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New Innovation and Knowledge Centre to drive UK’s Synthetic Biology progress

A new £10 million Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC), that will boost the UK’s ability to translate the emerging field of synthetic biology into application and provide a bridge between academia and industry was announced today.

The IKC, to be called SynbiCITE, will be based at Imperial College London and led by Professor Richard Kitney and Professor Paul Freemont. Its main aim will be to act as an Industrial Translation Engine that can integrate university and industry based research in synthetic biology into industrial process and products.

SynbiCITE is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research (BBSRC) and Technology Strategy Board. It will receive initial grant funding of £5 million, with a further £5 million to be awarded over the next two years.

The Centre will be a national resource and involve researchers from a further 17 universities and academic institutions across the UK, as well as 13 industrial partners, including the research arms of Microsoft, Shell and GlaxoSmithKline.

Announcing the funding at the SB6.0 Conference David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said, “Synthetic biology has huge potential for our economy and society in so many areas, from life sciences to agriculture. But to realise this potential we need to ensure researchers and business work together. This new Innovation and Knowledge Centre will help advance scientific knowledge and turn cutting edge research into commercial success.”

Professor Richard Kitney, co-academic of SynbiCITE from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial, says: “Synthetic Biology could be the next ‘industrial revolution’ for the UK, where tiny devices manufactured from cells are used by us to improve many facets of our lives. From producing new, more sustainable fuels to developing devices that can monitor or improve our health, the applications in this field are limitless.”

Many researchers, policy makers and governments are anticipating that synthetic biology will provide a range of benefits to society in sectors such as human health; agriculture and food production; environmental protection and remediation; bioenergy and chemical production.

It has been identified by David Willetts as one of the Eight Great Technologies that the UK needs to prioritise and the 2012 Autumn Statement announced significant investment in the field. Establishing the IKC was one of the recommendations of the UK Roadmap for Synthetic Biology, published in July 2012.

Professor David Delpy, EPSRC’s Chief Executive, said, “Synthetic Biology is an EPSRC priority area. This new Innovation and Knowledge Centre, the seventh we have co-funded, will link universities to industries and accelerate the transition of discoveries from the laboratory to the factory.”

SynbiCITE is the seventh IKC with the aim of commercialising emerging technologies through creating early stage critical mass in an area of disruptive technology. IKCs are able to achieve this through their international quality research capability and access to companion technologies needed to commercialise research. Based in a university they are led by an expert entrepreneurial team. While continuing to advance the research agenda, they create impact by enhancing wealth generation of the businesses with which they work.

For media enquiries, contact:

EPSRC Press Office
Tel: 01793 444 404.

Notes to Editors:

  • Innovation and Knowledge Centres (IKCs)

    Innovation and Knowledge Centres are centres of excellence with five years' funding to accelerate and promote business exploitation of an emerging research and technology field. Their key feature is a shared space and entrepreneurial environment, in which researchers, potential customers and skilled professionals from both academia and business can work side-by-side to scope applications, business models and routes to market.

    EPSRC works with other research councils e.g. BBSRC and public sector funders such as the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) to develop the interdisciplinary skills, infrastructure and research programmes needed to advance the field towards application for UK benefit, with due regard to ethical, social and regulatory considerations.

  • Synthetic biology

    Synthetic biology is a nascent technology with the potential to be transformational in a large number of key application areas which address a diverse range of important socioeconomic challenges, e.g. Healthcare, Agriculture, Novel Materials, Bio-fuels/Energy, Bio-remediation/Clean Water, and Manufacturing. Within the last 18 months, there have been a number of important developments of direct relevance to synthetic biology research in the UK including:
    • it has been identified by David Willetts as one of the eight great technologies
    • the publication of 'A synthetic biology roadmap for the UK' which contained key recommendations to support and develop the UK research and industrial communities
    • the establishment of the Synthetic Biology Leadership Council
    • the announcement of significant government investment in synthetic biology in the 2012 autumn statement
    • has been identified as a growth area for EPSRC in relation to other areas of the portfolio
    • the UK is judged to be second only to the USA with respect to publication output.

  • SynbiCITE partners

    University partners and collaborators

    • Bangor University
    • University of Birmingham
    • University of Bristol
    • University of Cambridge
    • Cardiff University
    • University of Edinburgh
    • University of Exeter
    • University of Glasgow
    • Imperial College London
    • King’s College London
    • Newcastle University
    • University of Oxford
    • Queen’s University, Belfast
    • University of Sheffield
    • Swansea University
    • University College London
    • University of Warwick

  • Industry and other partners

    • Agilent Technologies UK Ltd
    • GlaxoSmithKline Research and Development Ltd
    • Hockley International
    • Lisk and Jones Consultants Ltd
    • Microsoft Research Ltd
    • New Food Innovation
    • Oil Plus Ltd
    • Oxitec Ltd
    • Pulse Medical Ltd
    • Royal College of Art
    • Shell Global Solutions UK
    • Suterra
    • Syngenta Ltd
    • Visbion Ltd

  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

    The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

    BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Its aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

    Funded by the UK Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M (2011-2012), it supports research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives.

    Its investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

  • The Technology Strategy Board (TSB)

    The Technology Strategy Board is the UK’s innovation agency. Its goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation. Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy.