Babraham Institute in Cambridge and four other East of England research establishments have claimed almost 70 per cent of a new UK bioscience investment bonanza of £250 million being announced today by Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts.Norwich institutes are also major beneficiaries of the bio boom. Babraham wins £37m, the John Innes Centre in Norwich, £42m, Norwich neighbours the Institute of Food Research £29m and The Genome Analysis Centre £19m. There is also a £41m haul for Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire. An additional £7m has also been allocated for university grants linked to these institutes.
David Willetts was unveiling what promises to be a massive boost for the UK economy, leveraging the life sciences, on a visit to open new facilities at Babraham Research Campus today.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has allocated the £250m as the first phase of five-year strategic investment programmes. This includes 26 strategic science programmes and 14 key national research capabilities, to be delivered by eight of the UK’s world-leading bioscience research institutes and their university partners.
The Minister says the funding that will ensure the UK’s bioscience research base remains globally competitive and at the forefront of meeting the grand challenges faced by society in the coming decades.
He adds that the investment will help the UK to meet challenges such as sustainably feeding the growing world population, finding alternatives to dwindling fossil fuels and supporting an ageing society to remain healthy for longer.
Willetts said: “This £250 million investment from BBSRC will drive growth, support highly skilled jobs and keep the UK at the very forefront of bioscience, with benefits ranging from healthcare to energy and global food security.”
The institutes receiving funding have a vital role in supporting BBSRC’s mission to further scientific knowledge to promote economic growth and job creation in important sectors such as food, farming, renewables and pharmaceuticals. The grants will support research, key national scientific infrastructure, knowledge exchange, public engagement and institute development.
Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC chief executive, said: “By almost all measures the UK has the world’s best bioscience research base. BBSRC’s strategic funding of institutes with distinct missions and unique national facilities is one of the reasons we achieve this.
“However, being the best doesn’t mean much unless you make a difference in the world. Through their close links with industry and policy makers, and through engaging the public, the institutes are at the forefront of translating fundamental bioscience into products, services and advice.
“This investment is a major commitment to realising the potential of a bio-based economy in the UK. This is only possible through a sustainable, excellent fundamental research base with the right people, skills and facilities.”
For the first time BBSRC’s funding to the institutes has been awarded through a number of distinct strategic programme grants to each institute – and in some cases across institutes and university partners – to support five year research programmes.
These have been combined with grants to support vital national research capabilities and with support for knowledge exchange, commercialisation and embedded activities, such as public engagement.
The funding follows an assessment process, including independent peer review, of Institute science and programmes including knowledge exchange, public engagement and strategic HR.
Highlights from the 26 Institute Strategic Programme Grants (ISPGs) include:-
• Wheat pre-breeding programme at the John Innes Centre, Rothamsted Research and university partners - to build on BBSRC funding in the UK’s first wheat pre-breeding programme in two decades. This programme will support the development of new varieties of wheat for farmers by broadening the number of traits available for breeding.
• Investment in a vector-borne diseases programme at Institute for Animal Health (IAH). This programme will investigate economically important diseases of livestock that are spread by insects to improve control strategies. Diseases that will be tackled by the IAH programme include Bluetongue and African Horse Sickness.
• Funding for a programme in integrated gut health. This programme will be led by Institute of Food Research (IFR) in partnership with two universities. It aims to improve food safety by increasing our understanding of the working of the intestinal tract and how food-borne bacteria can cause human disease.
• Immunology programme at the Babraham Institute focused on lymphocyte homeostasis. This programme will study the role of lymphocytes in the immune system and how a regulated state is maintained by the body. This will have important implications for supporting healthy longer lives as the population ages.
Fourteen important strategic UK capabilities will be developed or maintained by this funding. These include:-
• ARK-Genomics at The Roslin Institute – funding to support this national capability in livestock animal genomics. ARK-Genomics investigates the genetic factors that influence yield, food safety, animal production and health. Outputs from the centre feed into breeding programmes of industrial partners.
• Long-term experiments at Rothamsted Research - funding to support historic and scientifically important long-term experiments, some of which have been running continuously for over 150 years. These experiments provide important insights into the long-term sustainability of various cropping systems, particularly the impacts of intensive agriculture and environmental pollution, on sustainable agricultural systems, especially nutrient cycling, soil quality and plant diseases.
• The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) will receive investment which will be used to ensure the institute can continue to deploy the latest advanced high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics for the UK bioscience community. The funding will also support the development of new approaches to storing and handling the huge amounts of data these new techniques generate.
Babraham said that the £37m it has been allocated included a Strategic Program Grant to improve understanding of immunology. This will have important implications for supporting healthy, longer lives as the population ages.
“We are delighted that this funding award will continue to support world leading, strategically relevant bioscience research at the Babraham Institute,” Babraham Institute director, Professor Michael Wakelam added.
David Willetts was at Babraham to unveil new bioscience facilities for startups. The new building is part of ongoing development at Babraham following investment to deliver innovation from the research base, generate economic growth and to create and support new companies and jobs based on world-leading bioscience.
The Minister officially opened a new Bioincubator building, Moneta, funded as part of the £44 million BBSRC project announced by Government last year - an investment in capital infrastructure to support bioscience innovation. Moneta, which is already over 50 per cent occupied, offers businesses access to capital equipment, provides small, flexible laboratory space and allows companies to be part of a research driven campus.
Willetts said: “Thanks to recent investment Babraham is expanding and nurturing biomedical companies. The new facilities at the Moneta building will allow world-leading academics to rub shoulders with business, driving innovation and helping commercialise research.”
Moneta adds to the extensive facilities on one of the UK’s leading innovation campuses. Babraham’s heritage supporting early-stage enterprises has so far attracted five new companies to Moneta with five campus companies expanding their operations from smaller facilities on the campus.
The Minister also cut the turf at the site of a new follow-on laboratory, which will equip campus with an additional 20,000 sq ft of laboratory and office space. These new premises will accommodate a diverse set of companies throughout an intermediate stage; early-stage companies will be able to draw upon the facilities and expertise at the Babraham Institute in order to grow and ultimately to create high-quality new jobs.
Michael Wakelam added: “We are delighted to show the Minister the progress that we are making to support economic growth here at Babraham, a research-led campus that builds on the world-leading BBSRC-funded research of the Babraham Institute.
“As a leading hub of life sciences innovation in the UK, the Babraham Research Campus plays a key role in supporting early-stage biomedical enterprises, while also helping to attract inward investment. These new facilities will enable us to build on our current strengths and support the life sciences industry in both the region and the UK.”