Last week was extremely busy and varied, starting in Swindon and ending in Manchester. The recurrent themes for the week were value and impact. I attended a meeting of the Foundation for Science and Technology which discussed how best to maximize the value of UK strengths in research, innovation and higher education. There were some interesting perspectives put forward by the speakers including the continued need for cultural change, including an increase in risk taking, in both academia and industry to realize the UK’s true potential; the fact that British companies have adapted to the changing business environment but not actually changed their modus operandi and really driven innovation; how the impact agenda including schemes from ourselves and other research councils has begun to drive people thinking about the broader outcomes of research not just in economic terms, and good examples of academia-industry interactions such as the National Structural Integrity Research Centre were mentioned. [...]
To ensure that BBSRC Science remains at the frontier of international competitiveness, I arrange occasional visits abroad, approximately annually, to check this out on the ground (one such was the Big Data mission to the USA). Given the strategic importance to our portfolio of Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy, and the pre-eminence of these countries in fermentations and industrial biotechnology, last week I led a small mission to look at industrial biotechnology in Korea and Japan. Visits in Seoul included meetings with leaders from the Biologics division of Hanwha Chemical, President Kil-Choo Moon and colleagues from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), Drs Jong-Hyun Rhie and Tae Hee Kim of the National Research Foundation of Korea, a variety of colleagues from Seoul National University, and – moving more to the translational end – the Korea Institute for Advancement of Technology, the Korean Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Korea Drug Development Fund. It was also interesting to note that Samsung is investing heavily in developing a Well Aging Research Centre as part of its Advanced Institute of Technology. [...]
The first part of last week was spent at the superb Bioeconomy in action meeting (twitter @bioeconomy_dk) arranged under the auspices of the Danish Presidency of the EU. Recognising the integrated nature of the bioeconomy that starts with the plant-based (and possibly algal) photosynthesis of biomass and creates high value products, speaker after speaker saw this as the vision for the creation of sustainable growth and jobs. The meeting was far too broad and detailed to repeat all of the messages, but some came through both strongly and regularly, such as the need to integrate farmers into the vision for food and non-food crops, the importance (stressed especially by Ruud Lubbers, ex-Prime Minister of the Netherlands) of taxing net CO2 production, and the key role of scientific research in effecting sustainable intensification of agriculture and subsequent biotransformations. The decline in manufacturing in the UK in favour of financial ‘services’ means that we are a little behind parts of Europe, but the situation is retrievable as we are at the beginning of the transition (back) to a bioeconomy. Many processes are already operating at scale, e.g. a huge bio-succinate plant for bioplastics built by Novamont in Italy, and the very large IAR Cluster biorefinery in the Champagne-Ardenne and Picardy regions of France. Neither did the meeting forget the importance of nutrition in a healthy lifestyle, and the likely diabesity epidemic if we do not act. Overall, an inspiring meeting, and it is worth giving the link http://ec.europa.eu/research/bioeconomy/index_en.htm to the European Bioeconomy website explicitly. [...]
The chief focus of this week’s meetings – I like to try and make decent clusters from my travelogue – was Industrial Biotechnology in various guises, not least since Bioenergy and Industrial Biotechnology are a key element of our Strategic Plan.
We had an important and useful meeting with the Technology Strategy Board, with whom we enjoy an increasingly close and integrated relationship (including a shared employee). Grants are in the throes of being judged and awarded as part of the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform, while there are other Healthcare activities in Regenerative and in Personalised Medicine. [...]