk based review of relevant strategy and policy documentation; in-depth interviews with 50 strategic industrial biotechnology stakeholders; analysis of secondary datasets including company and investment data; an online survey yielding 160 responses; in-depth case study research; and group consultation with leading academics.

The importance of industrial biotechnology to the UK

Industrial Biotechnology is the use of biological resources for producing and processing materials, chemicals (including pharmaceutical precursors and biopharmaceuticals) and energy. These resources include plants, algae, marine life, fungi and micro-organisms. There are already more than 1,800 UK businesses engaged in industrial biotechnology, employing over 14,000 people, together generating at least £3.7bn in revenue, and contributing £1.2bn in Gross Value Added to the UK economy. Employment growth in industrial biotechnology has significantly outpaced national averages, increasing by over 10% per annum between 2014 and 2016. Although this presents a picture of buoyant development, industrial biotechnology is still in many respects a nascent field and the report identifies significant threats to continued growth of the sector in the UK.

Robust estimates suggest that the value of the global industrial biotechnology market could reach £360bn by 2025. However, the UK markets for which industrial biotechnology is an enabling technology are still in their infancy, made up predominantly (c.99%) of SMEs. Therefore, as discussed in more detail below, access to finance is and will continue to be a major constraint to economic growth.

In addition to significant food waste and relatively high CO2 emissions, since 2004 the UK has become increasingly reliant on foreign energy imports. Industrial biotechnology and bioenergy will become critical enablers as the UK moves towards targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement, and lower dependency on energy imports.