Innovation in biotechnology could add millions to British economy
Posted on 25/10/2017
It is estimated that by 2025, the UK industrial biotechnology market will be worth up to £12 billion, and with the current rate of innovation and growth, it is easy to see how. Industrial biotechnology (IB) is changing the world, transitioning products and processes from being petrochemical-based to bio-based.
Everything we use in our daily lives can be reimagined using IB processes so that we are more sustainable, leading to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption and waste generation. Examples from the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre’s (IBioIC) membership include:
- Prawn shells being used to make environmentally friendly and antimicrobial cling film
- Timber residues used to make natural food flavourings, including vanilla
- Methane, a natural gas, converted into high quality protein animal feed
- Waste bread and potato starch used in medicine manufacturing
- By-products from whisky manufacturing used to make fuel, feed and even nanoparticles for electronics
- Genetically modified mosquitoes used to battle Zika virus, Dengue fever and Malaria
Some of the UK’s best untapped resources for IB are carbon dioxide, agricultural wastes, municipal waste – heading to the landfill, seaweed and timber waste. It is because of these feedstocks and the high level of academic expertise that the UK, and in particular Scotland, is attracting investment from around the world.
Industrial biotechnology may be a little known industry, but there is clear impact for companies of all sizes. IBioIC’s membership includes 14 startups and spinouts, 42 SMEs and 17 multi-national corporations, as well as government departments and other business consultancies. In keeping with the multi-disciplinary nature of IB, the members include IB expertise from a wide range of industries, from food to pharma to materials. IBioIC supports their members by helping their ideas develop from concept to commercial reality.
Oxford Biotrans: making natural scents and flavourings from IB
IBioIC recently welcomed Oxford Biotrans as their 100th member, joining the likes of GSK, Scottish Water and Ingenza. Oxford Biotrans is a University of Oxford spin-out company supported by over 20 years of research by Dr Luet Lok Wong from the Department of Chemistry. Founded in 2013, the company is working to develop and commercialise enzymatic process technology to yield high-value chemicals from natural sources. Their procedures are environmentally friendly – producing less chemical waste and using less energy than traditional methods.
Their first product, natural-grade nootkatone, is a sesquiterpene, which is the flavour and scent of grapefruit and is used in food, beverage and cosmetic applications (including enhancing in non-citrus flavours). Natural-grade nootkatone is traditionally an expensive ingredient and large quantities of grapefruit are needed to extract commercial amounts of nootkatone: 400,000kg of grapefruit is needed to produce just 1kg of nootkatone. A synthetic nootkatone can be produced through chemical processes, but this requires high temperatures, heavy metals and peroxides, and cannot be classed as natural in the EU.
Oxford Biotrans has developed a process to convert natural valencene, a citrus extract readily obtained from oranges, into natural-grade nootkatone, and is now offering an attractive, secure and environmentally-friendly supply of this in-demand compound. The company has just raised £2.1 million from investment activities, which will enable them to accelerate market entry of further products in the pipeline, building on the performance and capabilities of their innovative platform technology.
Oxford Biotrans has used the support of IBioIC to develop collaborative networks, secure project partners and grant funding, and access academic support, hosting an IBioIC PhD student in the organisation. They will also use IBioIC’s scale-up facilities in future to test new ideas and processes for commercialisation.
You can find out more about IBioIC here.
If you would like to discuss opportunities for innovation in IB, please contact a member of KTN’s Biotechnology team.
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