Liina and I were lucky enough to attend Synbiobeta Activate! last week, an event to formally launch the UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology at the University of Edinburgh. An excellent line up of speakers were well received by an audience composed of both academics and companies. “Bio geeks” and “Business geeks” (as one speaker coined) coming together to celebrate the growing synthetic biology commercial ecosystem.
John Cumbers of SynBioBeta opened the event, highlighting the growing market for synthetic biology -over half a billion dollars has been raised this year by synthetic biology companies compared to $75 million in 2009. John is the founder of Synbiobeta, a community of entrepreneurs, investors and synthetic biology enthusiasts committed to growing the field of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is an emerging area of research redesigning existing natural biological systems-essentially engineering biology.
The first short talk was by David Venables, CEO of BioQuarter company Synpromics. David described the company’s business; delivering synthetic promoters for custom made gene regulation and expression. These synthetic promoters allow higher levels of protein expression, a significant increase on the normal standard levels for the bioprocessing industry. Synpromics has recently received a £2.1 million investment from Calculus Capital, showing there is an appetite here in Scotland for investment in synthetic biology companies.
Ingenza, based at the Roslin BioCentre ,also gave a short talk about their inABLE technology for DNA recombination. This novel technology increases the efficiency with which genetic constructs can be combined and rearranged to create new biochemical pathways. Jason King of Oxford Biotrans finished off the short talks. Oxford Biotrans uses cytochrome p450s to produce flavours and fragrances, and the company has raised £2.5 million this year.
I particularly enjoyed the panel session, where the speakers included John Collins of SynbiCITE, Oliver Sexton of Rainbow Seed Fund and Susan Rosser of the University of Edinburgh. Susan highlighted the need for more doctoral training centres focusing on synthetic biology, which could contribute to producing a synthetic biology ecosystem of scalable companies here in the UK. The panel echoed my thoughts in that doctorates should include an option for students to receive entrepreneurial training. John Collins stressed the need for young companies to have experienced business mentors, and this mentoring forms part of his work at SynbiCITE.
I can see that Scotland could produce more successful synthetic biology companies, and the new Centre For Mammalian Synthetic Biology should contribute to producing the next generation of entrepreneurs in this field and raise the profile of synthetic biology as an area to invest in.