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When world-leading science translates into business success

PUBLISHED: 08:30 23 June 2020

Tropic Biosciences has raised $28.5m of investment to push forward its work to save the worlds banana plants from disease; 
pictured are Ofir Meir (left), chief technology officer, and Jack Peart, chief commercial officer  Picture: Tropic Bioscience

Tropic Biosciences has raised $28.5m of investment to push forward its work to save the worlds banana plants from disease; pictured are Ofir Meir (left), chief technology officer, and Jack Peart, chief commercial officer Picture: Tropic Bioscience

Tropic Biosciences

World-leading science and business success go hand-in-hand at Norwich Research Park. Here we look at two science projects which demonstrate the fertile environment it offers growth companies.

Tropic Biosciences is using cutting-edge plant breeding and gene editing technologies to develop a new variety of banana that is resistant to Panama disease    Picture: Tropic BiosciencesTropic Biosciences is using cutting-edge plant breeding and gene editing technologies to develop a new variety of banana that is resistant to Panama disease Picture: Tropic Biosciences

Norwich Research Park is home to 150 businesses, a number of which were born out of research developed at the world-leading institutes located at the Park. These companies have achieved success by translating concepts developed through science research into viable commercial propositions.

Tech company wins funding to develop coronavirus rapid test

The Covid-19 pandemic has mobilised scientists from around the world to work on tests, vaccines and a myriad of preventative and protective solutions. One company at Norwich Research Park has come up with a rapid test for the virus and has secured £50,000 in government funding to take it to market.

Iceni Diagnostics has secured £50,000 of funding to take its rapid test for Covid-19 to market    Picture: Simone DedolaIceni Diagnostics has secured £50,000 of funding to take its rapid test for Covid-19 to market Picture: Simone Dedola

Iceni Diagnostics, has devised a test that is designed to quickly identify people with coronavirus, allowing negative-response individuals to return to their normal work-life activities and those that test positive to enter self-isolation at an early stage of infection which, in turn, should help to prevent the further spread.

The grant comes from an Innovate UK £20m fund that supports the development of ambitious technologies that will build UK resilience against a long-term impact of the outbreak. Iceni’s success in getting funding recognises the track record that it has established since setting up on Norwich Research Park.

Dr Simone Dedola, of Iceni Diagnostics, believes it will help accelerate the development of its test for Covid-19, saying: “In any infectious disease outbreak, it’s important to quickly identify carriers. This is key to controlling the spread of infection. We are developing a test that will provide a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer in 15 minutes. It’s designed to be used in the community with little training.”

The traditional method used to identify a virus is from its genetic material. But, the Iceni Diagnostics’ device uses a different approach; it creates a ‘sugar trap’ for the virus. Viruses recognise their host using chains of sugars, known as glycans, on the surface of a human cell. Iceni Diagnostics exploits this virus-glycan interaction within its novel diagnostics approach.

Dr Simone Dedola said the funding will help accelerate the development of its test for Covid-19     Picture: Iceni DiagnosticsDr Simone Dedola said the funding will help accelerate the development of its test for Covid-19 Picture: Iceni Diagnostics

Iceni Diagnostics has already used its platform technology on the influenza virus, demonstrating how, by modifying the glycans, it could be adapted to identify different strains of the disease such as human influenza, avian flu and equine flu. These insights have enabled the company to modify its technique for the new strain of coronavirus.

Iceni Diagnostics’ technology means that its test is easy to produce and can be scaled up, using established manufacturing techniques and distribution chains. This would allow low-cost devices to be mass-produced to meet the substantial demands for immediate and future coronavirus testing in the weeks and months ahead.

Biotech company secures funding for its battle to save the banana from threat of extinction

The humble banana is the fourth most important crop in the world and the heart of an industry which provides a livelihood for over 125 million people worldwide.

Most of the bananas sold in supermarkets today are of the Cavendish variety, which is currently under threat from the deadly Panama disease. Not only does this disease threaten bananas growing in the field, but its fungal spores can live in the ground for up to 50 years, preventing any more bananas being grown there.

But there is hope for the banana. Tropic Biosciences, a company based at Norwich Research Park, is using cutting-edge plant breeding and gene editing technologies to develop a new variety of banana that is resistant to Panama disease. If successful, this will safeguard the Cavendish banana and millions of livelihoods around the world.

To support its continued growth and innovative work, Tropic Biosciences secured $28.5m (£22.6m) in its latest funding round, announced earlier this month. This is believed to be the largest venture capital funding the UK agri-tech sector has ever witnessed, demonstrating the importance of Tropic Bioscience’s work and of Norwich as one of the global centres of excellence for plant science.

Tropic Biosciences chose Norwich Research Park for its headquarters because of the concentration of plant science expertise at institutes such as the John Innes Centre, The Sainsbury Laboratory, and the University of East Anglia. It currently employs 60 people and is looking forward to growing the team in Norwich as the company moves towards international field trials.

Chief executive officer, Gilad Gershon, said: “We’re delighted to have secured funds that will enable us to grow our business and commercialise resistant varieties of banana and coffee. We will also be using the funds to expand our presence here in Norwich. The UK is a good location for a business with global operations and we particularly like Norwich due to its great connectivity, strong local schooling system and ability to attract the world’s best in plant and genetic science.”


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