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UK plant science goes from strength to strength

Copyright: Eva Thuenemann
News from: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
News from: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
News from: The John Innes Centre

UK’s leading global position in bioscience innovation further strengthened as Science Minister officially launches biotech spin out Leaf Systems International Ltd.

Today Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, launched Leaf Systems International Ltd, a spin out company built on the world-leading UK bioscience research that takes place at the John Innes Centre with investment from BBSRC on behalf of the UK taxpayer.

The science behind Leaf Systems was developed, with BBSRC investment, at the John Innes Centre and its creators, Professor George Lomonossoff and Dr Frank Sainsbury, won the BBSRC Innovator of the Year award in 2012.

Leaf Systems use a novel efficient, safe and simple system – Hypertrans® – to quickly produce proteins in plants such as vaccines, antibodies or enzymes. The proteins can then be extracted through crushing the leaves and purifying the product. The speed of the system means that it can rapidly produce large amounts of protein and so it is well suited to rapidly responding to emergencies like pandemics. Other potential uses include producing many proteins at the same time and so creating new biochemical pathways for producing complex ‘bioactive’ molecules such as novel anti-cancer drugs and anti-infectives.

Leaf Systems is part of the Norwich Research Park and joins a thriving research and innovation campus centred on world leading research institutes. It will provide services to companies and research organisations by producing sufficient quantities of these valuable proteins and other natural products to enable research and product development.

Leaf Systems is a collaboration between the John Innes Centre, BBSRC and Plant Bioscience Ltd.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “UK science and research is world-leading and has played a key role in some of the most revolutionary discoveries of our time. Science will be at the core of the Industrial Strategy, maximising its potential to support local growth and drive investment through commercial partnerships.

“This pioneering technology is an example of British ingenuity – using plants to produce flu vaccines will benefit millions of people across the country.”

Professor Lomonossoff said, “The opening of the Leaf Systems facility represents the culmination of many years of research by myself and colleagues into fundamental virology. There is something rather magical about seeing these efforts being translated into the formation of a company, the construction of a building and the potential for great impact”.

Professor Dale Sanders, Director of the John Innes Centre said, “The John Innes Centre attaches priority to the commercial valorisation of our science. Leaf Systems is an excellent example of that prioritisation, highlighting as it does the enormous potential of plant science for both public good and economic growth”.

Chief Executive of BBSRC, Professor Melanie Welham said, “Leaf Systems is the result of long-term strategic investment in UK research and shows the strength of our bioscience community to not only produce ground breaking science but also to harness that knowledge to create new companies, products and services and foster economic growth”

Leaf Systems – potted history:

  • 2007: Funded by BBSRC, John Innes Centre researchers Professor George Lomonossoff and Dr Frank Sainsbury (a PhD student at the time) develop plant-based system for producing useful proteins
  • 2008: Hypertrans research is published in the journal Plant Physiology
  • 2009: A user-friendly Hypertrans vector system, developed by Eva Thuenamann, Frank Sainsbury and George Lomonossoff, is launched
  • 2012: George Lomonossoff and Frank Sainsbury win the BBSRC Innovator of the Year award
  • 2014: BBSRC grant in collaboration with The Pirbright Institute to develop a bluetongue diagnostic (on-going research)
  • 2015: Lomonossoff’s lab win funding to begin developing vaccines against diseases of farmed fish
  • 2016: (March) Announcement of UK Government funding for development of a plant-based Zika diagnostic
  • 2016: (November) Announcement of World Health Organisation funding for a plant-based Polio vaccine, based on work by PhD student Johanna Marsian
  • 2016: (November) National Institutes of Health funding announcement – for rapid development of candidate plant-based vaccines against emerging threats
  • 2017: (January) Leaf Systems launches



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UK plant science goes from strength to strength


BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £473 million in world-class bioscience, people and research infrastructure in 2015-16. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes.


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