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New programme aims to put the spotlight on region’s growing bio-economy

PUBLISHED: 08:29 01 September 2017 | UPDATED: 08:29 01 September 2017

David Russell, left, chief scientific officer, and Rob Field, chief executive of Iceni Diagnostics at work in their lab. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY.

David Russell, left, chief scientific officer, and Rob Field, chief executive of Iceni Diagnostics at work in their lab. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY.

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A new programme aims to connect businesses and scientists to put Norfolk and Suffolk at the heart of advances in health, agriculture and material technology.

GoBio has been launched to bridge the gap between biotechnology research and 
the commercial market, with the goal of boosting supply and demand for East Anglian products.

The project, which has initially been funded as part of the European Regional Development Fund-backed Innovation New Anglia project, will link firms through workshops and discussions as well as supporting them by promoting their 
goods and working with supply chains.

Norfolk and Suffolk are home to some world-leading research institutions including those at Norwich Research Park, as well as a strong agricultural heritage, while the government earlier this week announced £160m investment in the £64bn life sciences sector.

Major businesses in the region such as British Sugar are already using biological processes to generate income from waste products, taking excess heat from factories to grow cannabis plants for medical use.

GoBio, which is being led by Hethel Innovation alongside the University of East Anglia and University of Suffolk, has identified 10 areas of opportunity. They include building a biomass innovation chain to generate higher value from agricultural products, creating bio-based composite materials and fighting antimicrobial resistance.

GoBio lead Aaron Hunter, sector development manager for biotech and bioeconomy at Hethel Innovation, said: “There is already a bioeconomy here in Norfolk and Suffolk but it could be, and will be, so much bigger if we can all work together. That is something we want to not just talk about but implement.”

Offering examples, Mr Hunter said he had helped software 
firm AAH Software to work in 
the health sector and was 
aiming to put together composite material firms with bio-material experts to build on the areas strength in sports car manufacturing.

GoBio, which has worked with 200 researchers and is supporting 12 businesses, said the bioeconomy employs 25,000 
people in East Anglia – with 
more than 300,000 in related industries. A 2015 report estimated industrial biotechnology and bioenergy generated £2.9bn of UK sales.

A blooming bio-business

Med-tech firm Iceni Diagnostics – which works in areas being targeted by GoBio – was founded after researchers at two of the region’s leading academic institutions joined forces.

Profs David Russell and Rob Field turned their research at the University of East Anglia and John Innes Centre respectively into a dipstick test for viruses and diseases such as flu and cholera – reducing the need to send samples to a laboratory.

Using gold particles and carbohydrates, the pair hope to help fight superbugs by the early and easy diagnosis of different microbes – preventing the wrong antibiotics being prescribed – and reduce the spread of disease, which frees up hospital beds.

Norwich Research

Park-based Iceni Diagnostics, which has had its tests used at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, works in sub-sectors identified by GoBio including antimicrobial resistance and biomedical diagnostics.

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