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How science moves from the research lab to real life

PUBLISHED: 08:57 14 August 2019

Partial to a cup of coffee or a banana? Tropic Biosciences is working on banana and coffee plant varieties that are resistant to diseases that threaten to wipe them out.  Photo Getty Images

Partial to a cup of coffee or a banana? Tropic Biosciences is working on banana and coffee plant varieties that are resistant to diseases that threaten to wipe them out. Photo Getty Images

©Tim Gray

Norwich Research Park has already built a global reputation for conducting world-leading research in the food and health sectors. Its science is focused on delivering real-life applications that change people's lives, so it has created an environment for businesses to develop the research into commercial ventures. Here we take a look at three of them.

Iceni Diagnostics is working on unlocking the sugar code to find new ways to diagnose and treat disease. Picture: IceniIceni Diagnostics is working on unlocking the sugar code to find new ways to diagnose and treat disease. Picture: Iceni

Iceni Diagnostics - cracking the sugar code

Every type of cell in our body has a unique sugar coating. Whenever anything such as bacteria or a virus invades the body it needs to interact with this sugar code. The sugar code is very complex, so Iceni Diagnostics is developing ways to unlock it to offer new ways to diagnose and treat disease. It has recently patented a simple dipstick test to indicate the type of flu virus present without the need for a laboratory.

One key application for this test is a screen for Equine Flu, which caused havoc with the racing calendar earlier this year. The test can be performed in stables and used to confirm racehorses are uninfected before race meets, preventing the spread of this economically disastrous disease. Iceni Diagnostics was co-founded in 2014 by Professor David Russell CSO, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at UEA and Professor Rob Field CEO, Honorary Professor of Chemistry at UEA who also works at the John Innes Centre.

Iceni Diagnostics benefits from close interactions with experts in different disciplines across Norwich Research Park, along with access to the extensive range of specialist equipment it offers.

Iceni Diagnostics was co-founded in 2014 by Professor David Russell CSO and Professor Rob Field CEOIceni Diagnostics was co-founded in 2014 by Professor David Russell CSO and Professor Rob Field CEO

It is currently in the process of raising funds to continue its growth and is keen to remain in Norfolk as it grows.

Leaf Expression Systems - delivering drugs quickly and cost effectively

Leaf Expression Systems is a specialist in plant-based expression and the production of proteins, antibodies, enzymes, vaccines and complex natural products for research and commercial applications. It works with companies to develop and scale-up the production of their products and intermediates and also with academic scientists to translate their science into scalable processes, or to develop new enabling technologies, including as a collaborator on grants.

Leaf Expression Systems specialises in producing proteins, antibodies, enzymes and vaccines for research and commercial purposes. Picture: Leaf Expression SystemsLeaf Expression Systems specialises in producing proteins, antibodies, enzymes and vaccines for research and commercial purposes. Picture: Leaf Expression Systems

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Leaf was founded in 2015 following the development of the Hypertrans® system by Professor George Lomonossoff and Dr Frank Sainsbury at the John Innes Centre, when funding was secured through the BBSRC. It was one of the first companies to spin out of one of Norwich Research Park's institutions and in 2017 moved into a specially designed state-of-the-art facility.

Norwich Research Park has offered a number of key benefits to Leaf. Firstly, it is at the heart of plant-based science in the UK, with institutions such as the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory on the doorstep, not to mention its accessibility to other major scientific hubs. This allows for a pool of talent and a wealth of knowledge being readily accessible that is essential for growth.

Leaf has ambitions to grow further and expand its capabilities so that it will be able to manufacture products for clinical use. This will require a larger facility, which it expects to be located at Norwich Research Park.

Tropic Biosciences - safeguarding the future of bananas and coffee

Tropic Biosciences was the first spin-in company at the John Innes Centre. Founded in 2016, it is looking to change lives through its research into tropical crop development with the aim of preserving and protecting some of the world's most vital food crops.

By 2030, over 50pc of the world's population will be living in the tropics. By 2050, 90pc of the global growth in food demand will come from the tropics. This creates an unprecedented need for more productive and environmentally-friendly agricultural production.

Many crops grown in this region are now facing severe disease pressures that threaten their economic viability. This will dramatically reduce the availability of basic food supplies and have a devastating effect on the people living in the tropics.

To address this dire situation, Tropic Biosciences is using advanced genetic breeding technologies to develop new, high-performing commercial varieties of banana and coffee plants that are resistant to these diseases. The work being conducted by Tropic Biosciences will ultimately safeguard the future of these crops, ensuring sustainable sources of food globally, and increased income for people in the tropics. Tropic Biosciences expects that it will take about five years for its varieties to come to market.

The Norwich Research Park was identified as the ideal location for the establishment of Tropic Biosciences for a number of reasons. These include access to highly-trained researchers with the right skills and talents, the high-quality facilities and equipment available and the supportive environment for growth. Tropic Biosciences anticipates growing from its current level of around 35 staff to 50 in 2020.

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