On 5 December, the UK Government revealed its new £2bn 'vision' to be rolled out over the next decade, aimed at harnessing the enormous potential of engineering biology to revolutionise how the UK grows food, develops medicines and produces fuel, with the ultimate aim of positioning the UK as a global leader in science and technology.

It represents an opportunity for business in the Life Sciences sector, and we consider some of its key themes in this article.  

The funding reflects a theme of investment in life sciences – see our report on the UK Centre of Excellent for Medicine Manufacturing - which reflects recognition of the role the sector can play in fostering economic growth in the UK and creating higher-paying jobs and opportunities across various industries throughout the country.

As part of the strategy, an Engineering Biology Steering Group will also be launched, bringing policymakers together with the business leaders and innovators behind transformational engineering biology breakthroughs being made in the UK to steer the government's approach to this technology.

Science Secretary Michelle Donelan said:

"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". 

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What is Engineering Biology?

Engineering biology applies engineering principles to biology in order to build and manufacture new biological systems and products.

By utilising this cutting-edge practice, breakthroughs in bioengineering stand to benefit organisations in a wide variety of sectors, including healthcare, food and agriculture, consumer products, sustainability, and energy and materials production.

For example, bioengineering techniques and materials were utilised to deliver life-saving mRNA vaccines such as the COVID-19 vaccine. 

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Priorities of the New Vision

The vision sets out the following six priorities for delivering the benefits of this technology:

  • Targeting public investment towards world-class engineering biology R&D that will enable innovation breakthroughs and the creation of new products – this is reflected in £73 million investment in engineering biology missions and hubs;
  •  Invest in UK infrastructure to reduce the costs of both the early stages of engineering biology innovation and its scale-up and develop a plan for UK facilities supporting start-ups and scale-ups in 2024 – this will manifest itself in developments including a plan for UK facilities that support lab-scale and pilot-scale innovation, further exploration of the range of public and private funding models, and planning resilient supply chains to reduce costs, time and complexity in the ecosystem, and it will be interesting to monitor how these proposals translate into activity;
  • Grow and retain a diverse talent pool within the UK to match demand from academia and industry, covering scientific, technical and entrepreneurial skills, including investing in fellowships and doctoral training, including the new Discovery Fellowships – proposed activity in this area that may be of interest for businesses includes identifying opportunities to connect successful entrepreneurs, business executives and investors to emerging businesses to share expertise and mentor aspiring entrepreneurs; 
  • Work across government and with all relevant regulatory bodies to ensure that the UK's regulatory landscape will help to engineer biology-derived products to reach the market. Using the new Engineering Biology Regulators' Network, the government will implement a set of regulatory sandboxes to create pathways to facilitate this, and it will be interesting to keep abreast of the EBRN's proposals in this area; and 
  • Spearhead the adoption of engineering biology in the wider economy, working with investors and customers and showcasing the most exciting engineering biology firms.

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If you have any questions or would like more information regarding this article and how this may affect your business, please contact our Life Science Solicitors, who would be happy to assist.