Scottish biotech firms are set to benefit thanks to a national £847,000 investment into a ‘fermenter’ – to help transfer lab science to industry-ready processes.

The 300-litre capacity equipment will enable scientists to test new bio-based products in the FlexBio scale-up facility based at Heriot-Watt university in Edinburgh.

The funding, awarded to the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) through Scottish Enterprise, supports the purchase and installation of the machinery.

The new equipment at FlexBio will address a key missing component in Scotland’s innovation infrastructure and provide first-of-its-kind support to biotechnology businesses, enabling them to scale up.

There is currently limited access to ‘open access’ facilities across the UK, with none in Scotland for businesses to use.

Many bio-based products fail to make it to market because of the challenges associated with transferring laboratory-based science to an industry-ready process. However, infrastructure such as large-capacity fermenters is a huge expense for aspiring bio-based manufacturing companies. 

Overcoming this well-recognised ‘valley of death’ for industrial biotechnology is a strategic area of investment for the Scottish Government and a key pillar of the nation’s drive towards net zero by 2045. 

Since the IBioIC FlexBio bioprocessing scale-up facility was launched in 2016, it has supported over 60 projects, up to a capacity of 30 litres. The new funding will enable the team to offer up to 10 times that volume, and support Scottish biotech companies with local access to the equipment and skills that they need to de-risk their innovative biotech processes.

Mark Bustard, CEO of IBioIC, said: “This funding will make a big difference in terms of the support we are able to offer businesses looking to scale up their processes. Combined with our years of experience at FlexBio supporting a range of early-stage ideas, the 300-litre fermenter will enable us to offer greater assistance to aspiring biotech companies, anchoring them in Scotland. With critical scale-up infrastructure available for companies to use, we can boost growth in the wider bioeconomy, helping a range of sectors get closer to net zero.”

Innovation Minister Richard Lochhead said: “Now home to more than 200 companies with a turnover of nearly £800 million a year, Scotland has a growing reputation in industrial biotechnology. The Scottish Government, together with our economic agencies, are committed to supporting this high-tech, high-growth industry continue to develop and excel.

“This investment will help more businesses overcome the scale-up challenge of turning lab-based science into industry-ready products, and I look forward to it helping encourage further innovations and advancements in the coming years.”