North Academics And Industrial Biotech Experts Aim For Innovation


Experts from the N8 universities and business are working together to solve one of the greatest challenges facing modern society – how biological substances can be used sustainably to create materials and energy.

At the latest N8 Industry Innovation Forum (N8 IIF) event, academics from the N8 universities and more than 30 industrial scientists and senior biotech business leaders discussed where strategic collaborations between academic and industry researchers can accelerate new ideas and new opportunities in this crucial area.

Industrial biotech is set to transform sectors such as chemicals, waste, energy, plastics and pharmaceuticals, and in the process could create up to 800,000 UK jobs according to the ONS Annual Business Survey 2009. Furthermore, it is widely believed that the UK has a leading position in research in this area, leading it to be included in the Government’s ‘Eight Great Technologies’ for investment in order to give the UK competitive advantage.

The Forum provided an opportunity for delegates to identify new approaches to harnessing the potential power of biological systems to meet challenges such as cellular productivity and the complexity of the biological processes involved, as well as manufacturing design issues. Delegates discussed questions such as:

  • How do we select the most promising technologies in Industrial Biotechnology?
  • What are the future skills requirements?
  • How do we create opportunities for, and better integration across the entire supply chain?
  • How do we design industrial biotechnology processes so that they are predictable, effective and cost-efficient?

Already emerging from the Forum are a number of key collaborative projects that will start addressing issues such as robust predictive modelling of biotechnology processes and the question of how the various technology, product and business needs can be integrated into a cohesive and sustainable industry for the UK.

Set up in response to industry feedback, the N8 IIF connects industry with academics in the N8 universities to drive innovation and competitive advantage and, as a result, contribute to economic growth across northern England.

Colin Reid, Director of the N8 Industry Innovation Forum, said:

“The N8 IIF was established so that business could connect more easily with world-class academics in the N8 universities in order to address some of the major challenges facing society, and industrial biotechnology is emerging as a market of global importance as we all look to move away from products and energy based on oil towards a sustainable alternative.

“There is a fantastic opportunity for the North of England, and the UK as a whole, to become a major hub of expertise in this new bio-economy, and today’s event has paved the way for academic understanding of biotechnology to become more aligned with industry needs so that together, we can develop our knowledge in this area and exploit the considerable potential it offers.”

Mark Carver, SVP Research, Development and Innovation at Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, based in Billingham gave the keynote address of the day, outlining the nature of the challenge and the opportunities in this sector.

He said:

“Industrial biotech holds the potential to bring about a new industrial revolution but it is crucial that as well as connecting the relevant technologies, we also connect the right players and build a strong, collaborative community to foster innovation between academics, industry and government.

“This is what the N8 IIF aims to do and I’m confident that the new partnerships and ideas that have emerged from today will develop our understanding of how industrial biotech can transform the way we design and manufacture everything from chemicals to pharmaceuticals.”

Among the companies taking part was Middlesbrough-based chemicals manufacturer Chemoxy International Ltd, which is increasingly focussing on using renewable materials as the basis for developing sustainable products instead of traditional synthetic methods.

David Randall, R&D Manager, Chemoxy, said:

“We have collaborated with academics in the past but the great advantage of working with the N8 IIF is that it gives us the opportunity to interact with a larger group of academic expertise and know-how through having a single conversation, and the event today was a great way to get that dialogue started.

“At Chemoxy, we’ve taken a strategic decision to look at the potential for using biotransformations as a way to make our processes and products more sustainable. Being able to tap into a bigger critical mass of research excellence and access unique research facilities across the N8 universities is a really attractive proposition to help us to develop our capabilities, and ultimately the products we provide for our customers.”

Professor Trevor McMillan, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Lancaster University and Chair of the N8 Executive Management Group, said:

“Combining the best with the best – joining up the talent and expertise of university research and industry-led R&D – is how innovation comes about, which in turn can help create growth and new jobs.

“By creating new inter-disciplinary research partnerships in industrial biotechnology, the N8 IIF is helping to build capability in this area, which in turn will accelerate innovation and commercialisation of bio-chemical products and processes, enabling the UK to have a leading role in the future of this sector.”

The N8 IIF is making an impact in some of the biggest areas facing our society today. Since it was launched in 2012, it has played a role in the creation of almost 30 new innovative research partnerships. Its success to date includes four brand new industry-led multi-partner projects around advanced materials, involving academics, multinational companies and SMEs. These ideas are currently being developed and have been successful in raising £2.5m of public and private funding. A further five projects around active and healthy ageing have also emerged from the N8 IIF, which are based on partnerships between local authorities, multinationals, and charities.

Read more about the N8 Industry Innovation Forum here. Join the online N8 IIF community at