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First meeting of UK science champions to cement UK leadership in safe, responsible biology breakthroughs

By September 15, 2023No Comments

The UK’s global leadership in the safe and responsible use of engineering biology will be driven forward by the first-ever meeting of the UK Biosecurity Leadership Council, bringing together some of the UK’s brightest minds from the worlds of science, research and business met on Thursday.

Engineering biology is one of the most exciting new frontiers in science. It describes the application of rigorous engineering principles to biology, enabling the construction of new or redesigned biological systems, such as cells or proteins. It has the potential to change the way we grow food, create medical treatments and produce the sustainable fuel we need to run our cars, homes and offices.

The UK Biosecurity Leadership Council will help shape the way advances in engineering biology are governed, to guard against potential risks whilst ensuring the UK’s world-leading biology, health and life science innovators are supported to explore, invent, and continue to thrive.

Engineering biology is one of the 5 critical technologies, which are all being nurtured by a single government department for the first time because of their strategic importance to the future prosperity and security of the UK. The UK’s engineering biology sector has the potential to grow at tremendous speed, driving forward the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy.

The council will include representatives from top Universities like Kings College London and Cambridge, leaders from companies such as GSK, Deepmind, AstraZeneca and Oxford Nanopore, and stakeholder groups including the UK Bioindustry Association, and the Centre for Long-Term Resilience.

Ahead of chairing the council’s inaugural meeting, George Freeman, Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology said:

“We are on the cusp of an engineering biology revolution, from therapies for previously untreatable illnesses to entirely new ways of recycling. This is an opportunity the UK is primed to capitalise on, whether by our world-leading expertise in life sciences or through the more than £170 million the government is investing in the field.

“We are already seeing how this new sector can benefit our economy, with the UK founding more biotech companies than anywhere else in Europe. To make sure this position of strength delivers jobs, growth, and a better quality of life for all, now is the time for us to set the pace globally on how this new sector will be governed, empowering responsible innovation in the UK and worldwide.”

To begin with, the UK Biosecurity Leadership Council will support work on how the responsible development of DNA-based technology should be governed. Members of the council will help ministers and officials build their understanding of how industry-changing tools like AI and new techniques for engineering DNA are being used, the potential risks they pose, and how those can be mitigated in a practical and proportional way.

Establishing the council was one of the objectives on the UK Biological Security Strategy, published in June, which sets out the government’s overall plan to build our national resilience to future biological threats, whilst establishing the UK as a world leader in responsible innovation.

The government is continuing to develop wider policy to support the huge potential of the UK’s engineering biology sector, and a call for evidence is still open until the end of September. Further to this, the latest in a series of roundtables is being hosted by Ministers today, bringing science leaders and businesses from across the country together with policymakers to look at how engineering biology can boost the UK’s chemicals and materials industries.