Prof Jackie Hunter is away during early January so her regular blog is hosting guest posts from other BBSRC staff during the next fortnight. This week’s guest author is Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC’s Executive Director for Innovation and Skills and executive lead for industrial biotechnology and bioenergy.

David Hume
Celia Caulcott.

I spent a few days in Cumbria over the holiday period, which is remarkably relevant to many aspects of BBSRC. One of the major industries there is food and farming, not least hill farming. All highly relevant to the Oxford Farming Conference at which the Secretary of State for Defra emphasised as one of the three priorities for the Department going forward is the challenge of growing the rural economy (PDF). Another focus he pointed to is that of our national security in relation to plant and animal disease: a major area of BBSRC investment is in research in these areas and in critical infrastructure such as the new high containment labs being constructed at Pirbright. The Agritech Catalyst, announced recently, will be an important route to supporting research in this area.

The New Year Honours lists included a CBE for Doug Kell, our previous CE. It was a pleasure to work with him for five years, not least because of his committed championing of industrial biotechnology. As mentioned by Jackie Hunter in her recent blog post, we have announced the launch of the BBSRC Networks in Industrial Biotechnology (BBSRC NIBB) a key component of our strategy to enable the fabulous bioscience research in the UK to contribute to bringing bioscience into industrial practice, leading to new products and processes, increased sustainability of existing ones, and transformation of businesses.  I was reflecting on this and noted that biopharmaceuticals are an excellent example of exactly how this can happen. Thirty years ago, the idea of a medicine that was a biological, something as complex as an antibody, or a gene, was simply a dream for a few visionary people. Ten years ago, biotech products made up 7-8% of the revenues generated by the world’s top selling drugs. Last year this was 71%, and seven out of the top ten selling drugs were biotech products. Transformation! Listen to the Burle Report about why biologics is so important to Pharma Pipeline companies (MP3), with Ronald Evans, consultant to the Tufts Centre for the Study of Drug Development.

The next stage of the strategy in Industrial Biotechnology is to launch the IB Catalyst, the third of such funding streams (following the Biomedical Catalyst and the Agritech Catalyst). In the first instance the IB Catalyst will have funds of up to £45M from BBSRC, TSB and EPSRC to invest in integrated research projects involving collaborations between academic and business communities that will offer clear commercial potential.

Finally, we have just launched the next round of our major studentships call – the Doctoral Training Partnerships. This is an essential component of all aspects of our strategy, helping us to ensure that there are future researchers for the UK, in the research base and users. Exciting times.

Happy New Year to everyone and best wishes for 2014.

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