Scientists receive £12.3m to develop biomedical Engineering Biology Mission Hub

Friday, 09 February 2024

The University of Nottingham will lead a national hub that will develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, benefiting millions of people worldwide, thanks to funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The GlycoCell Engineering Biology Mission Hub will receive £12.3 million in funding as part of an overall investment of £100m from UKRI’s Technology Missions Fund and UKRI and BBSRC’s core budgets.

The hub is one of six new Engineering Biology Mission Hubs and 22 Mission Award projects, announced today by Andrew Griffith, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, that will unlock the potential of Engineering Biology.

The GlycoCell Engineering Biology Mission Hub will be led by the University of Nottingham and will be a collaboration between six academic institutions – the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Imperial College London, the University of Dundee, the Quadram Institute, and the University of Exeter and three industrial partners – Iceni Glycoscience, Synthace Limited, Incepta Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

This week Andrew Griffith visited the new GlycoCell Hub based at the University of Nottingham to understand how it is helping to exploit Engineering Biology to produce new vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics, by industrialising the bio-manufacture of sugar-based biomolecules crucial to their development.

Engineering Biology uses recent advances in our ability to design and build biological technologies to sustainably address current and future challenges in health, food, manufacturing, the environment and climate change. The GlycoCell team will apply these techniques to the biology of glycans, sugar-based chemicals that functionalise cells and proteins.

Andrew Griffiths MP visits the University of Nottingham (Full caption below)

Glycans have a huge impact on biology, are integral to the way that our immune system interacts with pathogens, and ensure that many modern pharmaceuticals function properly. However, glycans are currently very difficult to study and manufacture and can be considered to be the “dark matter” of biology.

The GlycoCell Engineering Biology Mission Hub will bring together a range of experts from different fields to unlock the potential of glycans. This promises to accelerate vaccine discovery and production, generate new therapeutics and diagnostics, and dramatically reduce the production costs of advanced drugs.

GlycoCell will:

  • Unlock our ability to program glycan sugars, opening a world of research opportunities in biology and medical biotechnology.
  • Design, test and make many new therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines against pathogens that impact human and animal health.
  • Enhance our epidemic preparedness.
  • Counteract antimicrobial resistance by developing vaccines against bacterial and fungal pathogens, reducing our reliance on antibiotics to combat these threats.
  • Develop the technology to move production of advanced drugs to microbial hosts, considerably reducing their cost thanks to scalable production.
  • Build and deploy GlycoForge, a specialist automated facility, as a UK national asset that will routinely develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, and will be ready to deliver a 100-day rapid response to new pandemic threats.
  • Train the current generation and develop future leaders in Engineering Biology for academia, industry and the public sector.
We are delighted to receive this significant investment from DSIT and UKRI to take the GlycoCell Hub forward. It will make a leading, transformative contribution to bringing about a healthier, more sustainable, equitable and prosperous future.”
Dr John Heap from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nottingham is the Principal Investigator and Co-Director of the Hub, working with a team of colleagues.

Professor Brendan Wren from the LSHTM is Co-Director of the Hub. He said: “Glycans or sugars play key roles in both fundamental biology and biotechnology. The GlycoCell consortium will exploit novel Engineering Biology approaches to produce more effective glycan-based therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines.”

Announcing the funding the Science, Research and Innovation Minister, Andrew Griffith, said: “Engineering biology has the power to transform our health and environment, from developing life-saving medicines to protecting our environment and food supply and beyond.

“Our latest £100m investment through the UKRI Technology Missions Fund will unlock projects as diverse as developing vaccines, as I saw Nottingham this week, preventing food waste through disease resistant crops, reducing plastic pollution, and even driving efforts to treat snakebites.

“With new Hubs and Mission Awards spread across the country, from Edinburgh to Portsmouth, we are supporting ambitious researchers and innovators around the UK in pioneering groundbreaking new solutions which can transform how we live our lives, while growing our economy.”

Story credits

More information is available from Dr John Heap at the University of Nottingham at

Group picture caption, L-R:

1) Professor Benjamin Ollivere, Associate Faculty Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange, University of Nottingham

2) Professor Clive Roberts, Head of School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham

3) Chris Jones, Deputy Challenge Director Quantum ISCF, Innovate UK

4) Dr John Heap, Associate Professor, School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham

5) Andrew Griffiths, Minister for Science, Innovation & Technology

6) Prof Tom Rodden, PVC Research & Innovation, University of Nottingham

7) Dr Alexandra Faulds-Pain, Senior Research Fellow, School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham

8) Dr Ben Blount, Assistant Professor, School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham

9) Amanda Collis – Interim Deputy Executive Chair – BBSRC

10) Professor Chris Denning (Stem Cell Biology), Director of Biodiscovery Institute, University of Nottingham

Charlotte Anscombe - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Phone: 0115 748 4417

Notes to editors:

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Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

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