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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Biotech Breakthroughs: How the UK is leading the way for global innovation and excellence

Industrial biotechnology is the application of the biosciences to solving a broad range of challenges ranging from medicine and healthcare to agriculture and environmental science.  But did you know the United Kingdom is one of Europe’s leading biotech hub in breakthrough life-sciences start-ups! 

We caught up with Dr Simon Moore (SM) and Dr Ruth Rose (RR) to learn more about Biotech hubs and what we can expect as the biotech sector continues to grow…


Could you tell me about real-world applications of industrial biotechnology? 

SM: Biotechnology involves engineering microbes or plants for applications such as making products and sensing  in the environment. The production of recombinant proteins and chemicals is a key contributor to the bioeconomy, for a range of applications, including medicine and food. As we move to the future bioeconomy, we also have to consider how we make biotechnology processes sustainable, whilst also achieving economic viability. This is a difficult challenge since current chemical processes rely on fossil fuels, which provide a cheap source of energy and starting substrates for many chemical manufacturing processes. 

RR: I am really interested in plastic biodegradation and the synthesis of materials that will form part of the circular economy as we move forward. Plastic is a key part of our everyday lives, but it is extremely challenging to manage. At QMUL, we have strong partnerships with industrial companies through which we hope to tackle this critical problem. 

Could you tell me about industrial biotechnology hubs in the UK as well as careers in Biotechnology more generally?

RR: London is a great hub for science. With a number of world leading universities, such as QMUL, knowledge transfer from discovery to application is extremely efficient. 

SM: There are range of UK biotechnology SMEs and larger companies spread across the UK including London, Glasgow, York, Manchester and Sandwich Discovery Park. The UK government has an aspiration for the UK to become a leading player in industrial biotechnology to support the future bioeconomy. The UK is actively investing to stimulate the growth and development of these green technologies. 

Could you give your opinion about White City Innovation District and the new biotech companies that have moved there?

SM: Many of the past and current start-ups at White City are related or stimulated by the UKs first synthetic biology centre (SynbiCITE) at Imperial College London, where I was fortunate to work with Professor Paul Freemont and Professor Karen Polizzi between 2014-2017. Paul is the co-director of SynbiCITE, and Karen is one of the leading synthetic biology group leaders there. Imperial also have strong support for the annual student-led iGEM international competition, which has inspired a number of students to create their own SynBio businesses. Overall, it’s a really supportive environment with well-thought out ambitions, so it’s clear how its making a major success in this area. 

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Why should students/people consider studying Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology? 

RR: Synthetic biology will enable the development of novel strategies through the application of engineering principles to the biological sciencesA student with skills in the biosciences and an enthusiasm for the industrialisation and commercialisation of science will really benefit from studying this developing field. 

SM: It’s a jobs-driven market, and likely to be a major area for the future generation of biological and chemical science jobs in the UK. While this area relies on classic biological laboratory skills, it also integrates well with interdisciplinary subjects such as in chemistry, computing, engineering and mathematical sciences. 



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