National Vision for Engineering Biology

On Tuesday 5 December 2023, the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Andrew Griffith MP, unveiled the UK Government’s Vision For Engineering Biology, which pledges £2 billion to support the development of the sector in the UK over the next decade.

The government broadly defines engineering biology as the design, scaling and commercialisation of biology-derived products and services that can transform sectors or produce existing products more sustainably. The terms ‘engineering biology’ and ‘synthetic biology’ are often used interchangeably and relate to significantly overlapping fields.

With this announcement, the government is aiming to build on the UK’s unique academic legacy in biological sciences and the strong foundations of the existing UK bioeconomy. The report highlights that UK engineering biology firms have raised the third highest amount of investment between 2017 and 2022, behind only the US and China. Mewburn clients, including UK-based C3 Biotech and Singapore-based Hummingbird Bioscience, are highlighted in the report as notable companies in the area and have good track records of fundraising.

The government want this new injection of cash to ensure that biological innovations are pulled through to application, in addition to being pushed by the world class discoveries made in UK research institutes. This means improving the accessibility of later stage funding to start-ups and SMEs with the aim of tackling the hurdle of moving from a pilot-scale technology to large scale manufacturing. In providing this support the hope is that business incepted in the UK will remain in the UK, leading to an increase in high skilled jobs and a boost to the economy.

This announcement will come as welcome news to many academics, start-ups and SMEs who contributed to the Vision by engaging with a call for opinions on the engineering biology sector. From the topics identified by stakeholders, the new Engineering Biology Vision includes pledges to maintain and improve:

  • Infrastructure essential to engineering biology sector growth, whether through the development of localised hubs or centralised initiatives.
  • Talent and Skills though investment in apprenticeships, post-graduate research positions, Discovery Fellowships and attracting overseas talent.
  • Regulations and Standards to safely support innovation and facilitate transition from discovery to a marketable product while maintaining a reputation for responsible and trustworthy innovation.
  • Investment in Engineering Biology to support the sector’s position in the UK economy.

On the topic of increasing investment, the Vision recognises intellectual property as the ‘life blood of SMEs’, due to the importance of IP protection for investors. IP protection is regularly a keystone in the business model of companies from start-ups to internationally renowned firms. Mewburn Ellis LLP has a track record of drafting, prosecuting, and managing high profile patent families in the fields of engineering biology and synthetic biology, and we look forward to helping more innovators in the area.

The £2 billion pledge made in the Vision has been described by some as a transformative moment for the UK biological engineering sector. Building on recent technological advances the UK bioeconomy has contributed to, such as the development of mRNA vaccines and nanopore sequencing, this cash injection has the potential to alter the landscape of the sector across the UK’s bioscience technology hubs. Mewburn Ellis LLP is well embedded within these hubs of innovation, with offices in London, Bristol, Cambridge, and Manchester, as well as Munich.

Over the next decade we look forward to observing the development of the field and supporting the growth of EngBio/SynBio companies, both in the UK and across the globe.