NEW investment by the Scottish Government in the country’s industrial biotech sector aims to create 1400 jobs by 2023 and boost the economy by £130 million.

The national Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) will receive funding of £11m over the next five years. It will support the centre’s mission to drive the sector forward through a partnership of business and academic know-how.

Industrial biotechnology is the use of biological sources to produce or process materials, chemicals or energy. Over the next five years, IBioIC – which has more than 100 members, including multinationals and micro-enterprises – will focus on key areas including leadership, accelerating commercialisation and creating a skilled workforce.

This phase will be overseen by Professor Dame Anne Glover, below, the new chair of the IBioIC governing board. The respected biologist has a wealth of experience in science, technology and championing innovation in the economy. She told The National it was good news for IBioIC members and the Scottish economy, but she admitted to having some worries over Brexit and access to the €12.6m (£11.2m) in European funding which the sector attracts.

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“I think we all have a concern because we have been tremendously successful in securing that funding,” Glover said: “I don’t know any more than anyone else what we’re going to end up with but we will be working very hard – the innovation centre is and I am, along with others – to try to make clear to the UK Government the value of being able to access European funding around supporting our industrial base through to the commercialisation step.

“In the event of a no-deal Brexit, we would have a problem because there would not be third-country participation in any future Horizon Europe projects. There would be an issue because there wouldn’t be natural funding for our SME community, which is particularly vibrant in Scotland and the UK around industrial biotech.

“We are continually talking about this and the value of ensuring that we have a good constructive and inclusive deal around being able to access that funding.”

Glover said IBioIC’s second phase will focus on industrial engagement and how a broader supply chain can become involved in industrial biotech – using biological sources to produce or process materials, chemicals or energy.

“Really demonstrating to them the value of being involved, bringing them into the network, making introductions and so on, and I’m fairly confident we can do that,” she said.

“Similarly, if you have a burgeoning and growing new industry, you need to have government policies in place to support it, so what we need to do is paint a picture of the future, think about what the scenarios might be and talk with colleagues in government around policy making about what we need to do now to be able to take advantage of innovation and to minimise an unexpected consequences.

“It’s prudent and it safeguards investment if you can think ahead, because most of our industry requires some certainty in that area.

“I’d like to see bigger companies coming into IBioIC, being members and coming in with their investment, so I think we need to target that.

“The majority of our members are not based in Scotland, so we’ve had a wide impact. That’s something we need to focus on because it can be quite transformational.”

Glover said the target of 1400 new jobs was realisable, and added: “I’m not sure that we aren’t being slightly conservative because if you look at before the innovation centre was there, there was activity but it wasn’t networked, we didn’t produce the platform of support across the board for companies.

“We didn’t have an easy way for knowledge to come from those generating it to those who can actually translate it into the economy, so all that has happened. If you plot it on a graph and look at the curve it’s going into more exponential growth, so I think with a high level of confidence we can say that given our success so far we can deliver this and I think we would be genuinely pleased and maybe not surprised if we do a lot better.”

One of the companies involved in IBioIC is 3F BIO. Its work harnesses the protein-producing power of the smallest organisms on the planet to create more, with less. Its chairman, David Robertson, said the funding announcement was “fantastically exciting” for the biotech sector and a show of confidence by the government and funding bodies and an accolade to the innovation centre’s work.

“I think it’s creating fruits that are already tangible,” he said. “Even before I became involved, IBioIC were looking at the ideas that 3F BIO’s founders had and the fact that IBioIC was in Glasgow was essential to get the proving for the concept done without spending lots of money. But the access to the skills, equipment and facilities in IBioIC allowed that rapid proving that gave us confidence to move forward and saying ‘the idea works, what can we do with it?’.”

The additional funding was confirmed yesterday by Ivan McKee, Scotland’s Minister for Trade, Invest- ment and Innovation. He said: “Today’s investment from the Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise builds on the £120m already invested in Scotland’s eight innovation centres, which are already having a transformational effect on our economy.

“Scotland has the natural resources and infrastructure that make it the perfect place for industrial biotechnology to thrive, bringing significant economic benefits.”