Government publishes £2 billion vision for engineering biology to revolutionise medicine, food and environmental protection
Science Minister announces national vision for engineering biology, setting out government's £2 billion plan to seize the potential of engineering biology
National vision for engineering biology
- Landmark National Vision for Engineering Biology sets out government’s £2 billion plan to harness the power of biology to deliver new medical therapies, crop varieties, eco-friendly fuels and chemicals, cementing the UK as a science and technology superpower
- engineering biology applies principles of engineering to biological systems, with early examples including lifesaving mRNA vaccines, cultivated meat and turning waste into aviation fuel
- vision sets out how investment, policy and regulatory reform will support this critical technology over the next decade, and also sees launch of new Engineering Biology Steering Group
The government’s £2 billion vision to seize the enormous potential of engineering biology – an exciting field of biology which could transform how we sustainably grow food, create medical treatments and produce fuel – will be unveiled by Science, Research and Innovation Minister Andrew Griffith today (Tuesday 5 December).
Engineering biology describes the application of rigorous engineering principles to biology, enabling the construction of new or redesigned biological systems, such as cells or proteins.
It is already delivering breakthroughs, like lifesaving mRNA vaccines such as COVID vaccines, and has been identified as one of the five critical technologies being pursued by the government, as having the potential to grow at tremendous speed.
Following extensive engagement with industry and stakeholders, the new Engineering Vision lays out the government’s strategy for turning this potential into concrete benefits to the economy and people’s quality of life, through £2 billion investment over the coming decade. The funding is set to bolster the government as it works towards delivering on the Prime Minister’s key priorities, including fostering economic growth in the UK and creating higher-paying jobs and opportunities across various industries throughout the country.
This includes investing in world-class R&D and in the infrastructure needed to boost innovation and scale it up, ensuring regulation helps engineering biology-derived products reach market, and securing the skills and infrastructure necessary for the UK to spearhead global advancements in transformative technologies.
The government will also double down on establishing the UK as a world leader in responsible engineering biology innovation by 2030, where we work with industry and global partners to not only seize its benefits but also ensure potential risks are effectively addressed.
An Engineering Biology Steering Group is also being 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.
As part of the launch of the Vision, Science Minister Griffith will also tour bit.bio, a synthetic biology company focused on human cells in Cambridge. bit.bio programs cells to become mature, functional human cells for research, drug discovery and cell therapies. During the visit, he will officially open a new wing for their laboratory facilities, expanding their research centre, signalling the collaboration between the government and prominent industry players in the sector. This follows a speech at one of the field’s leading conferences, SynbiTECH in London where he will unveil the Vision.
This builds on the £3.5 billion injection to make the UK a science and technology superpower announced in this year’s Spring Budget. This is delivering a £2.5 billion Quantum Strategy which will bring new investment, fast-growing businesses and high-quality jobs to the UK, cementing its reputation as a top location to commercialise quantum; and £1 billion to create the next generation of supercomputing and AI research to establish the UK as a science and technology superpower.
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.
"Our Vision will solidify the UK’s global leadership in safe and responsible engineering biology development. Through ongoing investments in transformative technologies, we are not just building a stronger economy; we are fostering job creation and bettering lives across the nation."
Minister for Science, Innovation and Research Andrew Griffith said:
"Engineering biology is, in many ways, the future of science: using engineering to harness the power of nature to overhaul what is possible – from the treatment of disease to how we sustainably produce food and fuel.
"I am determined to ensure that the UK remains at the cutting-edge of this exciting field. This £2 billion vision sets out how we will bring all the levers of investment, policy and regulation to bear in ensuring that, safely and responsibly, we seize the potential for engineering biology breakthroughs to boost our economy, create jobs, and improve everyone’s quality of life."
The engineering biology vision sets out six priorities for delivering the benefits of this technology, of which the new Engineering Biology Steering Group is one. It will bring together both the current and the next generation of academic, start-up and industry leaders to help guide policymaking. In addition to this:
The government will target public investment towards world-class engineering biology R&D that will enable innovation breakthroughs and the creation of new products. We will invest £2 billion over the next ten years in engineering biology.
The government will invest in UK infrastructure to reduce the costs of both the early stages of engineering biology innovation, and its scale-up. We will develop a plan for UK facilities supporting start-ups and scale-ups in 2024.
We will grow and retain a diverse talent pool within the UK to match demand from academia and industry, covering scientific, technical and entrepreneurial skills. We will invest in fellowships and doctoral training including the new Discovery Fellowships.
We will work across government and with all relevant regulatory bodies to ensure that the UK’s regulatory landscape will help engineering biology-derived products to reach the market. Using the new Engineering Biology Regulators’ Network, government will implement a set of regulatory sandboxes to create pathways for this to happen.
The government will spearhead the adoption of engineering biology in the wider economy, working with investors and customers, and showcasing the most exciting engineering biology firms.
We will make the UK a world leader in responsible engineering biology innovation by 2030. Government will lead an open dialogue on the benefits, limitations and risks of the technology, encouraging a renewed commitment to responsible research and innovation. We will work with allies and partners to shape international norms and standards, including through multilateral forums.
Jen Keane, Co-founder and CEO, Modern Synthesis said:
"Today marks a transformative moment in the pursuit of groundbreaking and responsible biological advancements. As a company that leverages biology to bring life to new materials, Modern Synthesis applauds the UK government’s visionary commitment of £2 billion over the next decade. We view this commitment as a resounding endorsement of the bioeconomy’s immense potential to catalyse breakthroughs which solve societal challenges at scale.
"We are further encouraged by the government’s emphasis on nurturing a diverse talent pool and building dedicated facilities to support startups and scale ups like Modern Synthesis. This forward-thinking approach will not only build the critical capacity that the UK needs to lead in biological innovation, but also shore up the nation’s ability to tap into the immense economic value that bio-derived products hold."
Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:
"Engineering biology has the potential to deliver transformational benefits for our society and economy and I am delighted to see the government set out its vision today with a strategic approach to developing this emerging sector, backed by investment. Engineering biology blends fields such as genomics and data science, as well as core engineering principles and techniques, drawing on many of the UK’s strengths in research and innovation and offering exciting opportunities to bring cheaper, greener products and manufacturing methods to market.
"We welcome the establishment of the Engineering Biology Steering Group to bring together expertise across the industrial, startup and academic communities. As our Academy has highlighted for over a decade, engagement with industry and the entrepreneurial ecosystem is critical, and an engineering-led approach essential, to unlock the full potential of this highly disruptive technology and deliver benefits at meaningful scale."
Steve Bates OBE, CEO of the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA), said:
"Engineering biology is a transformative technology that will enable us to tackle some of our biggest challenges, from genetic diseases to climate change and feeding a growing population. It is fundamental in driving the biorevolution that will transform our global society and unlock economic growth in the years to come.
"The UK’s long-standing expertise in combining modern technology with biology gives us a competitive advantage in this key growth area. We therefore welcome the government’s focus on engineering biology as a strategic priority for the UK and global development."
David Bishop, Investor Relations and Corporate Affairs Director at Croda said:
"At Croda we recognise that engineering biology is already becoming an important foundation for the transformation of multiple industries in the UK. From improving sustainability, to underpinning new innovative products and services, we expect it to influence the growth of the UK economy and therefore fully support the government’s decision to invest in its successful implementation."