BBSRC’s ambitions for UK bioscience

Concept image of a structure of the genetic code

What exactly does the launch of BBSRC’s new strategic delivery plan mean for our research community and the direction of bioscience?

The new Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) strategic delivery plan was published in September. This is an important document for us as it sets out the actions we will take over the next 3 years in support of our vision and ambitions for UK bioscience.

It also conveys how we will contribute to the delivery of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) first 5-year strategy, and how we will support the government’s ambitions for the UK to continue to be a leader in research and innovation.

BBSRC plays a pivotal role in supporting and nurturing UK bioscience. And having been at the helm of BBSRC for over 6 years, first as interim Chief Executive, and now as Executive Chair, this is something I’m fully cognisant of. I’m excited by the potential we offer as an organisation to put the UK at the forefront of the ‘bio-revolution’.

Of course, with this potential, comes responsibility, which is why we’ve been working with our many and varied stakeholders to crystallise our plans and set some bold and significant ambitions.

From my standpoint, it’s becoming ever more crucial, especially in times of uncertainty and change, that we reflect the perspectives and priorities of our communities when we make strategic decisions.

My hope is that seeing all this laid out in 1 document will prove useful for our communities and as always, I welcome your feedback.

Bio-based solutions

Advancements in bioscience discovery will be critical to help maintain, and improve, the health and wellbeing of people and animals and to protect and enhance our economy, society and environment.

Discovery, strategic and more applied research all make vital contributors to the development of the bio-based solutions that will help address some of the biggest challenges facing society; both today and in the future.

With some of these challenges, such as food and nutrition security, climate change, infectious diseases and an ageing population, such bio-based solutions will have far-reaching impacts.

For me, it’s almost impossible to imagine a net zero future without the inclusion of bioscience solutions and technologies. Likewise, bioscience research and innovation are vital to enable the UK to compete in multi-billion-pound industries, such as agri-food and pharmaceuticals.

However, just as the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, breakthrough discoveries often occur at the interfaces with other disciplines.

As a major funder in bioscience and biotechnology, we’re keen to evolve the opportunities for interdisciplinary working. One example includes supporting the development of a UKRI interdisciplinary responsive mode pilot; do watch this space to find out more about this and other opportunities.

Supporting our communities

Throughout our strategic delivery plan, we’ve carefully considered the actions and impacts that will ensure bioscience research is able to deliver game-changing research and innovation.

Our plans are aligned with the 6 strategic objectives set out in the UKRI strategy 2022 to 2027: transforming tomorrow together:

  • people and careers
  • places
  • ideas
  • innovation
  • impacts
  • all supported by a world-class organisation

As a public funder, one of our key roles is to support the scientific, technical, and professional skills needed now, and in the future, that will enable UK bioscience to flourish. We also need to support the infrastructures required, invest in emerging technologies and navigate use of novel approaches. To achieve this, we need to embrace diversity in all its forms – in ideas, expertise, teams and opportunities – in order to maximise creativity.

One significant change that you may have noticed across all councils’ strategic delivery plans is the commitment to a UKRI collective approach to talent. UKRI councils are already working collectively to deliver talent policies and funding, but this change will enable us to strengthen this offering even further.

This will lead to many benefits, from reducing bureaucracy and simplifying our talent initiatives, to supporting greater cross disciplinary working. In addition, this approach will help to support career path diversity and make it much easier to work across the breadth of the research and innovation system.

It also presents an opportunity for BBSRC and other councils to share good practice and draw upon the success of other schemes to help shape future programmes. Here at BBSRC, we will continue to think carefully about where we can add most value for the bioscience community.

A highly interconnected bioscience ecosystem

To end I wanted to highlight another key focus area for BBSRC, which will become increasingly apparent as you read through the delivery plan. And that is our role in acting as the nexus that connects and convenes different communities and sectors into 1 highly interconnected bioscience ecosystem.

With our unique remit we bring together interdisciplinary research that links agriculture, food, diet, nutrition, and health to plant-based biomaterials, food security, environmental sustainability, and biodiversity.

A key aspect of driving innovation and impact is through partnerships, such as with business, industry, and governments across the UK. And creating opportunities to collaborate with our diverse range of stakeholders, both in the UK and internationally, remains a core element of our strategy.

Our promise is to continue to leverage our unique role in delivering innovative, world-class bioscience. One that generates high returns for everyone in the UK, supports a vibrant knowledge-based economy and secures the UK’s position as an international partner of choice.

I’ll be discussing the strategic delivery plan in more detail at the upcoming BBSRC community webinar on 2 December 2022, where you’ll also have an opportunity to ask questions.

Top image:  Credit: ktsimage, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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