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You might not know it yet, but industrial biotechnology is vital to our future

Roger Kilburn

Roger Kilburn is CEO of the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre.

You might never have heard of industrial biotechnology - IB for short - but the chances are it has benefitted your life. Whether it is turning food waste into green energy or improving the way we manufacture food, drink, vaccines and antibiotics, IB offers advantages for us all.

As the world’s population grows, it consumes more food, energy, materials and medicine with every passing year, and to meet these needs we rely heavily on our chemical industry.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the chemical industry was tiny, and by the millennium it had grown to become one of the largest in the world. But there’s one big problem - its raw ingredients are based mainly on fossil fuels, and we simply can’t keep using oil and other finite resources.

This is where IB comes in - it has the potential to address some of the world’s biggest challenges by offering green alternatives to our scarce natural resources.

IB uses plant-based sources to produce or process materials, chemicals or energy. For example, plants can be processed to produce biofuels or plastics as an alternative to crude oil, and chemicals could be extracted from marine plants to replace synthetics.

IB is also used by the health industry to develop new drugs, vaccines and antibiotics. Examples include cell therapy and regenerative medicine, gene therapy and medicines based on biological molecules. My view is that the 21st century will be known as the century when we harness the full potential of biology.

The role of the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) is to stimulate the growth and success of IB technology in Scotland to £900 million by 2025. We want to enable collaboration between industry and academia to bring new IB processes and products to the global market.

Since our inception in 2014, we’ve funded 68 innovative IB projects with an accumulated value of over £14 million, creating 170 new jobs. We have over 120 industry members and a total of 18 universities and research institutes as partners. Crucially, in August we received £11 million of core funding for Phase 2 of our activities, which will take us up to 2023.

The conference attracts delegates from industry and academia in a roughly equal split – most conferences tend to be heavily weighted to either one or the other. This unusual but welcome balance creates a real community and allows valuable networking opportunities with ‘the other side’.

The event attracts more speakers and delegates every year and now even has its own fringe events such as a student-led symposium and “Dragon’s Den”-style investor presentations.

The conference will see the launch of the Scottish Government’s update to the Scottish Industrial Biotechnology National Plan for the next five years – we’ve made great progress so far towards meeting the targets set out in the plan, but there’s still work to be done. It’s also the first time that the UK bioeconomy strategy will be discussed with the industry.

As well as hearing the latest news, it’s vitally important that the industry gets a chance to come together. IB is a disruptive technology - there are many challenges in bringing new products and processes to market – so getting representatives from the government, academia and industry in the same room at the same time is one of the reasons the conference is so popular.

The conference is also a feeder event for VentureFest Scotland - a year-long festival of discovery and enlightened entrepreneurship. Both VentureFest and IBioIC are aligned in their aim to inspire and support the innovation journey, helping to create more visionary, global businesses that embrace the possibilities of tomorrow.

I’m looking forward to getting together with some of the sector’s most exciting companies and experts this week, to discuss how we continue to accelerate the growth of IB and work towards a more sustainable future for us all.

VentureFest Scotland Feeder Event Logo


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