The UK’s Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology has launched a new spinout company, Constructive Bio, which has secured £12.7m seed investment.

Constructive Bio aims to re-engineer biology, creating new classes of enzymes, drugs and biomaterials and is based on the work of Dr Jason Chin’s group, which has pioneered the development and application of techniques to re-programme the genetic code of living organisms.

Last year his group showed that their re-programmed cells could assemble polymers entirely from building blocks that are not found in Nature.

These synthetic biology techniques, the re-engineering of biologically based systems, have an important role to play in tackling major global challenges, from the development of new medicines to anthropogenic change.

The company will develop two platform technologies. Firstly large-scale DNA assembly to build whole bacterial genomes from scratch, and secondly, genome re-programming to engineer non-natural polymers for commercial applications.

Dr Laura Dickens, associate director of industry partnerships at MRC said: “The announcement of formation of Constructive Bio is another exciting example of the importance of sustained MRC funding in discovery research, particularly in the emerging area of engineering biology, which has potentially very significant cross-societal benefits.

“It also demonstrates how UKRI support can help de-risk research for commercial investment even at an early stage. We’re looking forward to seeing what happens next for the company.”

Potential applications of the Constructive Bio platforms include: novel therapeutics and antibiotics; enhanced agriculture; manufacturing and materials; and polymers that can be programmed to be biodegradable.

The work has been underpinned by long-term MRC support which assisted de-risking of this emerging technology, enabling its commercialisation through spinout creation.

The pathway from discovery research to commercialisation and seed investment can often be challenging and is a long-term process as highlighted in MRC’s 2019 evaluation report into translational research.

As part of the world-class innovation objective of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) strategy, MRC is committed to supporting translational research. This enables researchers to advance their discoveries and leads to important societal and economic benefits.

In addition, supporting MRC researchers to realise the full commercial potential of their research is vital, and to help achieve this, MRC works with LifeArc.

The UK is a world-leader in engineering biology, and it was identified as one of the seven technology families within UK innovation strategy.

Building on this, partners across UKRI and the Defence Science Technology Laboratory are working towards a proposed national engineering biology programme. The programme encompasses the wider capabilities that support the exploitation of synthetic biology.

Preliminary UKRI investment of £20.6m was made last year into innovative projects across the UK as a starting point towards a broader programme.