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UK Drops $8M into Synthetic Bio Business Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – As part of a new push to become a leading player in synthetic biology, the UK has provided £5.3 million ($8 million) to fund 15 new synthetic biology technology development projects at a number of companies.

The funding will fuel an array of tech development efforts at about a dozen companies. The grant winners were chosen through a competition for projects that will be led by businesses seeking to demonstrate the feasibility of using synthetic biology to create new products and processes or improve older ones.

Awarded by the Technology Strategy Board, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the funding is the latest among several new initiatives that have launched in response to the government's Synthetic Biology Roadmap, BBSR said on Thursday.

The Roadmap is an action plan that urges the UK to bet big on synthetic biology as an industry with enormous growth potential, specifically by creating a resource network, funding the research community, investing in new technology development, and launching a leadership council to focus on synthetic biology.

"Synthetic biology is an emerging technology that can play a really important part in the UK's economy," TSB Chief Executive Iain Gray said in a statement. "Our aim in supporting these projects is to help bring together a range of organisations that together, with our help, can develop the products and processes to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of this sector."

The companies reaping funding include Ingenza, of Edinburgh, which received three awards to use genomic-scale modeling to optimize biomanufacturing, to enhance the discovery and scalable synthesis of therapeutic cyclic peptides, and to develop a platform called Ligniflex to optimize the process and products of enzymatic ligning disruption.

Among the other projects receiving funding are Oxitec, of Oxford, which is developing genetic tools for use in insect pest control; Demuris, of Newcastle, which is using synthetic bio to enhance and optimize production of a novel antibiotic; Sympromics, of Edinburgh, which seeks to improve protein and biopharmaceutical production in mammalian cells; Prokarium, located in Keele and London, which is engineering immune-cell-targeting bacteria to express vaccines in the human body; and GlaxoSmithKline, which is using synthetic biology at its Ware site to improve antibiotic production.