Scotland’s bioeconomy can re-tool to support the fight against Covid-19, industry expert


SCOTLAND’s internationally renowned technology and skills in industrial biotechnology could be further harnessed to fight against Covid-19, attendees at one of the world’s leading events on the subject will hear.

Speaking ahead of the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre’s (IBioIC) seventh annual conference, Mark Bustard – the CEO of IBioIC – said that Scotland’s industrial biotechnology companies are pivoting towards drug development, production of reagents for diagnostics tests and the development of biologically-derived materials for use in PPE and sanitiser. Initiatives like this have highlighted Scotland’s opportunity to create stronger local supply chains to support the Covid-19 response.

The fundamental technology and core skills in the industrial biotechnology community – which is aiming to grow to 200 companies with a collective turnover of £900 million by 2025 – could be re-purposed and re-tooled to support Scotland and the UK’s efforts in combatting the disease and any others that emerge, he added.

IBioIC’s conference will be held virtually on February 10th and 11th and has been made free to attend this year, with a focus on the bioeconomy’s role in helping with the Covid-19 response, developing new local supply chains and contributing to national net zero targets.

Among a host of high-profile speakers are Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change; Terry A’Hearn, CEO of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency; Dr Jen Vanderhoven, director of the National Horizons Centre; Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer, director of the Research Centre for Carbon Solutions at Heriot-Watt University; and Ivan McKee, MSP, Minister for Trade, Innovation and Public Finance.

Mark Bustard said: “Scotland has world-leading capabilities in industrial biotechnology – an area that makes use of many of the same fundamental technologies and skills that underpin the development of new drugs, diagnostics and chemicals needed to deal with the current pandemic. There are many companies working with biologically produced products that have anti-viral properties which could be harnessed to help fight diseases like Covid-19.

“The underlying knowledge base we have is exceptional and in times of emergency, like the one we are going through now, it is being used to support the collective response. We have already seen this to a degree, with a range of companies collaborating to quickly make bottled sanitiser when it was most needed at the start of the pandemic.

“However, there is only so much you can do with science – you also need to produce, and significantly scale-up manufacturing operations. That means we will need to create new value and supply chains or, in some cases, make new indigenous supply chains by having resources available locally. We can do that in Scotland with the buildings blocks we already have to work with.”

Some of the innovation centre’s recent projects have included initiatives established in response to the pandemic. One such project funded by IBioIC is looking at antimicrobial matrices and coatings, to support the Covid-19 response with Cellucomp and the James Hutton Institute, which can be used to prevent germs and bacteria from growing on different types of surfaces.

Mark Bustard added: “The high calibre of the experts speaking at our annual conference only highlights the strength of the bioeconomy opportunity in Scotland and the UK. This year the meeting will be hosted online and is being provided for free to reflect the economic challenges businesses have faced. We hope the event will enable a wider demographic of people from industry, public sector and academia to participate in conversations and learn more about the role of biotechnology in the Covid-19 response, as well as in achieving Scotland’s net-zero carbon targets and the fight against climate change.”  

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