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Strategic Plan: World-class bioscience

Maintaining the UK's position as a global leader.

UK bioscience ranks with the best in the world (ref 1). We will keep it that way by funding high quality research and training across our remit. We will foster and support world-class institutions which are engaged internationally and have access to state-of-the-art facilities. A robust, modern and outward facing research base, which meets user and societal needs, is essential to derive the greatest impact from the public investment in science.

BBSRC has a major role in supporting the training of PhD students, funding more than a quarter of all bioscience PhD students in the UK. Over 40% of BBSRC studentships are co-supported with industry. Image: iStock/Thinkstock

High quality research and skills

Excellent research and excellent people are cornerstones of BBSRC's strategy. We will operate flexible and efficient funding streams from small, pump-priming or proof-of-concept studies through to strategic longer, larger programmes of research. Responsive mode funding continues to be a high priority, enabling us to support the best ideas from the best people, and providing vital agility to respond to emerging areas.

Our funding for a broad range of bioscience will be balanced with an appropriate degree of focus on priorities where we can have the most impact and maintain crucial capacity. We will focus research and training through mechanisms such as highlight notices in responsive mode, Research and Technology Clubs and targeted studentships.

Developing and retaining a diverse community of highly skilled researchers is vital to the strength of the science base and to attracting industries and investment to the UK. We will invest in the research skills base, supporting and developing researchers throughout their careers from PhD to high-level leadership through our studentships and fellowships programmes (see Strategic Plan: Enabling theme 1 – enabling innovation).

Maintaining key capability – molecules to systems

Since 2003 BBSRC has driven predictive, integrative and systems approaches in bioscience at a range of scales from molecules to agricultural landscapes. Our major investment has positioned the UK as a leading nation for systems biology, and this Strategic Plan develops that trajectory further (see Strategic Plan: Enabling theme 2 – exploiting new ways of working).

Fundamental research by Professor Sir Martin Evans (Cardiff University) and colleagues led to the development of a gene knockout technology which won the Nobel Prize for Medicine/Physiology. This technique has enabled scientists to study novel aspects of mammalian physiology. Image: Cardiff University

Maintaining strength in core underpinning disciplines such as molecular, chemical, cellular and structural biology is a high priority. Major breakthroughs in recent years, including those recognised by Nobel Prizes awarded to UK scientists, have depended on basic cellular and molecular research. Our strength in these disciplines also provides many of the detailed parameters that make systems modelling possible.

BBSRC-funded research and training drives discovery of new leads for drugs or prevention strategies through improved understanding of biological mechanisms underlying normal growth and development. Our bioscience helps sustain the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries in the UK, where the flow of ideas, skills and key capabilities between academia and user sectors provides mutual benefit.

World-class institutions and facilities

To remain internationally competitive in bioscience, the UK must have the highest quality research environments in our universities and institutes.

We provide strategic funding to eight institutes, which provide critical national capability and expertise in strategically important areas. These are central to delivering our vision and priorities both in the short to medium term and in maintaining long-term capabilities. The institutes are also central to BBSRC's research and innovation campuses strategy, supporting the UK's innovation ecosystem (see Strategic Plan: Enabling theme 1 – enabling innovation).

MRSA bacteria. Dr Kari Lounatmaa Science Photo Library
MRSA bacteria. Image: Dr Kari Lounatmaa/Science Photo Library

BBSRC will continue to foster excellence across the university bioscience research base. Furthermore, we will build on our strategic partnerships with key universities that have strengths in our priority areas so that we can deliver advances in these areas more efficiently.

Strength through partnerships

We cannot achieve our ambitions for bioscience on our own. Modern bioscience is becoming increasingly 'big' science, requiring multidisciplinary, multi-centre and multi-funder efforts. We will facilitate national and international links with the best researchers and organisations in the world to gain access to knowledge and facilities, which add value and leverage our own funding for greater impact. We will work closely with industry and other users to support the translation of BBSRC science into practical applications.

Public engagement and dialogue is a vital part of our partnerships strategy (see Strategic Plan: Enabling theme 3 – partnerships). The full impact of bioscience will not be realised unless society is engaged; we will provide opportunities for learning about and discussing BBSRC-funded research.

Copyright: IBERS
The National Plant Phenomics Centre at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences. Research at this BBSRC-supported national centre will help to develop new plant and crop varieties to tackle global challenges such as climate change, food security and the need for better, more efficient biofuels. Image: IBERS/Aberystwyth University

Key priorities

  • Ensure UK bioscience has a broad and robust research base – strong in core disciplines, skills and infrastructure
  • Drive excellence through researcher-led projects and programmes, giving high priority to responsive mode funding
  • Balance the breadth of our research and skills funding with specific focus on strategic priority areas
  • Support key facilities and national capabilities in institutions and promote wide research community access
  • Ensure our funding meets the challenges of modern bioscience to deal with multidisciplinary grant applications, larger programmes of work and the development of new tools and resources
  • Maintain strength in core underpinning disciplines such as molecular, chemical, cellular and structural biology, as well as key strategic areas, such as plant, animal and microbial sciences, particularly where BBSRC is the main public funder
  • Continue to stimulate wider use of multidisciplinary, systems and predictive approaches to bioscience
  • Ensure that engagement with industry, other users and the public influences BBSRC's science strategy and capacity


  1. International comparative performance of the UK research base 2013
    Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)