Medical Technology

Synthetic biology start-ups in the UK – going from strength to strength

By James Hallinan - Last updated: Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The launch later this week of SynbiCITE’s UK Synbio Start-up Survey 2017 is a timely opportunity to recap on some of the most exciting developments in British Synthetic Biology.  The UK has a fantastic record in Synbio, second only the USA in terms of the number of startups and magnitude of investment that they have raised.  Other countries around the world are starting to wake up to the potential of Synbio, and the recent government panel at SB7.0 in Singapore gave a great overview of this trend.

This success was first shown last year in the Synthetic Biology Start-ups in the UK and worldwide report (PDF),  commissioned by the UK Synthetic Biology Leadership Council.  The continued health of the sector can also been seen in other initiatives such as the Synbio accelerator programs in Scotland and London.

indexThe BioStart accelerator programme, hosted at SynbiCITE had its final awards last week, in an event that paid tribute to the range of ideas and solutions to challenging health, environmental and industrial problems.  The winning project from Customem, who provide water-purification Synbio membrane technologies, was compelling for the judges who included the former chair of GSK, Sir Richard Sykes and Dr Hayaatun Sillem, Deputy CEO & Director of Strategy at the Royal Academy of Engineering.  Another technology with environmental impact was the Synbio-based fabric dyeing process from Colorifix which won second prize.logoText

Cambridge Consultants were delighted to be associated with the BioStart competition by acting as mentors to some of the teams.  The growth of the sector has been explosive, and one of the best indicators of its health was that many of the team presenting at the awards had already had their first revenue-generating customer orders – a big change from traditional biotech!

The UK’s strength in this sector is due to a variety of factors, ranging from long-term government support (the UK government identified Synthetic Biology as a priority back in 2013 – see https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/eight-great-technologies), a great academic community, savvy investors dedicated to Synbio investments (such as the Rainbow Seed Fund) and a significant number of publicly-funded Synthetic Biology Research Centres distributed around the country.

All-in-all, the UK remains an excellent place to set up a SynBio start-up.  We need to be conscious though of the need to retain the benefits of top-quality academia, supportive government policy and a good and approachable investor community, especially as more and more countries around the world start to get excited about the possibilities that the Synbio revolution is bringing.


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AuthorJames Hallinan


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