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Strategic Plan: Enabling theme 1 – enabling innovation

Maximising the impact of our science and skilled people in boosting the UK economy, informing policy and improving quality of life.

BBSRC is working to maximise the social and economic benefit of the research it funds. We will achieve this in partnership with other Research Councils and the Technology Strategy Board by supporting the development of key skills in our scientists, increasing our understanding of users' needs, supporting impact and innovation from research, and promoting knowledge exchange and translation. We will also drive culture change so that the bioscience community recognises and optimises the impacts of research, to benefit the economy and the public good.

Research Industry Clubs are highly successful in delivering strategic research and skills needed to drive growth in major industrial sectors. The Bioprocessing Research Industry Club (BRIC) skills development school, devised by BRIC industrial members, enables PhD students and post-doctoral scientists to learn industrially-relevant skills and develop commercial awareness, helping to train the next generation of bioprocessing researchers. Image: iStock/Thinkstock

Skills and capabilities

Highly skilled researchers are vital for a strong science base, and for attracting and supporting knowledge-intensive industries and investment in the UK. We have particular responsibility for the skills base around our three strategic research priorities, and will foster innovative public-private sector training partnerships (through our industrial training strategy) to address skills and career vulnerabilities in these areas.

Modern bioscience often involves the co-ordination of large, multidisciplinary research teams and interactions with a variety of project partners and stakeholders. BBSRC will support high-quality PhD training to ensure new researchers develop the necessary breadth of skills, including leadership and management, the ability to communicate research outputs and ethical awareness. We will promote understanding of knowledge exchange and the wider opportunities for engagement through professional internships for students.

It is not only PhD students that require broad-based training; all early-career researchers must develop a range of skills. We will drive culture change in the employment of postdoctoral researchers to support their career development and movement between sectors.

BBSRC will continue to encourage interdisciplinary research and training, recognising that many of the most exciting advances in biology will occur at interfaces with other disciplines. As bioscience becomes increasingly quantitative, there is also an urgent need to raise the mathematical and computational skills of biologists at all levels.

Case study: Translation

Building on basic research undertaken during a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship, Dr Andrew Almond (The University of Manchester) developed a new computational technology to improve the efficiency of drug discovery by speeding up the screening of new compounds. A BBSRC/RSE Enterprise Fellowship and two BBSRC Follow-on Fund awards enabled Dr Almond and this spin-out company C4X Discovery to commercialise his platform technology. In 2012, AstraZeneca signed an agreement to use C4X Discovery’s technology across their pre-clinical drug discovery programme. Image: Dr Andrew Almond/C4X Discovery

Strong links between research and teaching are crucial in attracting the best students into research careers. BBSRC will explore schemes to raise the profile of research in undergraduate degrees, and engage more at school level to ensure that students are equipped with the practical and mathematical skills required for higher education in science and related subjects.

Knowledge exchange and translation

BBSRC has a responsibility to support successful translation of ideas, knowledge, skills and technology arising from research into practical applications that benefit the UK economy and society.

The time-course from basic research to application can be long (often more than 10 years) and the routes to application are often diffuse and diverse. There is also evidence that ideas are sometimes not matured sufficiently within the research context to ensure successful translation. BBSRC, in partnership with other funders, will develop a better understanding of the various routes and barriers to translation in different sectors. We will seek to deliver innovative solutions, focusing not only on intellectual property but more broadly on intellectual assets. We will also increase support for people in translational roles, and develop enterprise skills in researchers.

Successful translation requires a two-way flow of knowledge and expertise between academia and users of research. We will use existing and new mechanisms to enhance knowledge exchange, in particular to encourage movement of people.

Promoting innovation

BBSRC sustains a high quality research base that supports innovation in important UK business sectors including agriculture, food & drink, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, chemicals and biotechnology. Discovery and production activities in these industries depend on scientific advances in the academic community. BBSRC seeks to understand the most critical bioscience challenges facing industry and create opportunities for engagement between academia and industry. This ensures that the research and training we fund promote innovation and generate impact.

BBSRC has established the Innovator of the Year, Activating Impact and Excellence with Impact awards to encourage a culture change in the recognition of impacts arising from research. Dr Ryan Donnelly was named BBSRC Innovator of the Year 2013 for his work developing hydrogel-based microneedles for drug delivery and non-invasive blood monitoring. Image: Tim Gander

We will increase the range and depth of our interactions with business, building on successful partnership models such as our Research Industry Clubs but also exploring new opportunities and mechanisms for joint working.

We will also work to develop, and promote internationally, the UK research and innovation campuses associated with the BBSRC strategically-funded institutes, building on the successes seen at the Babraham Research Campus and Norwich Research Park.

These approaches to supporting the interaction between academia and industry contribute significantly to the UK innovation ecosystem. In partnership with other bodies such as the Technology Strategy Board, we seek to ensure that innovation can flow effectively between all parties within this ecosystem, bringing together the research base, SMEs, large companies and other partners, with the objective of supporting innovation from UK bioscience, leading to impact through these businesses and value chains.

Culture change

BBSRC is driving significant culture change in encouraging and recognising a broad range of impacts from bioscience research. We intend to build on this by developing innovative ways to capture, reward and celebrate impact. The benefits will include fostering meaningful public and schools engagement, as well as generating excitement about the social and economic value of research, and the contribution made by bioscience (see also Strategic Plan: Enabling theme 3 – partnerships: Engaging with society).

We will develop incentives and rewards that are applicable across all types of research organisations, and which recognise achievements at individual and institutional levels. We will also engage with the implementation of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), to ensure that this framework drives a culture change in the recognition of the wider impacts arising from research.

Key priorities

  • Strengthen the wider skills of scientists at all levels and explore opportunities to further develop these skills by spending time outside of academic research
  • Prioritise training of bioscience researchers, particularly around our three strategic priorities and in the development of mathematical and computational skills
  • Develop the BBSRC-associated research and innovation campuses, driving economic growth, impact and innovation from bioscience
  • Underpin the research needs of business by supporting Research and Technology Clubs and other innovative models for working with business
  • With the Technology Strategy Board and others, support translation of bioscience to commercial application, further strengthening the UK innovation ecosystem and enabling connectedness between the research base, SMEs and larger companies
  • Ensure that ideas and technologies are incubated for sufficient time within the research base to enable effective translation, including through enhanced Follow-on Fund schemes
  • Enhance opportunities for the exchange of knowledge, technology and people between the science base and user communities
  • Recognise, reward and disseminate the impact of bioscience research and translation and help to embed this culture change in the bioscience community