Can CPI win the Industrial Biotechnology race?

02 May 2012

Kelly Price – Evening Gazette

Heard the one about apples preventing cancer? Or the scientists making clothes out of sugar? It might sound far-fetched, but these are exactly the kind of breakthroughs that are happening right here on Teesside.

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Industrial biotechnology (IB) – using plants to make the chemicals of tomorrow – has been named as a key economic wealth creator by the Government. 

But other countries including the US and our European counterparts are stealing a march – and the UK needs to act fast. 

Costs to start up, scale up and prove the technology are too high, companies claim – and that’s where the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) comes in. 

CPI’s National Industrial Biotechnology Facility allows companies open access to fast-track biotech research to the marketplace, cutting costs and time.

Its work has been showcased in a recent report by NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts). 

Some of the scientific discoveries made at the facility are set to go global – and more importantly, some companies have even chosen to take their next steps on Teesside. 

The report shines a spotlight on the state of financing in the UK’s IB sector and suggests ways in which early stage and growth funding might be improved. 

But with the estimated cost of successfully entering the sector at pounds 75 – 100m, and returns taking four to eight years, there are substantial barriers to entry. 

It’s taken us seven years to get to this point which is typical for a company of our type,” says Richard Wood chief executive of Coressance, a company that uses CPI’s industrial biotechnology facility. The big-risk hurdles have to be managed in such a way that you don’t lose millions of pounds. And that’s really what we are doing here with CPI, we’re putting together a full process stream without having to commit to full capital expenditure. 

But the way we do it, we are learning enough about the process to design a fully integrated unit. In Germany, they have a large number of these facilities, so we are behind the curve in that respect.” 

So can the UK and more importantly Teesside – lead the way? Yes,” says Richard. 

We will find it more and more difficult to secure staff at the right level for future growth, but that’s being addressed.

We need more PhD students coming forward so they can develop an understanding of the complexities. We have fantastic universities and plenty of people. And CPI’s have a hugely valuable facility.” 

Plaxica’s Phil Goodier says his company has been one of the lucky ones. The availability of capital is one thing, and the willingness of investors to take risks. We are very lucky with our investors people that are willing to take a long-term view on returns. You don’t get returns within a year.” 

Chris Dowle, director of sustainable processing at CPI, said: We are encouraged that we are championed as not only being integral to the development of current IB technologies, but working towards a more sustainable future. CPI will continue to expand its facilities in support of this vital industry.” 

CORESSENCE is giving new meaning to the saying an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. 

Its team of scientists is taking molecules found in the humble apple – albeit special, ancient varieties – and using them in drugs from memory boosters to cancer prevention. 

And they’re about to reap the fruits of their labour, as they embark on building a large manufacturing plant – with Teesside as one of the possible locations. 

It’s hoped the work will eventually make them the world’s largest producer of their kind – and it all began right here on Teesside. 

We are upscaling a process using very special varieties of apple that keep high concentrations of a particular molecule,” said Coressence chief executive, Richard Wood. 

One of the benefits is cancer-blocking. It’s a mechanism of many modern cancer drugs.The concept may be simple, but its potent substantial” according to Richard – and others are recognising it too. The company is already licensed by DuPont one of the largest chemical and drugs makers in the world. Other benefits of the discovery include improved exercise performance and endurance, muscle growth tone, improved memory and potentially proved outcomes for people suffering chronic kidney disease (CKD). The next stage of our development will produce a substantial capacity plant.”

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