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Innovative Spin-outs PfBIO and MVPea turn science into business

14 June 2023

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Two companies that spun-out of institutions at Norwich Research Park are translating their research into businesses that protect crops from disease and improve our diets to protect against Type 2 Diabetes.

How PfBIO helps to create sustainable agricultural practices

Pesticides are being withdrawn from the market because of their detrimental environmental impact. We need to move away from pesticide-dominated agriculture to more sustainable and eco-friendly farming.

PfBIO is a company based at Norwich Research Park that produces bacteria-based products to promote plant health and protect crops from major agricultural diseases that will offer alternatives to synthetic agrochemicals.

It has developed a platform, known as BioSIFT, which helps to identify the best natural biocontrol bacteria strains for the creation of their bioproducts. Bacteria are collected from the natural environment and then selected for their ability to antagonise plant-pathogens (organisms that cause disease to their hosts), protect specific crops and improve crop yield and soil quality. Because each strain of bacteria is different, the scientists at PfBIO also work out the best way to formulate them in a product – whether liquid, powder or a different form – to facilitate its application and storage.

This process enables the development of treatments tailored to specific crops and diseases that are not harmful to humans, plants, animals or the environment.

PfBIO received a grant of £15,000 from Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP, the organisation that runs Norwich Research Park, to get the business up and running. The company has also secured another £50,000 grant from Innovate UK to develop a prototype product to test in field trials. The first products will focus on strawberries and other berries, with subsequent products targeting crops including potatoes and cereals.

Strawberries are particularly susceptible to fungal and fungus-like diseases, such as crown rot and grey mould (much like when they are left in the fridge for too long). The heavily pesticide-dependent crops are sprayed weekly with synthetic fungicides, but this has to change.

PfBIO’s unique intellectual properties include its discovery platform and the formulation of its bacteria-based products. In the short term, biological treatments will not completely replace chemical pesticides, but their integration in agricultural practices will help reduce both farmers’ dependencies on their use and the risk they pose to the environment.

PfBIO CEO Rosaria Campilongo, who was previously a researcher at the John Innes Centre, said: “The results collected from PfBIO’s food consumer surveys suggest a growing acceptance of bioproducts based on beneficial bacteria for crop protection and an increasing public awareness of the need for more sustainable alternatives.

“We are currently focused on creating a bacteria-based product to protect berries and, because Norfolk is blessed with many strawberry farms, we would dearly like to conduct our field trials here. If all goes well, we expect to have a product ready for market in about two years.”

How MVPea harnesses the nutrient value of peas

A spin-out company from the John Innes Centre is looking to use the humble pea to create a range of healthy snacks and ingredients that could help people with Type 2 Diabetes.

Global diets have seen a huge rise in the consumption of easily digested high-sugar foods which cause sharp spikes and rapid falls in glucose levels. Excessive consumption of these foods can lead to an increase in diet-associated diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, placing large social and economic strain on our health systems.

MVPea, a new company based at Norwich Research Park, is looking to unlock the potential of pea-based products to provide healthier food choices. It was set up by a group of post-graduate students from the University of East Anglia (UEA) who collaborated with the John Innes Centre, the Quadram Institute and Imperial College London.

MVPea is looking for investment to scale up its activities and bring three projects to market. The first is a roasted, coated whole pea snack which is currently at the prototype stage. MVPea is also collaborating with the Norwich University of the Arts (NUA), which is providing expertise in consumer research and branding.”

The second project will develop a pea that can be supplied to the canning and frozen market and the third will develop pea-based instant noodles for a local charity.

MVPea co-founder Fame Nardwattanawong said: “Norwich Research Park is a fantastic place for us to establish ourselves. Having UEA and the other world-leading research institutes on the same campus gives us the opportunity to develop our products more quickly.

“We have great people to collaborate with and excellent facilities alongside the support we receive from Anglia Innovation Partnership.”

Benefits of virtual tenancy

Both PfBIO and MVPea are virtual tenants at Norwich Research Park, benefiting from a profile-raising address, a low-cost, low-commitment, high-value launch pad for their businesses, high-quality facilities with access to work space in Centrum and its café and the ability to hire meeting rooms. It enables them to apply for pre-seed funding and be active participants of the campus community with invitations to an extensive event programme.

CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP Roz Bird said: “It’s fantastic to see two more companies emerge from the research conducted here at Norwich Research Park. The research in agribiotech, food biotech and industrial biotech that takes place here creates many opportunities for collaborations that will translate the science into tangible solutions that can help improve the lives of people around the world.

“We are starting to build a pipeline of next-generation companies which have either emerged from the research conducted on the campus or from entrepreneurs looking for collaborations and partnerships. Our aim is to maximise the research activity taking place through our campus-wide enterprise strategy and business development activity, creating a wide range of jobs and contributing to the local, regional and national economy.”

If your business would benefit from a virtual tenancy, you can find out more here or email alexia.mlynarska@norwichresearchpark.com

Main and left image of Dr Rosaria Campilongo, CEO of PfBio and by Phil Robinson. Right image of MVPea Co-founder Fame Nardwattanawong by MVPea.

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