More than £6M of funding has been awarded to enhance the development of biopharmaceuticals.
In total £6.5M will fund 12 projects to deliver commercially important results, such as industrial-scale production of antibodies, stem cell preservation at room temperature, biopharmaceutical production using microbes and commercial scale stem cell therapy.
The funding is the second round of awards from Phase 2 of the Bioprocessing Research Industry Club (BRIC), a partnership between the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a consortium of leading companies and HealthTech and Medicines Knowledge Transfer Network.
Bioprocessing is the use of living cells or their components (e.g. enzymes) to manufacture desirable products. The innovative projects will investigate new tools and methods for bioprocessing which will be of particular benefit to the biopharmaceutical sector, where developing new drugs is often slow, expensive and complicated.
The UK biopharmaceutical sector comprises over 250 companies and it is forecast that, by 2016, eight of the top ten 'blockbuster' medicines will be biologics rather than conventional small molecules. The sector is of huge importance to the UK economy.
The new research will take place at nine UK universities. BRIC-funded research addresses bioprocesses at all scales of operation, from the small amounts required for pre-clinical studies through to post-licence mass manufacture.
Priority areas for BRIC research include bioprocessing for protein products and their host cell producers, high-throughput bioprocess development, effective modelling of whole bioprocesses, robust and effective analytics for bioprocessing and bioprocessing research for cellular products.
Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director, Innovation and Skills, said: "This latest investment in bioprocessing research through BRIC will further enhance our ability to manufacture the biopharmaceuticals of the future in an efficient and sustainable way. It is a timely prelude to our continuing support for bioprocessing research under our Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy Strategy."
Mr Atti Emecz, EPSRC Director Strategy and Business Relationships, said: "This investment demonstrates the value of the BRIC approach. It draws together bioscience, chemistry and engineering to tackle multidisciplinary challenges and promote internationally excellent research. It also develops the valuable partnerships with industry needed to deliver impact."
Ten BRIC Studentships have also been funded by BBSRC to help develop the bioprocessing researchers of the future. This brings the total number of BRIC students to 28, each with a collaborating BRIC member company.
BRIC Studentships are collaborative training grants, which follow the Industrial CASE model, giving these top bioprocessing PhD students the chance to experience first-rate research at both an academic institution and within an industrial setting.
The ten studentships will start in the 2013/14 academic year, and last for up to four years, based at five UK universities in partnership with six collaborating companies/organisations.
Students will spend a minimum of three months in a placement with the industrial partner learning skills that they will not necessarily acquire during a standard doctoral programme.
As well as providing high-quality training the scheme develops networking links between students, academia and industry.
The programme complements the EPSRC-funded Doctoral Training Centres at Newcastle and UCL that are relevant to the bioprocessing sector and other EPSRC studentship investments, by supporting training with a biosciences focus.
The funded BRIC research projects are: