12.04.2024 | Published by bit.bio

UK life science ambitions in focus in election year

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The first quarter of 2024 has seen a rich thread of policy announcements focused on establishing the United Kingdom as an engineering biology superpower and bit.bio has been at the forefront of high-level policy discussions on the needs of industry. 
As we approach the General Election, now is an opportune moment to take stock of these developments and how bit.bio has been involved.

Realising the National Vision for engineering biology in the UK 

It was a privilege to welcome Andrew Griffith MP, the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation to open our new manufacturing and automation laboratories. The Minister arrived just hours after announcing the UK Government’s £2 billion Vision for Engineering Biology. bit.bio was a major contributor to the summer consultation which informed the document. Last year the UK Science and Technology Framework recognised engineering biology as one of the five “critical technologies”; now the Vision adds detail on the approach and priorities for unleashing the sector to drive growth, investment and innovation.

We are also very pleased to see the strong emphasis the Labour Party is placing on life sciences in general and engineering biology in particular. In January we facilitated a roundtable on synthetic biology with Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, inviting her to join with expert peers and colleagues in the field. In the days following, the Labour Party published its plan for the life sciences sector which includes plans to strengthen the Office for Life Science and making innovation in life science a priority for the Department of Health.

It is reassuring to see that both of the major political parties in the UK have placed such a strong emphasis on the importance of the life sciences and engineering biology as they lay out their economic and industrial strategies for the next parliament.

Planning the Cambridge Powerhouse 

There was further positive news in the Budget last month, including the continuing drive to increase investment into the sector, and at a local level there was a welcome focus on Cambridge. The Government published the ‘Case for Cambridge’ which sets out a clear ambition for the city to become the world’s leading scientific powerhouse. The Chancellor said that there will be a “long term funding settlement” for a new Cambridge development corporation in the forthcoming Spending Review.

Ahead of this announcement, we had the opportunity to join other local biotechs and investors in a discussion co-chaired by Franck Petitgas, the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor for Investment and Business and Steve Bates, CEO of the BIA. This focused on key issues for unlocking growth in the greater Cambridge area, including the provision of better transport, housing and ensuring the supply of required world-class laboratory space.

Global partnerships for research and drug discovery

Getting the policy environment right in the UK is central to taking a leadership role in developing novel cures for incurable and life-altering medical conditions. An example would be the multi-year collaboration agreement between bit.bio and The Michael J. Fox Foundation, the largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson's research in the world.

In March, we agreed our first project with the Foundation to prioritise the discovery and development of a key human cell type for Parkinson’s disease (PD). PD is a complex disease affected by multiple genetic and environmental factors, and affects more than 2% of the population over the age of 65%. Providing access to a consistent and scalable source of physiologically relevant human cell models will help researchers understand and identify the diverse pathways that can cause PD.

It is a tangible illustration of how innovative companies can forge global partnerships to advance vital research into human health conditions.

Outlook - from policy development to delivery

Over the course of the past five years, the profile of engineering biology, and its potential to deliver growth and transformative new treatments, has substantially increased. As global disruptions - from the pandemic to military conflicts - have occurred, there is now solid recognition that our new industry and technologies represent a profound opportunity to drive long-term national wealth, security and improvements in human health.

As a result, experienced politicians and expert policy leaders are providing serious consideration for ambitious national and local strategies. Critical to success in the coming years will be a focus on delivery – such as unlocking new regulatory processes which support innovation and ensuring the continued provision of a world-class scientific infrastructure. This will ensure that the UK remains a destination of choice for investment, as well as for world class scientific and commercial talent. 

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