IBioIC CEO Roger Kilburn gives his thoughts on the launch of the National Industrial Biotechnology Strategy to 2030.

A few years ago, in conjunction with the BBSRC, Innovate UK ran a number of open competitions known as the Industrial Biotechnology (IB) Catalyst. The intent was to support companies in the various stages of their innovation journeys in developing this disruptive new technology. The IB catalyst was very heavily oversubscribed, which tells us two things:

• There is a large and active community of primarily SME companies in the UK in this field
• There is a strong need for Public Sector support to develop this area of technology

Move the clock forward to June 2018, and I was lucky enough to be invited to a breakfast at the House of Commons, hosted by Daniel Zeichner MP, where the National Industrial Biotechnology Strategy to 2030 was launched by the Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum (IBLF) in partnership with the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA). The strategy is a comprehensive summary of the state of IB in the UK today and highlights many of the opportunities that UK companies have to further develop this field. In summary, the strategy contains seven themes and calls for specific actions to achieve them.

The seven themes are as follows:

1. External environment – to achieve consensus on a consistent long-term policy landscape that supports industrial biotech
2. Funding and access to finance – leading to a supportive financial environment that recognises the potential of IB for driving growth and innovation
3. Infrastructure and regional footprint – ensuring that industrial biotech is a major contributor to clean economic growth across all of the UK
4.  Trade, investment and commercialisation – positioning the UK as an international industrial biotech innovation and commercialisation hub
5. Regulations and standards – making certain that UK frameworks are recognised as robust and support risk aware innovation
6. Skills – fostering the skills required by industry to make sure that the industrial biotech sector is recognised as an attractive career option
7. Communication – promoting one IB community voice, with consistent clear messages, where wider society is well informed and supportive of Responsible Research and Innovation in industrial biotech.

The strategy is noteworthy in its depth of thought and breadth of actions needed. I congratulate the two authors, BIOCATNET’s Mark Corbett and FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies’ Jen Vanderhoven,  on this work. It is critical now to ensure this great work is actually capitalised upon, and key to this is ensuring that well thought-through and well-funded activity follows.

Even for the very best and largest companies, it can take time to bring new manufacturing processes to market; John Barrett from BASF often tells the story of how it took over 20 years to bring their novel new bio-process for manufacturing polyacrylamide to commercialisation. 

We need the funding bodies to keep faith in IB. It will take a lot more than a few years of an IB Catalyst to make a significant difference. History tells us that with disruptive technologies we tend to underestimate the time it takes to bring them to market, as well as the potential of their ultimate impact. Remember the famous quote by Thomas Watson, President of IBM? In 1943 he said, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.

I don’t think IB is at this level of understatement but it illustrates the scale of opportunity and the rewards of  capturing it – as well as the potential cost of missed opportunities. Commitment and the right support and funding environment will ensure we harness the potential of IB for the benefit of all.

Roger Kilburn

CEO, IBioIC - Inovo, 121 George Street, Glasgow G1 1RD, United Kingdom
Chair, Scottish Industrial Biotechnology Development Group