The growing strength of East Anglia’s science sector

UEA Science

UEA Science - Credit: UEA

Over the centuries, East Anglia has produced its share of agricultural pioneers in the field.

Professor George Lomonossoff, with the Nicotiana benthamiana plants (related to the tobacco plant),

Professor George Lomonossoff, with the Nicotiana benthamiana plants (related to the tobacco plant), that he is working on at the John Innes Centre, to develop vaccines. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

From Turnip Townshend to Coke of Holkham, their creative thinking brought about a farming revolution.

The setting may have changed, but the dedication to innovation has not, with world-leading work now taking place in the region's laboratories.

And scientific research is a growing force in our economy: this week East Anglia's life-sciences strength will form a key part of a pitch to potential investors at the MIPIM UK property showcase.

At Norwich Research Park, the number of science-based businesses has almost doubled in the past year, along with the number of jobs in the sector.

Science's impact on the region.

Science's impact on the region. - Credit: Archant

Already more than £100m a year is invested in ground-breaking research at Norwich Research Park, supporting 3,000 highly skilled jobs.

The park has developed what it calls a 'research to revenue' path for developing breakthroughs commercially – and has plans for significant growth, with industry leaders telling of commercial heavyweights eyeing up Norwich as a centre for investment.

Most Read

It comes as the first city-wide Norwich Science Festival launched yesterday at The Forum, with two weeks of events putting science in the region in the spotlight.

Dr Sally Ann Forsyth, chief executive of Norwich Research Park, said Norwich was producing world-leading research through top institutions such as the John Innes Centre, Earlham Institute, the Sainsbury Laboratory and Institute of Food Research. She said: 'It is still early stages: we are still a start-up. Our aim is to start companies, help them grow and encourage inward investment.'

Dr Forsyth said the park has planning permission for a number of sites if the right investment can be found, and has hopes of more commercial activity coming in the future.

She said: 'A couple of really commercial companies are showing an interest in the park. They are attracted by the research and facilities and having the university so close helps too.'

The research park takes in the University of East Anglia and Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital as well as the four scientific institutions, giving it a wide remit and reach.

Dr Forsyth said one of its strengths was being able to do initial research in the laboratory and then take that to the hospital bedside only a mile away. She said: 'There are definitely fields that we are number one in the world in.

'One of the unique things about the research park is the spectrum from agri-bio to medical – to be able to go from the bench right the way through to the bedside with the hospital just a short distance away. You have got research to revenue and there is room to grow.'

Each year more than £100m, from bodies such as the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council and the European Commission is ploughed into research across the park.

It is estimated that by 2026 the research hub could create 5,600 high-value jobs, in sectors such as agri-tech and bio-sciences, as well as generating more than 15,000 jobs in supporting sectors if investment can be found for the 1,720,000 sq ft available.

For Professor George Lomonossoff, who has worked at the John Innes Centre for 36 years, the integration of the different sectors and institutions has helped boost the region's scientific output.

He said: 'I think the expansion [is a result of] reaching a critical mass and not just being something in isolation.

'You can do things in collaboration with related institutions or that a single institution cannot do on its own.

'You can share expensive equipment you wouldn't otherwise be able to get hold of.'

Are you boosting Norfolk's research strength? Write to