From purple tomatoes to technology that can reduce sight loss, Norwich Research Park’s Enterprise Wednesday event shone a light on the ground-breaking businesses based at the Park.
Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP, the science park management entity at Norwich Research Park, held the first in a series of events to showcase its research and commercialisation activity, and to encourage the whole business community to engage with scientists and researchers working there.
The event, dubbed ‘Enterprise Wednesday’, held on Wednesday, February 22, featured talks from many of the Park’s entrepreneurial researchers and ground-breaking businesses.
It highlighted the many opportunities that Norwich Research Park offers new companies, whether they are spin-outs, spin-ins or start-ups and raised awareness to the whole business community of the benefits of engaging more with the organisations on the Park.
A number of the new businesses to emerge have spun out of the institutions on the Park, translating their science breakthroughs into fully functioning businesses.
Norfolk Plant Sciences
A spin-out from the John Innes Centre, Prof Cathie Martin MBE presented the business she and her colleagues have developed to grow purple tomatoes, which are high in antioxidants with widely-recognised health benefits, much like blueberries. They established that eating two purple tomatoes a day can provide significant health benefits.
Norfolk Plant Sciences received US approval last year to grow and sell its purple tomatoes, juice and seeds, so that people can grow them in their own gardens.
HotHouse Therapeutics is another John Innes Centre spin-out. Prof Anne Osbourn OBE told the audience how it is harnessing the chemistry capabilities of the plant kingdom to discover and develop new compounds for pharmaceutical, agrochemical and other uses using AI technology.
It has the ability to rapidly identify and isolate entire biosynthetic pathways from plants and reconstruct them in other plants in a rapid and scalable manner.
This will help to provide commercial production systems for natural products, where the natural source is not sustainable or commercially viable, improve current versions and enable the discovery and development of new bioactive compounds, and develop treatments for conditions like cancer and diseases like malaria.
Nitrogen is the most important nutrient for crop development, yet half of all nitrogen fertiliser applied on farms is lost. Nitrogen fertiliser is a good investment for farmers as it helps to increase yields, improve grain quality and therefore farm income, but they need tools to manage its application.
Under the leadership of Prof Tony Miller at the John Innes Centre, a new technology has been developed that continuously measures nutrients in the soil.
It is being developed by spin-out company PlentySense, which has patented a sensor that enables farmers to optimise the application of the nitrogen fertiliser using data, especially for wheat and potatoes.
PlentySense hopes to start selling the sensors and its advisory service in 2025.
PulseON Foods is a spin-out of the Quadram Institute. Dr Cathrina Edwards spoke about its aims to bring the health benefits of pulses – a great source of fibre and protein – into a range of foods thanks to an innovative new ingredient called PulseON®.
Flours made from pulses can make healthier alternatives to refined cereal flours. Research found that the conventional milling process to make such flours damages the cell wall structures that are the source of some of the benefits.
So, the company developed a patented alternative milling process to produce PulseON® that preserves more of the natural benefits of the whole cell fibre structure.
PulseON® flour can improve the nutritional value of staple foods, including bread, pasta and snack products, providing slow-release energy and beneficial resistant starch and fibre to the gut microbiome.
The audience also heard from three established businesses about how they have achieved success.
Colorifix is pioneering a new way to manufacture natural and sustainable dyes for the fashion industry thanks to its ingenious biological technology that’s capable of reducing the environmental impact.
It engineers microbes that produce, deposit and fix biomolecules onto surfaces. Sophie Vaud, head of microbial engineering, explained that while its current focus is on pigment-producing microbes for the textile industry, the technology can be applied to a broader range of material industries.
Last year, it raised funds of £18m to expand its operations and has grown its Norwich workforce. It is now working with several clothing brands and retailers such as Pangaia and H&M to incorporate its dyeing techniques into their processes.
Leaf Expression Systems
Leaf Expression Systems (Leaf) is another company that has an established presence at Norwich Research Park. It specialises in producing high-value proteins and biomolecules in the leaves of plants for use within research and product development for the lobal life sciences, consumer product, agribiotech and cellular food industries.
Leanne Williams, Leaf’s business development manager, explained that its plant-based expressions technology, called SupraVec, offers a robust alternative to traditional systems for producing therapeutic drugs, diagnostics and vaccines, and can help tackle the delays that typically occur in delivering complex biomolecules quickly and deliver much-needed treatment to market faster and more affordably.
Leaf has developed a number of new partnerships including working with the alternative protein industry (lab-grown meat and non-animal derived dairy protein), where it can produce the essential active ingredients without the need for animals.
Ikarovec specialises in developing novel gene therapies aimed at reducing sight loss. Its technology targets clinically proven components of the disease in combination with a factor to improve efficacy or address unmet aspects of the pathology.
Andy Osborne, head of biology, explained Ikarovec’s current pre-clinical research programmes with a focus on age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the leading causes of worldwide blindness.
Ikarovec is developing ‘one-shot’ therapies for patients with early-stage AMD, in addition to a treatment for patients who have already progressed to the more severe, late-stage pathology.