UK life science firms, a growing number of which are based in Norfolk, have attracted £1bn in private sector investment in the last 12 months.

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The figures were revealed by government officials, adding momentum to hopes that the sector is becoming a main driver for the region’s and UK’s economic growth as the country recovers from recession.

Life science companies based in Norfolk include those producing biotechnology, in particular those working in plant and agri-science at the Norwich Research Park (NRP).

News of the investment was published as the government announced a new plan to make the UK a world leader in fighting cancer and other diseases using DNA mapping technology.

Mid Norfolk MP and government life science advisor George Freeman said: “It’s clear that the strength of the government commitment to the life sciences sector has been partly responsible for the level of investor confidence.”

He went on: “This has very real implications for the Eastern region and for Norfolk in particular. Companies like Anglia DNA at the Norwich Research Park are benefiting from that positive investor sentiment.

“The rapid growth, for example, of the Hethell Engineering Centre, a company with a life sciences link, has been very noticeable and is related to the wide recognition of the Eastern region as a life science cluster.”

Meanwhile scientists at the NRP specialising in agri-science were further boosted yesterday when environment secretary Owen Paterson explicitly backed the development of GM crops. Previous ministers have been more cautious in the face of strong opposition.

Mr Paterson said in an interview: “Emphatically we should be looking at GM. I’m very clear it would be a good thing.

“The trouble is all this stuff about Frankenstein foods and putting poisons in foods. There are real benefits, and what you’ve got to do is sell the real environmental benefits.”

The EDP meanwhile has called for a mature debate on the issue, highlighting benefits GM crops could bring as the world seeks to feed a growing population, but also economically for Norfolk, as the county establishes itself as an international agri-science centre of excellence.

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