The publication of a new study commissioned by the Government Office for Science (GOS) earlier this year highlighted the East of England as a hotspot for biotechnology adoption and commercialisation. The study titled ‘Life Sciences Beyond Human Health – A report on the UK’s industrial biotechnology sector’ identified  Norwich Research Park, the Quadram Institute, John Innes Centre and the Earlham Institute as one of the 12 ‘modern industrial biotechnology’ clusters around the UK.

The East, and specifically Norwich Research Park, is gaining global recognition as a world-leading centre for research and science, especially in the area of modern industrial biotechnology, which encompasses those life sciences outside of human health. The report also highlighted that the UK may have a competitive advantage in this field in the areas of agribiotech, food & drink, commercial genomics for well-being, animal health and the underpinning technologies and platforms.

The East region’s strong life sciences base offers a window of opportunity to establish technological leadership and capture economic and societal value from modern industrial biotechnology. This opportunity is supported by a thriving ecosystem of technical service firms, suppliers and specialist equipment vendors that already exists and operates successfully.

Norwich Research Park is home to many of the institutions, researchers and emerging companies operating in these sectors. Four world-leading research institutes are based there – the John Innes Centre, The Sainsbury Laboratory, the Earlham Institute and the Quadram Institute. Alongside these, on the same campus, are the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, an important teaching and research hospital and the University of East Anglia (UEA) well known for its work on climate change and food research. This unique mix of six institutions on the same site leads to a huge amount of cross-organisational collaboration which in turn generates ideas that often lead to breakthroughs.

The quality of the work that the researchers undertake at Norwich Research Park can be clearly demonstrated by the fact that this year ten of them were named in the annual Highly Cited Researchers list published by the Clarivate Web of Science Group list. The list represents those researchers ranked in the top 1% by citations for their specific fields of expertise, determined by their worldwide peer group. Norwich Research Park has regularly had a significant number of its researchers appear on this list.

Another good indication of the quality and longevity of the research being carried out at Norwich Research Park is the level of investment being made into the institutes based there.

Earlier this year, two significant announcements were made, committing long-term funding to the institutes on the Park. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UKRI, announced combined funding of £163.9m over the next five year for the Earlham Institute, John Innes Centre and Quadram Institute to support the cutting-edge science they are undertaking. This equates to more than 40% of the BBSRC’s total investment into its UK strategic research institutes.

In addition, the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory will receive £317.7m over the next seven years, from the UKRI Infrastructure Fund, to develop their sites with new facilities, equipment and resources that are essential for researchers and innovators to carry out their ground-breaking work.

Investments of this scale and over these longer term periods give potential investors confidence that it is a location worth considering. Norwich Research Park already has 30 companies on site, some of which such as Tropic, Colorifix and Leaf Expression Systems are well established in their field. It offers new companies virtual tenancies and has modern office and lab facilities for those wanting to take physical space to start-up and grow. And, under the Enterprise Strategy launched last year by CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP, the organisation that runs Norwich Research Park, Roz Bird, it is now building a healthy pipeline of spin-out and start-up companies.

Roz said, “A number of new high-tech companies are growing on the park. They benefit from access to the specialists skills and technology platforms provided by the institutes. As awareness of these success stories increases then more people, businesses and investors will be attracted to Norwich Research Park. As well as access to skills and technology the science park management team at Norwich Research Park , AIP LLP, organises a wide range of industry events, networking and sports and social activities to help bring people together in a community of mutual regard so that people can look for opportunities for collaboration and the development of multi-disciplinary teams. We are confident that we have all of the ingredients necessary to be ‘the place to be’ for innovation, ideas and new businesses in modern industrial biotechnology.”

“There are several factors that are contributing to the East of England being a hotspot for innovation in life sciences, particularly in the areas of biotechnology that thrive at Norwich Research Park.

“The first is having an eco-system in place that builds community, knowledge transfer and collaboration. At Norwich Research Park, the unique cluster of four world-leading research institutes located here and the researchers and scientists that work in them means that collaboration across organisations is just part of their DNA and that, in turn, leads to new ideas being developed. In science circles, Norwich Research Park is known worldwide as the best place for carrying out research in the areas of food biotech, agri-tech and modern industrial biotechnology, so it’s no surprise that it has become a hotpot for novel ways of addressing some of the human race’s biggest challenges.

“Secondly you need the correct infrastructure and facilities so that the ideas can be developed fully. This means lab and office space, good communication links and appropriate technology as well as land to develop new buildings.

“Thirdly, you need investment to turn the ideas that translate the science into real-life applications, and ultimately, into spin-out businesses. We have built a programme for spin-outs and start-ups to access pre-seed and seed funding to make them ‘investment ready’ and provide platforms to introduce them to angel and corporate investors.”

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Biotechnology is a multidisciplinary field that involves the integration of natural sciences and engineering sciences in order to harness biological systems and organisms, such as bacteria, yeast and plants, to perform specific tasks or produce valuable products like life-saving drugs, biofuels, genetically modified crops, and other innovative materials.