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Norwich Research Park showcases latest industry collaborations

20 March 2024

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Norwich Research Park showcased its latest collaborations with industry at its Enterprise Tuesday event held on Tuesday 5 March at the John Innes Conference Centre.

The event theme was ‘Problem solving through collaboration’ and featured a number of presentations by newly formed businesses that have emerged from research on the Park, a keynote speech from Innovate UK and a panel debate on ‘Preventative medicine, early intervention and healthy ageing’. The event was organised by Anglia Innovation Partnership, the science park management company at Norwich Research Park and was sponsored by Marks and Clerk LLP, a leading global intellectual property (IP) firm.

Representatives from three collaborations to the stage to present their results:

Tackling the Virus Yellows disease that threatens the sugar beet industry – a collaboration between the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO), Tropic, an agricultural biotech company, the John Innes Centre (all based at Norwich Research Park) and British Sugar.

Dr Mark Stevens of BBRO and Dr Perry Bateman of British Sugar, outlined the project that that was established following a workshop that was part of Anglia Innovation Partnership’s Explorer Forum programme.

The project is investigating opportunities to safeguard sugar beet from the threat of a disease called Virus Yellows, by employing a gene editing technology platform developed by Tropic to enable the crop to develop a natural resistance to the disease.

Having identified that a budget of £1m was required to create the gene editing programme, the team was successful in securing a grant of just over £660,000 from Innovate UK’s Farming Futures R&D Fund with the balance funded by British Sugar, Tropic and the John Innes Centre.

Dr Kirsty Culley, Science Collaboration Manager, Anglia Innovation Partnership, said, “There is so much ground-breaking research being undertaken at Norwich Research Park which we believe can be harnessed to solve some of the key global challenges we face by establishing collaborations with industry. By bringing together all the expertise to explore the possibilities our research can offer has proved to be a highly valuable exercise as the Virus Yellow project demonstrated.”

Sustainable fish packaging and 3D printed food – collaborations between UEA and entrepreneur John Farley

John Farley and Prof Sheng Qi, Professor of Pharmaceutical Material Science & Technology and Associate Dean for Innovation (Faculty of Science) at UEA, introduced two companies that have emerged from this partnership, both of which have established themselves at Norwich Research Park.

iBoxit has developed an alternative, environmentally-sustainable packaging for the transportation of fish and seafood that uses a mix of existing plastic and a plant-based composite. The new transportation box maintains the same thermal properties as the expanded polystyrene boxes, that are currently used, but is fully recyclable and reusable with a shelf life of 10 years. It has the potential to drastically reduce the use of expanded polystyrene globally.

It is the development of this new packaging that has earned iBoxit a nomination for the Earthshot Prize in the Build a Waste-Free World category. iBoxit was nominated for the Earthshot Prize by the team at ClimateUEA. UEA’s stature in the sustainability sector is highlighted by it being in the global network of distinguished organisations chosen as official nominators of the Earthshot Prize. Each year it is asked by the organising committee to invite prospective companies to submit an entry. Its team assesses each entry and follows a robust process to produce a short list which it passes to the Earthshot Prize judging committee. Companies who make it that far are regarded has having a very real proposition that could have a significantly positive impact on the future of the globe.

Natalie Porter, Executive Officer, ClimateUEA, said, “It is really satisfying that we are able to again nominate a truly innovative company from Norwich Research Park for consideration for the Earthshot Prize. Its nomination was gained from it being able to demonstrate just how scalable its packaging is across different industries, the long shelf-life of its products and the sheer amount of waste that it will reduce. It is a really good example of academic researchers working with people from the business world to get their ideas off the ground and turned into real and sustainable businesses. We wish them, and our other nominated companies, the best of luck for the next round of judging.”

Ediform has developed a method to create 3D printed food that can be loaded with nutrients, proteins, vitamins and flavour to deliver healthy food to places where people need it such as hospitals, care homes, deprived areas and locations of the world suffering from floods or drought.

The manufacturing process creates a paste from potatoes that can then be shaped, have texture added to it and flavoured. When the paste is printed it holds its form well so won’t fall apart. The result is food that is easy to eat and digest enabling the nutrients to get absorbed into the bloodstream quickly.

Designing an infection-resistant chest drain – a collaboration between the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), Quadram Institute and UEA

Dr Eleanor Mishra, a Consultant Respiratory Physician at NNUH, explained how her research has led to the development of a new approach to reduce infections when treating patients with pleural effusions – fluid that builds up in the space between the lung and the chest wall.

This condition is normally treated by inserting a permanent silicon drain into the chest, called an IPC. Dr Mishra’s research showed that about 5% of these drains get infected. Working with Prof Mark Webber of the Quadram Institute, they found that bacteria form biofilms on the silicon surface of the drains which then lead to infection and make the condition difficult to treat.

Once this was identified, they worked with UEA’s Prof Qi to develop novel silicon surfaces that are biofilm-resistant to help reduce infection rates. Dr Mishra is now collaborating with RocketMedical, a UK company which makes IPCs, to ensure that the team’s design is commercially viable.

A panel discussion on ‘Preventative medicine, early intervention and healthy ageing’ featured Prof Anne-Marie Minihane, Director of the Norwich Institute for Healthy Ageing, Dr Pedro de Noronha Pissara, CEO of Chrysealabs, Dr Tony Jones, CEO, One Nucleus, Prof Sheng QI, UEA, and Prof Martin Warren, Chief Scientific Officer at the Quadram Institute talking about the role nutrition plays in healthy ageing.

Prof Minihane presented some stark statistics that are concerning. Life expectancy in the UK has fallen for the firs time in 125 years; the UK as the lowest healthy ageing life expectancy (HALE) in Western Europe; more than 50% of those aged 45 or older have at least one long term health condition; there is a 19 year difference in HALE between the most deprived and affluent populations.

The keynote speech was made by Dr Stella Peace, Executive Director for Healthy Living and Agriculture at Innovate UK, who outlined how Innovate UK supports business-led innovation in all sectors and technologies.

Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership, said: “There is a massive potential for ground-breaking business ideas to emerge and develop from collaborations between the research community at Norwich Research Park and industry. Our campus-wide Enterprise Strategy, launched in 2022, is now paying dividends in producing a number of validated business ideas that, through adopting innovative methods, will address some the of the key societal challenges we face as a nation and as a world.

“These events are a really good way to highlight the genuinely fantastic opportunities that exist here and the importance of nurturing new businesses. Our unique combination of top-class facilities, access to funding and ease of collaboration means we can fast-track ideas to become viable start-up or spin-out companies.”

Another Enterprise Tuesday event is being planned for some time in June, and you can register for our newsletter or keep an eye on our events page to stay updated about that as it gets promoted.

To see more photos of this event, visit our events photo gallery!

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