First-steps for ambitious new Centre for regulated bio-manufacture

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Picture caption: A high-resolution microscope image of a pancreatic islet, the cellular structures responsible for insulin secretion.
Picture caption: A high-resolution microscope image of a pancreatic islet, the cellular structures responsible for insulin secretion.

A new multi-million-pound Centre set to host the next-generation of ‘living medicines’ has taken its first steps towards becoming a reality.

The Centre for Regulated Bio-Manufacture (CRBM) is a major R&D project spearheaded by Heriot-Watt University in collaboration with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS), the University of Edinburgh and a cluster of biomedical companies in the Lothians. It has today (Tues Aug 11) been awarded funds by UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Strength in Places Fund to develop plans to secure a further £30 million from UKRI later this year.  

If advanced, the Centre will host first-class training facilities and a suite of new laboratories to develop innovative bioengineering, which exploit future ‘living medicines’ relying on tissues, cells, or products from cells, such as antibodies. This area of expertise has come under sharp focus of late as the world strives to manufacture new vaccines and treatments for infectious diseases and conditions including diabetes. Currently, suitable facilities for learning, research and pilot manufacture – designed for innovation and risk-taking research in a ‘regulated’ environment - do not exist.

This ambitious project underlines the University’s ability to combine its unique expertise with those of our partner organisations, in order to deliver a state-of-the-art facility capable of advancing biomedicine.

Professor Richard A. Williams, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Heriot-Watt University

Professor Rory Duncan, Senior Academic Lead for Strategy and Development at Heriot-Watt University has been instrumental in the application to the Strength in Places Fund prior to starting his role as Director for Talent and Skills at the UKRI late last year. The ambitious plans are now being led by Professor Marc Desmulliez from Heriot-Watt’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS), who has since been appointed project lead.

Professor Duncan today welcomed the news, saying: “Heriot-Watt has world-leading clinical trials, biologic manufacturing and advanced therapies expertise clustered on our doorstep. Several of these long-standing employers started as Heriot-Watt spinouts. Combined with our own globally recognised biological chemistry, biophysics and bioengineering, this Centre will act as a focal point to help create over 400 additional jobs in a market expecting to grow from £1Bn in 2018 at a rate of 36.5% per annum to 2025.”

The CRBM is proposed by a consortium spanning academia and business, and led in partnership with the SNBTS, part of NHS Scotland, with close working links with the University of Edinburgh including researchers in the field of diabetes at the centre for cardiovascular science. 

It is earmarked for construction on a vacant plot of land in Heriot-Watt’s Edinburgh campus, close to the new SNBTS Jack Copland Building.

If approved, the Centre will contribute to Scotland’s ambition to double the Life Sciences sector turnover to £8Bn by 2025 and will act as a focus to consolidate an advanced therapies, biologics and manufacturing cluster around Heriot-Watt in the Lothians.

Professor Richard A. Williams, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Heriot-Watt University, said: “This ambitious project underlines the University’s ability to combine its unique expertise with those of our partner organisations, in order to deliver a state-of-the-art facility capable of advancing biomedicine. 

“It also highlights Heriot-Watt’s position as at the forefront of working towards solutions for the betterment of communities around the world while providing jobs for 21st Century Healthcare.”

In total, 17 consortia spread across the UK have received awards through the Strength in Places Fund. Each project builds on local strengths in industry and research to create significant economic impact, drive local growth, provide skills training and create high-value jobs.  

UKRI lead on the Strength in Places Fund, David Sweeney, said: “Strength in Places is a flagship fund for UKRI. We welcome the focus of the R&D Roadmap in unlocking economic opportunities around local economy in more places around the UK.  

“I am delighted with the range of bids funded across the UK in the second wave of Strength in Places that will foster the local ecosystems to support innovation and sustained growth and strengthen collaboration between industry and our world-class research base.”

The CRBM is currently preparing its bid and interacting with researchers and Companies across the Lothians, which are engaged in the living medicine, biologics, devices and diagnostics product pipeline.   

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