A NEW £1.7 million development at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University is the first of its type in the UK and is poised to make inroads into a sector that’s forecast to bring £900 million into the Scottish economy by 2025.

Known as FlexBio, the Flexible Downstream Bioprocessing Centre will allow hundreds of UK businesses to scale up – migrate their processes from the lab to a pilot or commercial scale prior to investment – without outsourcing them abroad.

FlexBio – part of the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) – is plugging a UK-wide gap in the provision of such facilities at this size, and is offering many services that are not available elsewhere in Europe.

It will focus on research and projects that are ready to scale up and which need facilities to carry out trials at a commercial level.

Ian Archer, technical director at IBioIC, said: “We are delighted to be cutting the ribbon on the site following an intensive build project over the past two years.

“The centre opens a wealth of possibility for industry in Scotland and the wider UK, and we would like to encourage applications to use the centre from every sector.

“There will be a technical team available to help non-experts fully utilise the centre, so we hope to see some truly unique and cutting-edge projects come from the facility.”

Industrial biotechnology is a young and growing sector within Scotland, and a Scottish Enterprise report last year said global estimates of its value by 2025 ranged from £150 billion to £360bn.

It uses enzymes and micro-organisms to make bio-based products in sectors ranging from chemicals and detergents to animal feed, paper, textiles and bioenergy. The processes involved use renewable raw materials and it is seen as one of the most promising and innovative approaches to helping lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the research and many of the projects are based on new concepts, and have to be tested before they can become commercially viable.

To save on high testing expenses, organisations try to use communal centres that offer the necessary equipment, but many are having to take their work abroad as there are no such facilities in the UK.

The end result is that many new concepts are developed elsewhere in Europe after firms form links in the countries where their concepts are tested.

This new facility will be flexible enough to cover all types of industrial bioprocessing, and already there has been interest in using FlexBio for projects from therapeutic antibodies and skincare products, to commodity chemicals and bio fuels.

IBioIC has also opened the Rapid Bioprocess Prototyping Centre at the University of Strathclyde, which houses the most advanced technology available to assess the potential of new cell lines, bio-products or novel approaches to bioprocessing.

The two centres attracted total investment of £2.7m from the Scottish Funding Council, Heriot-Watt and the University of Strathclyde, and will support a £30m research programme planned by IBioIC over the next five years.

This is aimed at providing significant opportunities for Scotland to increase its competitiveness in the global industrial biotechnology market.