Industry urged to fund bioprocessing

Private industry has been urged to join a public-sector commitment to fund advanced manufacturing research and development in bioprocessing.

£9m of funding has been committed by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to collaborative research with industry in bioprocessing.

Bioprocessing is the sector that develops the technology, techniques and processes to manufacture new medicines from biological materials. It is expected to underpin half of the top 100 medicines, as measured by sales, by 2014. As an advanced manufacturing sector it is one of the ‘value added’, knowledge-based industries that are expected to contribute to future UK economic growth, as well as helping to deliver new, effective medicines.

The two Research Councils have committed the funding to the second phase of a BBSRC-led public-private partnership – the Bioprocessing Research Industry Club: BRIC 2. The partnership gives industry a voice in setting the strategic direction of research, to ensure that outcomes from the science funded are relevant to the sector.

Lord Drayson, minister for science and innovation, said: ‘This funding builds an important bridge between researchers and industry to boost R&D in bioprocessing and its potential to develop new, improved medicines for patients. It’s now up to the private sector to seize this opportunity.’

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director for Innovation and Skills, said:’We have been running the first phase of the partnership since 2005, when we committed to investing a combined total of £14m. I am proud to say we have 17 bioprocessing companies in the Club. BRIC 2 will build on early successes, but needs the commitment of both the existing and new companies in the sector.’

The first phase of BRIC has been credited with establishing new research groups and collaborations. 25 research projects have pushed forward knowledge in bioprocessing, with over 40 per cent of the research leaders reporting new products, processes or tools and technologies arising from their projects.

One significant output from bioprocessing is an increase in the efficiency of the production of large molecules for biopharmaceuticals. Currently, potentially effective large-molecule drugs are not reaching patients due to high costs and inefficient production processes.

Dr Caulcott said:’BRIC research projects benefit the overall bioprocessing sector through reducing product development costs, improving the predictability of processes and helping companies to meet regulations. In addition, the member companies who contribute a relatively small amount to the research club funding pot receive early access to these findings.’

BRIC 2 will also aim to increase the numbers of trained bioprocessing professionals at all levels. The UK bioprocessing sector needs these individuals and BBSRC intends to ensure young scientists are equipped with both the necessary skills and experience of working in industry.

BRIC is one of the BBSRC Research and Technology Clubs. The clubs are supported jointly by BBSRC, other funding bodies and consortia of companies to fund high-quality, innovative research in areas identified as strategically important by BBSRC and industry.