National Biofilms Innovation Centre drives economic growth

Magnified bacteria stained blue and purple

An independent review of the National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC) reveals significant gains for the UK economy as a result of biofilm research.

The Black Kite Ltd review assessed NBIC’s economic impact following a £16 million investment by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Innovate UK.

Covering a five-year period from December 2017 to December 2022, the review unveiled a total impact of approximately £204 million, extending throughout the UK economy.

Connection and collaboration

NBIC is an Innovation Knowledge Centre (IKC) that creates a fusion of world-class interdisciplinary research and industry partnerships to deliver breakthrough science and technologies to control and exploit biofilms.

The centre was launched in 2017 by its four lead universities:

  • The University of Edinburgh
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Southampton

Biofilm exploitation

Biofilms are central to our most important global challenges, from antimicrobial resistance and food safety to water security. These communities of living microorganisms also provide a significant contribution to both the UK and global economy.

In May 2022, a study carried out by NBIC estimated that the value of markets in which biofilms are involved is worth £45 billion in the UK and $4 trillion globally.

The centre’s proof of concept projects have also demonstrated environmental and social benefits estimated at £23 million and £30.5 million respectively.

Nurturing talent, creating opportunities

From small and medium-sized enterprises to large corporations, NBIC works with more than 300 businesses across a diverse range of sectors, including:

  • built environment
  • energy
  • food and agriculture
  • healthcare
  • marine
  • mechanical and civil engineering
  • personal care
  • water management

NBICs commitment to growing and expanding its network of industry collaborators has paid dividends for the UK economy, particularly around job creation. The independent review revealed that NBIC has established 51 new opportunities ranging from:

  • secondments
  • research posts
  • jobs at spin-out companies

Beyond that, NBIC’s influence has contributed to the creation and development of an additional 50 jobs.

The centre has also been instrumental in nurturing the next generation of scientific leaders, with 76 students benefiting from the centre’s support. This includes 66 PhD candidates, six of whom are international students.

Investment and partnerships

NBIC’s core universities have attracted an additional £32.9 million of public and private funds. This is estimated to have an economic output of almost £43 million to date, with a greater economic value still to be realised as the additional research funds are used.

In addition, clusters of biofilm activity within the regions of the NBIC associated universities have attracted further public and industry funding, with an estimated total impact of £8.1 million.

The organisation has established international partnerships with renowned institutions such as the Center for Biofilm Engineering in Montana and the Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering. It has also been pivotal in developing the International Biofilm Standards Task Group.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) support

In December 2022, BBSRC and Innovate UK invested £7.5 million to support phase two of the NBIC programme.

As well as enabling NBIC to drive the adoption of innovative solutions across industry sectors, the funding is also supporting the centre to deliver step-changes in standards and regulation for novel biofilm solutions that support international trade.

In June 2023, UKRI published a review of its IKC programme to gain an understanding of its impact to date, feedback on the scheme and recommendations for future evolution. The review evidences NBIC’s contribution to research and innovation in the UK.

Global centre of excellence

Dr Lee Beniston FRSB, Associate Director for Industry Partnerships and Collaboration at BBSRC, said:

There have been so many impressive achievements at NBIC since the centre was established in 2017 which I have had the privilege of being part of. I am delighted that now, through this economic review, there is an opportunity to share and celebrate this success.

I offer my congratulations to all those at NBIC, as well as the wider research and innovation communities which NBIC supports, for their role in making NBIC the globally recognised centre of excellence in biofilms research and innovation that it is today. The underpinning collaboration between BBSRC and Innovate UK has been a critical part of this success, which I am delighted to see continue for another five years in support of NBIC phase 2.

Driving innovation

Dr Stella Peace, Executive Director for the Healthy Living and Agriculture Domain at Innovate UK, said:

We are pleased to see the economic impact and job creation stemming from this successful investment. NBIC assumes a central and critical role in uniting businesses and academic experts to tackle the challenges and opportunities presented by biofilms.

It illustrates our commitment to driving innovation and supporting the growth of businesses that contribute to the UK’s prosperity.

Impactful national asset

Professor Jo Slater-Jefferies, Chief Executive Officer at NBIC, said:

This independent review evidences the impact that NBIC has made over our first 5 years. Through our research, innovation and training initiatives, we will continue to solve the challenges that are presented by biofilms globally, and with our academic and industry partnerships, seek to solve these challenges for the benefit of the UK.

Through the support of BBSRC and Innovate UK we have become an impactful national asset that will continue to grow.

Top image:  A false-coloured mesoscopic image of two adjacent Escherichia coli biofilms. Credit: Dr Liam Rooney, Strathclyde Institute for Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, University of Strathclyde.

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