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Innovative public-private collaborations to improve medicine production and processing

13 June 2011

An innovative new package of projects, studentships and training is announced today (13 June) which aims to develop research to underpin the production and processing of new types of medicines based on biological molecules.

By supporting scientists at all stages of their careers - from PhD student to Professor - this approach will help ensure that current and future challenges can be met in the industrial production of biological medicines.

The UK currently has the second highest number of these medicines, called 'biopharmaceuticals', in development worldwide. This package will provide the foundations for the UK pharmaceutical sector to strengthen its position to the benefit of society and the economy.

£4M is being provided for the package by the Bioprocessing Research Industry Club (BRIC), a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)-led public-private partnership with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and a consortium of 16 industrial partners, ranging from small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), like Lonza and Eden Biodesign, to major pharmaceutical companies, like Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline. Together, through BRIC, these partners support both current research, and the training and development of the next generation of bioprocessing researchers.

The BRIC funding will go to six research projects, eight PhD studentships and a Skills Development School for early stage researchers. The research projects will address current challenges in bioprocessing while the PhD studentships and Skills Development School will ensure that the next generation of researchers are equipped with the technical knowledge and personal skills to secure future UK success in producing biopharmaceuticals. Each PhD student will spend six months or a year on placement with a partner company where they will develop an understanding the challenges of producing biological medicines on a commercial scale.

Biopharmaceuticals, examples of which include vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, hormones, and peptide therapeutics, make up over a third of the medicines currently under development and the number of licensed biological medicines is expected to grow by 20% a year. Biopharmaceuticals are made up of relatively large and complex molecules, which mimic the structure of compounds found naturally within the body. This means that they are more potent and have fewer side effects than more traditional types of medicine. They also have the potential to treat diseases and conditions that small-molecule medicines, like Aspirin for example, are unable to tackle.

Although biopharmaceuticals have many advantages, they require sophisticated manufacturing methods and are slow, expensive and complicated to produce. Research funded through the BRIC programme aims to develop solutions to bottlenecks in production so that these new treatments can become available to patients quickly and affordably.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said "The UK life sciences industry is an important growth sector, employing over 130,000 people and generating a turnover of over £30 billion last year. To maintain this success we need to ensure research can be taken from the lab to the market quickly and efficiently. Through working closely with industry, researchers can gain the skills and knowledge needed to successfully translate their findings into benefits for both the economy and society."

Dr Mark Carver Chief Scientific Officer of Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies who will be leading on the Skills Development School said "It is really important that industry engages with publicly-funded researchers in order to meet the challenges of producing biopharmaceuticals of the right quality and cost on a commercial scale. It's an exciting area that requires leading science and technology, inventive thinking and high quality people able to work effectively in multidisciplinary teams and networks. It's especially important that we develop an awareness of commercial and industrial issues amongst young researchers and equip them with an understanding of how R&D is done in a business environment, both so that they can contribute effectively to the field, and for their personal development. We hope that the combination of the Skills Development School and student placements will equip researchers with a real breadth of knowledge and experience."

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills said "In order to ensure that new methods for producing biopharmaceuticals can be developed to benefit the UK's society and economy we need to foster cooperation between publicly-funded researchers and industry. These relationships must be developed with scientists at all stages of their careers. This coordinated approach to funding will help ensure that researchers are engaged in the right research and are equipped with the right skills to strengthen the UK's position in this field."

Two of the projects funded by this round of BRIC will address problems with the process of aggregation where biopharmaceuticals clump together during production. Controlling this process in an industrial setting is vital in order to produce commercially viable amounts of the medicines.

ENDS

Notes to editors

Projects funded by this round of BRIC:

  • Professor Nigel Slater, University of Cambridge - Bioprocessing Research For Cellular Products
  • Dr Karen Polizzi, Imperial College London - A platform for the optimisation of metabolic pathways for glycosylation to achieve a narrow and targeted glycoform distribution
  • Dr Karen Coopman, Loughborough University - Bioprocessing Research For Cellular Products
  • Dr Paul Dalby, University College London - Elucidating aggregation mechanisms in antibody fragment-based therapeutics to improve their manufacturability
  • Dr Eirini Theodosiou, Loughborough University - Developing generic scalable and standardised selection methods for human therapeutic cells
  • Dr Mark Cobbold, University of Birmingham - Developing generic scalable and standardised selection methods for human therapeutic cells
  • Professor Hans Westerhoff, Manchester Centre for Integrated Systems Biology, University of Manchester - Predictable Protein Production
  • Dr Robin Curtis, University of Manchester - Understanding and predicting aggregation in biopharmaceuticals

PhD Studentships awarded in this round of BRIC:

  • Supervised by Dr Cleo Kontroavdi, Imperial College London - Development of a computational tool for predicting the impact of bioprocess conditions on protein glycosylation
  • Supervised by Dr Suzanne Farid, University College London - Linking High Throughput Cell Culture, Multivariate Analysis and Economics for More Effective Process Integration
  • Supervised by Dr Paul Dalby, University College London - Microscale freeze-dried and liquid formulations of therapeutics to investigate the relationship between forced degradation and long-term shelf life
  • Supervised by Dr Daniel Bracewell, University College London - Understanding on-column protein aggregation and its impact on bioprocessing
  • Supervised by Dr Stephanie Allen, University of Nottingham - Development of single molecule assays for the detection of aggregation within high concentration protein therapeutics
  • Supervised by Dr James Warwicker, University of Manchester - Controlling liquid-liquid phase separation in antibody formulations
  • Supervised by Professor Eli Keshavarz-Moore, University College London - An upstream platform for the production of high grade heterologous proteins in Pichia pastoris
  • Supervised by Professor Hans Westerhoff, Manchester Centre for Integrated Systems Biology, University of Manchester - Protein burden in protein overproduction

About BRIC

BRIC is a BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council)-led partnership with EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) and the UK biopharmaceutical industry, with support from the HealthTech and Medicines Knowledge Transfer Network, and was established in 2005 to fund the very best UK academics to carry out research to underpin the rapidly growing field of biological medicines.

BRIC was established in 2005 to focus on the delivery of investment into academic research in bioprocessing. Alongside BBSRC and EPSRC are 16 industrial organisations:

  • Avacta plc
  • Eden Biodesign
  • Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • HPA
  • Ipsen Ltd
  • Life Technologies
  • Lonza plc
  • MedImmune
  • NIBSC
  • Novozymes
  • Pall Corporation
  • Pfizer
  • RecipharmCobra
  • Stem Cell Sciences UK Ltd
  • UCB Celltech

About EPSRC

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800M a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change.

The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via research Councils UK.  www.epsrc.ac.uk

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences and the largest single public funder of agriculture and food-related research.

Sponsored by Government, BBSRC’s budget for 2011-12 is around £445M which it is investing in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.