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Crafting the connections to fuel Scotland’s biotech ambitions.

Graduations are a regular occurrence at University of Strathclyde in Scotland, but there was something a little special about a ceremony that took place in the middle of November. You probably dont know any of the graduates, but one day you may well be working with them or for them. The group of students, all aged 22-30 from and across Scotland were the first cohort of graduates from the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) and University of Strathclydes collaborative Masters programme. The graduation of these students, with some going straight into work at companies like Ingenza, Marine Biopolymers, and Oxford Biotrans, and others continuing their work at PhD level is a further boost to the capabilities of Scotland for our industry. And with the course committed to create the next generation of skilled industrial biotechnologists enjoying input from both academic institutions and partners from industry it captures perfectly the collaborative spirit currently flowing through Scottish biotech.

Scotland is well placed to grow its share of the global industrial biotechnology (IB) sector, having many of the building blocks required for success: a varied geography with abundant natural resources and feedstock, a culture of academic excellence famous around the world, already a base for industrial leaders such as BASF Pharma, DOW, DSM, DuPont, Ineos and GSK, plus a commitment from the Scottish government to reduce carbon emissions by 2020.

With some impressive building blocks already in-place, I ask Roger Kilburn (@RogerKilburn1) a chemical engineer by training but with extensive commercial experience and CEO of IBioIC where his organisation fits into the picture: We are focussed on boosting connectivity and collaboration between Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and business. We are led by industry. Scotland has always had fantastic universities and we aim to help translate that into greater businesses and commercial success. Scotland, and indeed the UK as a whole has always been renowned for very good academic output but we need to get better at converting this into commercial benefit.

Established in January 2014, a key focus for IBioIC (@IBioIC ) alongside health, agriculture and marine is IB with the use of enzymes and micro-organisms to make bio-based products.

Many of the biggest companies in our business began in the humble setting of a university laboratory. But even with a commercial goal, the road to profitability, known to many as the valley of death, claims many fledgling start-ups. I ask Roger how IBioIC helps companies in this crucial period: We aim to further bridge that gap between universities and business and support the companies that have already launched. And this works in a few ways with a core team expert in all areas of IB, we offer access to support and advise, we share best practice and knowledge between companies across the industry who are at various stages of development and we provide the necessary skills for growth. But we also take industry into academia linking both communities to share their problems, challenges and opportunities with universities who can work towards solving them. Giving a clear focus is important and works well for both business and education.

This focus on collaboration is clear in the Centres Exemplar Project Competition. Launched in February 2014, the successful projects are led by an industrial member with a collaborative team including at least one partnering University. The IBioIC to date has invested in ten Exemplar Projects with a total funding commitment over 2.23 million. One of the more recent projects is led by Ingenza, and will use engineered bacteria for the scalable biosynthesis of products traditionally made from petrochemical starting materials and enable the sustainable manufacturing of valuable industrial chemicals.

IBioIC_Logo-for-webIn November 2015, IBioIC replaced the Exemplar competition with a new IB Accelerator Programme which offers funding up to a total value of 500k and will work in collaboration with Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Islands Enterprise to support collaborative projects that address a defined market need or commercial opportunity through the innovative application of biotechnology. The competition is open now so click here to find out more once you’ve finished the article.

Theres already been some great success stories supported by the IBioICs work which Roger is keen to share and perhaps my favourite is Scottish biofuel pioneers Celtic Renewables recently recognised as the Emerging Business of the Year at this years Scottish Business Awards.Celtic Renewables were awarded the accolade for an exceptional year in which they produced the worlds first samples of an advanced biofuel biobutanol from the production residues of that very Scottish product, malt whisky. The 4 billion Scottish Malt Whisky industry is a ripe resource for developing biobutanol. In a distillery, only 10 percent of what flows out of the distilleryis future whisky – the rest is draff and pot ale. The whisky industry annually produces 1,600 million litres of pot ale and 500,000 tonnes of draff which could be converted into biofuel as a direct substitute for fossil-derived fuel.

As we finish up we return to those students just graduated from University of Strathclyde one of the developments of which Roger is most proud: Its essential that we support this generation of workers. As an innovation centre, we strive to boost the Scottish economy by providing 1,500 new jobs in the industry by 2020. And also ensure that these jobs are distributed across Scotland not just in its major cities. Programmes such as this Masters degree and the new HND programme, launching next year, allow us to equip students with the vital skills needed for our industry and produce a highly employable group of individuals.

Even a brief focus on the Scottish biotechnology sector cannot fail to hide its ambition. Indeed, it has made its goals public to all in its National Plan for Industrial Biotechnology 2015-2025 which has its banner target of growing IB-related turnover in Scotland to 900 million by 2025. The next ten years will see acceleration and with the IBioIC as the hub for industry research, development and partnership we are likely to be reading about the class of 15 very soon.


If you liked reading about Scotland’s biotech ambitions you may also be interested in these:

European bio-economy boosted as regional clusters join to form 3BI.

Bio-plastic boost as new microorganisms use waste as feedstock.

Ask the Industry: Nadege Laborde, President of the Industrial Biotech Business Unit at Novasep.

The Amyris story: veterans of a new industry.

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