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Minister announces £250M strategic investment in UK bioscience

24 May 2012

Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, will today announce substantial funding that will ensure the UK's bioscience research base remains globally competitive and at the forefront of meeting the grand challenges faced by society in the coming decades. The announcement will be made by the Minister during a visit to the Babraham Research Campus, near Cambridge, and highlighted again during a major speech at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has allocated £250M as the first phase of five year strategic investment programmes. This includes 26 strategic science programmes and 14 key national research capabilities, to be delivered by eight of the UK's world-leading bioscience research institutes and their university partners.

The investment will help the UK to meet challenges such as sustainably feeding the growing world population, finding alternatives to dwindling fossil fuels and supporting an ageing society to remain healthy for longer.

Commenting on the funding, Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts said: "This £250 million investment from BBSRC for the first phase of major five year research programmes will sustain excellent science at some of the UK's leading institutes and universities. This will drive growth, support highly skilled jobs and keep the UK at the very forefront of bioscience, with benefits ranging from healthcare to energy and global food security."

The Minister made the announcement in a speech during a visit to see the progress being made in the development of the Babraham Research Campus. The campus, a BBSRC National Research and Innovation Campus, is home to the Babraham Institute, one of the institutes in receipt of today's funding.

The institutes receiving funding have a vital role in supporting BBSRC's mission to further scientific knowledge to promote economic growth and job creation in important sectors such as food, farming, renewables and pharmaceuticals. The grants will support research, key national scientific infrastructure, knowledge exchange, public engagement and institute development.

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: "By almost all measures the UK has the world's best bioscience research base. BBSRC's strategic funding of institutes with distinct missions and unique national facilities is one of the reasons we achieve this. However, being the best doesn't mean much unless you make a difference in the world. Through their close links with industry and policy makers, and through engaging the public, the institutes are at the forefront of translating fundamental bioscience into products, services and advice.

"This investment is a major commitment to realising the potential of a bio-based economy in the UK. This is only possible through a sustainable, excellent fundamental research base with the right people, skills and facilities."

For the first time BBSRC's funding to the institutes has been awarded through a number of distinct strategic programme grants to each institute - and in some cases across institutes and university partners - to support five year research programmes. These have been combined with grants to support vital national research capabilities and with support for knowledge exchange, commercialisation and embedded activities, such as public engagement. The funding follows an assessment process, including independent peer review, of Institute science and programmes including knowledge exchange, public engagement and strategic HR.

Institute Strategic Programme Grants

Highlights from the 26 Institute Strategic Programme Grants (ISPGs) include:

  • Wheat pre-breeding programme at the John Innes Centre (JIC), Rothamsted Research and University partners - to build on BBSRC funding in the UK's first wheat pre-breeding programme in two decades. This programme will support the development of new varieties of wheat for farmers by broadening the number of traits available for breeding.
  • Investment in a vector-borne diseases programme at Institute for Animal Health (IAH). This programme will investigate economically important diseases of livestock that are spread by insects to improve control strategies. Diseases that will be tackled by the IAH programme include Bluetongue and African Horse Sickness.
  • Funding for a programme in integrated gut health. This programme will be led by Institute of Food Research (IFR) in partnership with two universities. It aims to improve food safety by increasing our understanding of the working of the intestinal tract and how food-borne bacteria can cause human disease.
  • Immunology programme at the Babraham Institute focused on lymphocyte homeostasis. This programme will study the role of lymphocytes in the immune system and how a regulated state is maintained by the body. This will have important implications for supporting healthy longer lives as the population ages.

National Capabilities

14 important strategic UK capabilities will be developed or maintained by this funding. These include:

  • ARK-Genomics at The Roslin Institute - funding to support this national capability in livestock animal genomics. ARK-Genomics investigates the genetic factors that influence yield, food safety, animal production and health. Outputs from the centre feed into breeding programmes of industrial partners.
  • Long-term experiments at Rothamsted Research - funding to support historic and scientifically important long-term experiments, some of which have been running continuously for over 150 years. These experiments provide important insights into the long-term sustainability of various cropping systems, particularly the impacts of intensive agriculture and environmental pollution, on sustainable agricultural systems, especially nutrient cycling, soil quality and plant diseases.
  • The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) will receive investment which will be used to ensure the institute can continue to deploy the latest advanced high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics for the UK bioscience community. The funding will also support the development of new approaches to storing and handling the huge amounts of data these new techniques generate.
  • BBSRC Crop Phenotyping Centre at Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University (IBERS) - investment to establish a new national centre in plant phenotyping. This resource will allow researchers, industry and policymakers to access rapid analyses of different traits in plants and crops that have important industrial and agricultural uses. This will help us to overcome significant bottlenecks in current crop breeding approaches by relating desirable traits to their underpinning genetics.

Funding Totals

The institutes being funded and the total* amounts allocated are:

  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University (IBERS) - £13M
  • The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), Norwich - £19M
  • The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh - £23M
  • Institute for Animal Health (IAH), Pirbright - £38M
  • Institute of Food Research (IFR), Norwich - £29M
  • Babraham Institute, Cambridge - £37M
  • John Innes Centre (JIC), Norwich - £42M
  • Rothamsted Research, Harpenden - £41M

£7M has also been allocated for university grants linked to these institutes.

*Figures have been rounded to the nearest million.

Comments on the funding

Dr Mark Downs FSB, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology, said: "The BBSRC's strategic approach to life science funding has a critical part to play in ensuring the UK maintains its world class bioscience research base. The Society warmly welcomes these investments and the contribution they will clearly make to pushing back the frontiers of knowledge and supporting growth.

"The greatest challenges the world faces, including food security, climate change, loss of biodiversity, the aging population and disease, can all ultimately be addressed through biology-based research. Funding that research is critical to meeting these challenges."

George Freeman MP, Member of Parliament for Mid Norfolk, said: "Britain's BioEconomy, and the Life Sciences which underpin them, are critical to the rebalancing of our economy around a new model of sustainable economic growth. Our BBSRC-funded science base in biomedicine, clean-tech and agri-science - nowhere stronger than here at Norwich Research Park - provides a platform for attracting massive inward investment and unlocking huge export growth to the fast developing world. This announcement is a hugely important sign that the UK Government recognises the importance of our Life Science sector to our economic recovery. I look forward to working as Government's Life Sciences Adviser to help attract the corporate match funding it deserves."

NFU President Peter Kendall said: "It is really good news to see the BBSRC is continuing to invest in our top research institutes and universities which will no doubt yield ideas and results which will benefit the agricultural industry in time. The move to more long-term focused programmes also gives some strategy and continuity to research projects.

"Investment to take the sort of research developed in these programmes out of the lab and turned into practical knowledge and tools that farmers and growers can use to deliver on the ground is crucial."

ENDS

Notes to editors

The funding has been awarded following an extensive and thorough assessment of institute science and associated areas in knowledge exchange and commercialisation, public engagement and strategic human resources. The assessment was made by independent panels of experts and through the advice of BBSRC strategy advisory panels.

The final decisions on funding have been made by BBSRC Council.

All institutes have been awarded an institute development grant in addition to ISPGs and NCGs. This is intended to support institute activities such as public engagement and strategic HR and to give institutes the flexibility to respond to opportunities in the next five years.

All institutes apart from The Roslin Institute and IBERS have been awarded funding to support knowledge exchange and commercialisation. The Roslin Institute and IBERS are embedded in universities and have access to funding and support through the dual support funding system.

The Institute for Animal Health has BBSRC as its corporate trustee. The other institutes are constitutionally independent from BBSRC following changes to their governance in 2011.

About BBSRC

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk .
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes .

Contact

Rob Dawson, Head of News, BBSRC External Relations Unit

tel: 01793 413204