Blog December 2013 – Nick Turner

Blog December 2013 – Nick Turner

During the past 3 weeks I have attended three conferences in Europe, each dealing with various aspects of sustainable chemistry, industrial biocatalysis/biotechnology and synthetic biology. The first conference was the EcoChem meeting in Basel where the Swiss Industrial Biocatalysis Consortium (SIBC) hosted a one day seminar on 20th November focussing on current trends in biocatalysis and synthetic biology. The SIBC is a group of seven pharmaceutical/fine chemical companies based in Switzerland and includes Roche, Novartis and Syngenta amongst others. The meeting was jointly organised by our own Andy Wells together with Hans-Peter Meyer from Lonza and included talks from Bernhard Hauer, Jurgen Hansen (Evovla) and yours truly. At the end of the day there was a very interesting and stimulating panel discussion meeting during which a variety of topics were debated including the possibility of establishing a virtual European Centre of excellence in Biocatalysis. The panel also discussed at length ways in which biocatalysts might be both more rapidly developed and made available to those who wished to screen them in the pharmaceutical industry. Availability of an increasingly diverse toolbox of biocatalysts is rightly seen as a critical issue in the further uptake of biocatalysis in industry and of course is one of the challenges that is being addressed within the CHEM21 consortium. Another major CHEM21 theme, which I presented and which received considerable discussion, was that of ‘biocatalytic retrosynthesis’ – it was generally agreed that any future guidelines for retrosynthesis should simultaneously address recent developments in not only biocatalysis but also transition metal catalysis and organocatalysis.

On the following Monday 25th November I travelled to Malaga where I met up with Toni Glieder at the 2nd European Federation of Biotechnology Applied Synthetic Biology Meeting. This meeting reminded me that ‘synthetic biology’ can mean something very different depending upon your interpretation of this diverse field. In fact the meeting was more focussed on the development of circuits, chassis, host systems etc. with many very interesting presentations. I would strongly encourage younger scientists within CHEM21 to keep an eye open for details of the 3rd meeting in this series since it represents an excellent opportunity to network with like minded people and also present some of your work to a diverse audience.

Finally last week I spent three days in Brussels from 1st – 4th December attending a series of meetings relating to EU FP7 projects, particularly BIONEXGEN, which will soon finish at the end of January 2014, and BIOOX which started very recently on 1st October 2013. Both programmes involve multiple academic and industrial partners and both are managed by CoEBio3 at the University of Manchester. On the 3rd December we organised an outward facing one-day event in the Crowne Plaza aimed at disseminating many of the results from various EU FP7 programmes which we have been involved with. Again the day concluded with a very interesting panel discussion chaired by John Woodley from DTU Copenhagen. On this occasion the panel contained strong representation from SMEs involved in Industrial Biotechnology including Prozomix, CLEA technologies and Bioprodict. SMEs are seen as being vitally important by the EU in the future growth of IB within Europe and indeed the new Horizon 2020 programme, which will soon issue the first calls for proposals, presents many opportunities for the involvement of small and medium-sized companies. H2020 has a strong Industrial Biotechnology component and during the day we heard from both EuropaBio and a project officer from the EU regarding plans for allocation of the funds over the period 2014-2020.