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Synthetic Biology strategy draws on Roadmap which directly used dialogue results

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On 24 February 2016, the Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman MP launched the UK Synthetic Biology Strategic Plan 2016 – Biodesign for the Bioeconomy. The Strategy builds on the Synthetic Biology Roadmap for the UK, published in 2012, which in turn drew extensively on the Synthetic Biology public dialogue, supported by Sciencewise. The dialogue was completed in 2011.

The Innovate UK announcement of the new Strategy (weblink below) states that “The roadmap led directly to major funding and policy activities, including the establishment of new synthetic biology research centres, the Innovation and Knowledge Centre at SynbiCITE, DNA synthesis facilities, training centres and a seed fund for innovative companies. In addition, the Synthetic Biology Leadership Council (SBLC) was founded to manage the continued growth of this field.”

The 2016 Strategic Plan, published by the Synthetic Biology Leadership Council (SBLC), aims to accelerate the commercialisation of synthetic biology products and services with clear public benefit, building upon the strength of the UK research base. It focuses on five key areas of strategic importance:

•      Accelerating industrialisation and commercialisation
•      Maximising the capability of the innovation pipeline
•      Building an expert workforce
•      Developing a supportive business environment, and
•      Building value from national and international partnerships.

There are numerous connections between the 2016 Strategy and the original public dialogue. One of the six key themes from the public dialogue was around public engagement being continued and being influential. The new Strategy, under the fourth key area, states:

“Develop a supportive business environment … The application of excellent basic science at industrial scale will require an agile, supportive and proportionate governance approach, including government policies, development of standards, regulatory systems and public and stakeholder engagement and dialogue.” (page 22; emphasis added)

Another of the six key themes from the public dialogue was the need for ‘Responsibility’. Participants felt it should be incumbent on scientists to consider the five central questions identified by the dialogue, particularly around motivations and outcomes. These five questions contributed to the development, initially in EPSRC and BBSRC, of the concept of responsible innovation, now referred to generally as Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). The 2016 Synthetic Biology Strategy states that:

“An important component of future governance of synthetic biology will be implementing responsible research and innovation (RRI). RRI includes aspects of anticipation, reflection and engagement. … The aim should be for broad awareness and mutual understanding of synthetic biology across public and stakeholder groups, and for research and innovation communities to build public trust through being open about their motivations and aims.”

“UK Research Councils, Innovate UK and EC research programmes are considering how best to conduct public engagement as part of a RRI approach, The SBLC will take an active part in these developments. There is a generally perceived need to ensure that all key actors, including policy makers, regulators and civil society, as well as researchers and innovators, are aware of the broader implications of their actions and understand what acting responsibly would mean for them.” (page 23)

Biodesign for the Bioeconomy. UK Synthetic Biology Strategic Plan 2016. Innovate UK, February 2016. https://connect.innovateuk.org/web/synthetic-biology-special-interest-group/2016-uk-synbio-strategic-plan

See related project page: Synthetic Biology