NPL and Imperial College London Launch a New Virtual Lab to Establish the UK Centre for Engineering Biology, Metrology and Standards

  • Posted on 8 November, 2017

NPL, the UK's National Measurement Institute (NMI), and SynbiCITE at Imperial College London, have announced the establishment of a new £7 million virtual lab to underpin their joint Centre for Engineering Biology, Metrology and Standards to help the UK synthetic biology industry improve the manufacturing and adoption of new products - in partnership with LGC and NIBSC.

The virtual lab is a new collaboration between institutes undertaking world-leading research in biological measurements, which positions UK as a global leader in the industrialisation of synthetic biology: NPL, LGC, the UK's National Measurement Laboratory for chemical and bio-measurement, NIBSC, and Imperial College London's SynbiCITE, the UK's National Industrial Translation Centre dedicated to the commercialisation of synthetic biology. This new lab will develop and provide relevant reference materials and methods in the form of a toolbox aiming to improve the reproducibility of research results that will help convert innovation in synthetic biology into valuable products and services.

The lab is part of £17 million of new government funding announced by The Chancellor of the Exchequer two weeks ago to help translate the UK's scientific expertise into real life treatments, and will focus on accelerating the application of synthetic biology in life sciences.

As a burgeoning sector, synthetic biology cuts across different concepts, capabilities and technologies which need validating before they are ready for commercialisation. There are also many variables to factor in when looking to scale-up the production of a synthetic biology product. All of these need to be referenced to standards to provide certainty in the consistency of the product performance, and confidence in the ability to measure and evaluate key performance parameters. These are the main attributes in deciding which products are adopted, and ultimately commercialised, by industry. Establishing industry-led measurements and standards will safe-guard the quality and safety of products, and allow companies to maintain competitiveness and enhance innovation. This innovation hub will further engage with industry to help transform high-value manufacturing into high-value products that will deliver economic and societal benefits.

This timely and critical investment will support the development of exactly these capabilities. Industry confidence in the higher order biological reference materials that are developed will be ensured through their validation and certification by the UK's National Measurement System (through NPL, LGC and NIBSC). Applications that will benefit most include advanced therapies such as gene, cell and regenerative therapies, as well as the discovery and manufacture of new antibiotics.

Each collaborating institute will offer its individual expertise to assist the UK in becoming the world leader in the industrialisation of engineering biology. As the UK's NMI, NPL provides the framework, facilities and expertise to enable measurements at the molecular, cellular and sub-cellular levels to be reproduced with confidence. LGC and NIBSC will provide specialist expertise in biological standardisation, in the form of genomic and bioactivity measurements, respectively.

Dr Michael Adeogun, Head of Life Sciences and Health at NPL, said: "A key point in the government's Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, launched in August, is the need for the development and quick adoption of innovative drugs and therapies. Synthetic biology offers great opportunities here but requires underpinning measurement to ensure that new products are realised and can be commercialised more quickly. Much as good measurement is vital to ensuring fair exchange of physical goods, it is also integral to establishing the same trusted exchange of knowledge, and therefore is an important factor in accelerating access to new innovations. NPL is delighted to announce the first phase of establishing the UK Centre for Engineering Biology, Metrology and Standards, to achieve this."

Professor Paul Freemont and Professor Richard Kitney, Co-Directors of SynbiCITE at Imperial College, said: "The new centre is part of a wider collaboration with the NPL, LGC and NIBSC in Engineering Biology, Metrology and Standards. Synthetic Biology/Engineering Biology has, since 2013, been recognised by the Government as a key area for economic growth - for example as an important driver of the bioeconomy. We view the development of new metrology and standards for the field as being essential for effective industrial translation - through accurate reproducibility, coupled to high levels of reliability. The partnership with NPL (including LGC and NIBSC) is seen as being an essential step in this process."

About NPL

NPL is the UK's National Measurement Institute, providing the measurement capability that underpins the UK's prosperity and quality of life.

From new antibiotics to tackle resistance and more effective cancer treatments, to unhackable quantum communications and superfast 5G, technological advances must be built on a foundation of reliable measurement to succeed. Building on over a century's worth of expertise, our science, engineering and technology provides this foundation and helps to make the impossible possible. We save lives, protect the environment and enable citizens to feel safe and secure, as well as support international trade and commercial innovation. As a national laboratory, our advice is always impartial and independent, meaning consumers, investors, policymakers and entrepreneurs can always rely on the work we do.

Based in Teddington, south-west London, NPL employs over 500 scientists and is home to 388 of the world's most extensive and sophisticated laboratories. NPL also has regional bases across the UK, including at the University of Surrey, the University of Strathclyde, the University of Cambridgeand the University of Huddersfield's 3M Buckley Innovation Centre.

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