Dr Laura Bellingan FSB is Director of Science Policy at the Society of Biology.
This evening, the Society of Biology will host their Biology Week Reception at the House of Commons. This follows the Society’s experts’ participation in panel discussions, arranged by the Science Council, at the three main political party conferences this season.
Labour Party Conference
Dr Curtis Dobson, Director of the Medical Device Biology group and Enterprise Coordinator at University of Manchester, brought his first-hand experience of building a successful biotech business on the foundation of his basic neurobiology.
The twelve-year genesis of his first enterprise convinced Curtis that if we are to fully realise the social and economic potential of our research, our researchers need practical support and assistance in the complex task of translating the science and building a business. Even though subsequent spin-outs have been more rapid, indicating a better overall environment, the need remained his top priority for whoever is elected in 2015. As BBSRC Enterprise Champion for 2013 his is an important perspective. The macro statistics of the value of science to the economy and society is built of many such building blocks, each has to succeed to achieve the overall outcome.
Conservative Party Conference
At the Conservative Party Conference Professor Tim Dafforn, Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Synthetic Biology at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Professor of Biotechnology at University of Birmingham, also highlighted the need to provide practical support to researchers, where time and funding were key.
He said that resource is a major issue; the lack of time academics have to sufficiently develop the commercial aspects of new ideas, along with appropriate finance in the early stages of the commercialisation process was hindering the potential of future bio-technology spin outs. Tim also spoke of the need to work collaboratively to train researchers with entrepreneurial skills; since there is a lack of skilled entrepreneurs required to launch enterprises successfully from the knowledgebase. As an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Tim aims to develop a fuller understanding of these challenges over the next 12 months. He will be discussing these issues with over 400 researchers, and learn from them how to formulate new strategies to catalyse the translation of life sciences research.
Liberal Democrat Party Conference
At the Liberal Democrat meeting in Glasgow, we were represented by Professor John Coggins, Council Member of the Society of Biology and Emeritus Professor of Molecular Enzymology University of Glasgow. John has a special interest in knowledge transfer and in science education and communication.
At the meeting he championed the importance of funding for specialist training to fill crucial skills gaps in STEM. He highlighted the need for new models of capital investment in infrastructure and equipment that allowed the time necessary for returns, and that this may need to be incentivised. Alongside every high tech infrastructure-dependent project there are highly skilled people needed to run and maintain vital kit, and such expertise is in short supply and poorly encouraged. Procurement policies were raised here too and different models discussed including that of the US government.
The Science Council meeting series titled ‘Creating jobs and wealth from investment in science and innovation: ensuring everyone benefits’ brought diverse audiences and key MPs to each event and alongside the Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Institution of Chemical Engineers.