December UKI2S Digest


Headlines: CRISPR Ethics. Life Science Sector Deal Announced.

CRISPR: Chinese research scientist, Dr He Jiankui, has claimed that twin girls born in November were genetically altered using CRISPR. If true, these are the first humans born with CRISPR-edited DNA that can be inherited by their children. The DNA coding for the CCR5 cell receptor, which HIV uses to infect cells, was changed to prevent this. The news rocked the scientific world, as these experiments have largely been deemed unethical on humans. It is not yet clear if Dr He will face criminal charges.

Bioeconomy: This has been a long time coming. The Government has finally announced their Life Science sector deal (2018-2030) as it ties in with their overall industrial strategy and other sector deals. It reiterates the value of the bioeconomy (£220 bn), highlights numerous case studies of past success and shines light on the future of the growing bioeconomy. The BIA has welcomed the publication, noting a £1 bn R&D investment from member company UCB.

Policy & funding: Science Minister Bails Over Brexit. Bristol Meets Max Planck.

Brexit: Sam Gyimah has resigned the post of UK Universities Minister following uproar over the proposed deal between the UK and EU. He cited the UK’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the Galileo GPS system following Brexit has part of his reasoning. He has been replaced by Chris Skidmore, previously an adviser to Lord David Willetts, architect of the “Eight Great” technologies. On the proposed deal, Wired has a nice overview of how the draft deal treats data protection, IT and science. Notably, ITER and nuclear research go unmentioned.

Partnership: The University of Bristol and the Max Planck Society in Germany will form the new Max Planck-Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology. The move sees an interdisciplinary research team from engineering biology, chemistry and biochemistry backgrounds working key areas of nanoscale biology, artificial protein engineering and biomedical genome engineering. Partnerships like this may become more common as researchers in the UK struggle to maintain links to EU funding sources post-Brexit.

Science: Bottom-Up Biology. Penny for Your Genome?

Engineering biology: In a field that goes by many names “bottom-up biology” is a new one to me. Nature presents a special on bottom-up biology – synthetic/engineering biology/biodesign to you and me. Key research papers feature around a theme of building life from scratch, with special emphasis on super-stretchy cells.

Genome: The $1000 genome’s days are numbered. 6.4 bn base pairs make up the human genome, the four-letter code that defines our unique human blueprint, but tallying them is an expensive process. The genome sequence obtained in the Human Genome Project cost $2.7 bn, now Veritas Genetics will do it for $199 a pop for a limited number of customers, highlighting that the $100 genome is within reach. New and exciting base pairs are also under development leading to new drugs and research.

Events: Space Sector’s Big Boom. The Rocky Road to China.

Space: The UK’s Space Sector is thriving with news from the RAL Space Conference that the Harwell Space Cluster has grown by nearly 20% in the past year. Oxford Space Systems also caught Prime Minister Theresa May’s eye with their AstroTube Boom device at the Farnborough Air Show.

China: The BioCentury Healthcare Summit, a networking event, saw CEOs, investors and other interested parties come together in Shanghai. The BioIndustry Association and Department of International Trade held additional meetings around the event, and two UKI2S portfolio companies attended the summit. CHAIN Biotechnology’s Chief Executive, Dr Edward Green, gave a presentation, as did Dr Peter Pack, CEO of Crescendo Biologics.