RCMB 2019

2019 RCMB Workshop  

The participants came in with a common goal - define and promote industrial biotechnology’s unique position  in creating an environmentally sustainable chemical production platform serving a global population.

 

At this first workshop, industrial biotechnologists, researchers and thought leaders from the US, Europe and Asia wrestled with how to most effectively transition proven and earlier-stage academic research into a commercially viable industry for the production of consumer, agricultural, and industrial products.

 

The workshop attendees discussed and addressed the following three main topics:

  • Reinventing chemical manufacturing through biomanufacturing

  • Advancing US industrial biotech amid an increasingly competitive global playing field

  • Meeting the need for qualified personnel in the coming decade, during which the worldwide global synthetic biology market is expected to surpass $55 billion.

How do we move forward to maximize biotech’s potential?

Reinventing chemical manufacturing through biomanufacturing

The promise of advanced industrial biomanufacturing: Cheaper, safer, more effective pesticides, flavors, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, agricultural and industrial chemicals. Clean, sustainable manufacturing methods  based on living cells with profound benefits for food, health and environmental sustainability. Replacing fossil-based production of chemicals and fuels by sustainable alternatives with a lower carbon footprint.

Workshop participants discussed ways to innovate beyond the use of today’s host organisms that comfortably fit existing techniques and processes. There’s a need for new host organisms to process sustainably sourced feedstocks and maximize the use of waste compounds to avoid competing for human foodstuffs. New hosts could also help companies break free from existing systems that couple feedstocks and organizational design.

A potential solution might involve an initiative to identify and establish libraries of genetic tools and methods to transform organisms into effective hosts. This would make advances generally available to the community.

Attendees discussed the need to build out infrastructure and technology to adopt new bioprocesses--despite the fact that building out such facilities is expensive, and the current venture capital model of closed-end funds means investors look to recoup and quickly exit the fund.

Industry needs:

  • Commercial-ready strains that perform robustly in scaled industrial processes

  • Well-understood host strains that allow predictable strain design and engineering

  • Effective models of fermentation processes and scale-up from the lab to the pilot to commercial production

  • Novel purification techniques, equipment, and consumables for a variety of fermentation processes and product chemical classes.

Advancing US industrial biotech amid an increasingly competitive global playing field

Attendees sought to identify pitfalls within the US academic-industrial-government model that potentially prevent a competitive shift toward a more biotechnology-based economy. A first step, some said, might be convincing the powers that be that boosting industrial biotech is a critical national need. Major players within academia and industry collectively need to articulate why this industry--in its diversity of products and potential impact on sustainability--is critical to the US.

Countries such as Korea, China and Japan have built robust biotechnology infrastructures. Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the United Kingdom, France, Scandinavia, Italy, the Netherlands, and other European nations have a strong base in programs in bioprocess engineering.

Are there regulatory barriers in the US that inhibit a similar trajectory? China, in particular, provides healthy government support to synbio initiatives. Some suggested that US funding agencies could help identify critical issues in the limiting steps of metabolic engineering and fund those to eliminate bottlenecks.

Participants pointed to Europe’s emphasis on CO2 reduction as an important driver of industrial biotech. Companies seek out processes that reduce CO2 emissions with a premium

Qualified engineers and industrial scientists need access to training facilities. Attendees spoke about identifying a new framework in which academia, industry and government would work together to attract and train the next generation of chemical engineers, molecular biologists, and metabolic engineers to enable advanced biotechnology fulfill its promise. 

Post-secondary education has centered primarily on synthetic biology and genetic engineering, with synthetic biology generating fanciful but fragile DNA constructs difficult or impossible to scale up for industry. Some referred to the “limited focus” in universities on bioprocess engineering. Participants discussed the need to see resources allocated to boosting the profiles of metabolic engineering, fermentation process, process scale-up and downstream purification.

  • Academia and funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation emphasize basic science research. While important, this is not necessarily conducive to the design and creation of industrial processes.

  • Academia, industry, and government must work together to support and fund commercially deployable solutions to industrially relevant problems   

                                     

Attendees’ suggestions included:

  • Provide fermentation training at existing entities such as the Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center at the North Carolina State University (BTEC),  Advanced Mammalian Biomanufacturing Innovation Center (AMBIC) and the Michigan State University Bioeconomy Institute

  • Provide training in automation and process programming at the academic level through biofoundries or funding of research on low-cost high-throughput systems

  • Establish internships, co-ops and similar opportunities for trade school students at manufacturing facilities

  • “Train the trainers” at shared facilities and pilot plants

  • Establish a national registry of production facilities and pilot-scale plants for academics and start-ups

  • Create and employ case studies to teach real-world problem solving

  • Increase industry representation on grant review panels, journal review and editorial boards and PhD thesis committees

To better engage universities, experts should identify industrially relevant problems that lend themselves to academic study. Enable cross-disciplinary training, collaboration and interaction among synthetic biology groups and fermentation and processing groups.

Finding ways to coordinate and collaborate within industry and academia--even with competitors--could help define a path forward. A consortium-based interface within industry and academia that involves collaboration among national labs, companies and universities could benefit academia and industry in the long term.

Meeting the need for qualified personnel in the coming decade

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Check out some photos of the workshop

Check out the attendees of the workshop