SCOTLAND's renowned industrial biotechnology sector is switching its focus to initiatives which will create stronger local supply chains to help the battle against Covid-19.

Already many are moving towards drug development, production of reagents for diagnostic tests and developing biologically-derived materials for use in PPE and sanitiser.

Mark Bustard, CEO of the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC), was speaking ahead of the organisation’s annual conference, which will be held virtually on February 10 and 11.

It will focus on the bioeconomy’s role helping with the response to coronavirus, developing new local supply chains and contributing to national net zero targets.

Among a host of high-profile speakers are Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, Terry A’Hearn, CEO of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Trade and Innovation Minister Ivan McKee.

Bustard said the basic technology and core skills in the industrial bio-tech community – which is aiming to grow to 200 companies with a £900 million turnover by 2025 – could be re-purposed and re-tooled to support efforts in combatting the disease and any others that emerge.

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“Scotland has world-leading capabilities in industrial biotechnology – an area that makes use of many of the same fundamental technologies and skills that underpin the development of new drugs, diagnostics and chemicals needed to deal with the current pandemic,” said Bustard.

“There are many companies working with biologically produced products that have anti-viral properties which could be harnessed to help fight diseases like Covid-19.

“The underlying knowledge base we have is exceptional and in times of emergency, like the one we are going through now, it is being used to support the collective response.

“We have already seen this to a degree, with a range of companies collaborating to quickly make bottled sanitiser when it was most needed at the start of the pandemic.”

One of IBioIC’s recent projects established in response to the pandemic looked at antimicrobial matrices and coatings, which can be used to prevent germs and bacteria from growing on different types of surfaces.

Bustard added: “However, there is only so much you can do with science – you also need to produce, and significantly scale-up manufacturing operations.

“That means we will need to create new value and supply chains or, in some cases, make new indigenous supply chains by having resources available locally. We can do that in Scotland with the buildings blocks we already have to work with.”