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UK to Award $6M for Business-led Efforts to Develop Synthetic Biology Tools

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Several UK government bodies plan to award up to £3.8 million ($6.1 million) in competitive grants to fund industry-led research and development projects to advance synthetic biology technologies, according to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

The funding from the BBSRC, the Technology Strategy Board, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the Welsh government, is part of a planned large-scale push by the UK to make it an international player in applied synthetic biology industries.

The goal of this funding call will be to help businesses "establish a portfolio of tools" that will help the UK's synthetic biology industry generally and will help these tools providers expand and pursue new market opportunities.

The projects funded under this program will be collaborative, and will be led by businesses of any size. The BBSRC said it expects to fund industrial research projects in which a business partner will raise up to 50 percent of their projected costs via public funding. The projects may range in cost from £100,000 to £350,000, and should be relatively short-term lasting up to 12 months.

The UK has made clear that it sees synthetic biology as a growth industry, in part because it has or will have applications in a wide range of fields, such as in the development of fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals, renewable energy sources, environmental detection and remediation, and in boosting agricultural productivity.

The global synthetic biology market could be around $10 billion by 2016, the BBSRC said, and while much of that revenue will come from synthetic biology-derived products, the tools and services market that supports these technologies also offers "significant market opportunities."

"Developing standards tools and processes for this rapidly developing technology will help this sector move toward full commercialization," TSB Chief Executive Iain Gray said in a statement.

The UK published its strategic vision for this field, the Synthetic Biology Roadmap for the UK, more than a year ago, and since then has pursued a number of the proposals and investments laid out in the plan, which emphasizes building research networks, ramping up the national infrastructure, and nurturing business ventures and international collaborations.

In May, the UK said it would invest as much as £80 million to create a national network of multidisciplinary synthetic biology research centers.

Earlier this month, the BBSRC unveiled a plan to invest £10 million to create an investment fund to fuel early-stage UK-based firms that are focused on commercializing synthetic biology technologies, and in October it launched a collaborative research partnership with China focused on synthetic biology.