After much planning, a new Centre of Excellence in Biocatalysis, Biotransformations and Biocatalytic Manufacture.

After much planning, a new Centre of Excellence in Biocatalysis, Biotransformations and Biocatalytic Manufacture (otherwise known as CoEBio3) looks set to open its core research facility at Manchester University in October 2004. The centre’s main focus will be to scale up new bio-processes.

The idea for the centre of excellence came from the Pro-Bio Faraday partnership and the final decision to set it up was made as recently as December 2003. ’It has been amazing in terms of timing,’ notes Stan Roberts, who has been appointed as director of the new centre. ’It looks as if everyone was waiting for someone to light the blue touch paper then bingo, everyone is flooding towards CoEBio3! We have had fantastic support for the whole concept.’ Roberts has already resigned from his post at Liverpool University’s chemistry department and will start his new job in Manchester on 1 October. He told Chemistry World that CoEBio3 is ’the most exciting thing that I have been involved in for years’.

The Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre won the bid to host CoEBio3’s core research facility out of 30 contenders. It will focus on biocatalysis, looking in particular at directed evolution of enzymes to synthesise chiral molecules; whole cell biotransformations for rapid access to high-value fine chemicals; and biomimetic chemistry. It will also house fermenters to produce enzymes and biotransformation products.

In addition to the core facility, CoEBio3 will have two other major components. A biocatalytic engineering consortium will link together a series of Scottish universities and will contribute most of the research and scale-up expertise to help to produce larger quantities of interesting enzymes and biotransformation products. Meanwhile, researchers at York University will provide expertise in areas ranging from plant proteins to analytical science and green chemistry. CoEBio3 will have one large-scale fermentation plant which all of the participating groups will be able to use. It has yet to choose a site for manufacturing but is currently doing feasibility studies.

The centre of excellence is scheduled to have an official opening in April or May 2005. It is anticipated that the centre will be financed by contributions from industry, the host institutes, UK research councils, and the UK Department of Trade and Industry.

CoEBio3 has set up a differential fee structure for large, medium and small companies and Roberts envisages that industry will contribute at least ?250 000 in cash per year and the same amount again ’in kind’. He predicts that CoEBio3 will be able to pay its way in five years time and that it will operate ’like a small company’.

Emma Davies