Industrial links

We have a wide range of links with the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries. This page provides details of some of them. We are always interested in developing new contacts - email us at mbb@sheffield.ac.uk to start a conversation. One existing route is via the Sheffield Science Gateway, which is a dedicated team of scientists and business experts whose role is to bring together academic researchers with people in the public and private sector to develop new products, processes and services. Visit their site for more information.

IGPD crystal structureIndustrial impact

Ideas and discoveries developed by our researchers have been taken up by pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries. Here are three examples:

  • Our crystallographers have been working with the agrochemicals company Syngenta for over 20 years to develop a successor to glyphosate, the leading herbicide world wide which is faced by problems of resistance. The research focuses on IGPD, an enzyme involved in histidine biosynthesis: the image shows an intermediate bound to the enzyme active site.
  • A collaboration between MBB and Sheffield Medical School led to the setting up of the company Asterion, which developed new technology for longer lasting drugs. The products are directed against growth disorders and have been licensed by the companies Genzyme and Ipsen.
  • The most widely used drugs to treat osteoporosis are bisphosphonates. Until recently, it was not known how these worked, but research from MBB, collaborating with Chemistry and Medicine and supported by the Medical Research Council and Proctor & Gamble, revealed the mechanism and directly led to a saving of £50m per year to the National Health Service in drug costs.

Spinout companies

Research at MBB has led to the setting up of three spinout companies. Unusually, all three are still operating!

Bioserv

Departmental expertise in the production of antibodies led to the spinout of Bioserv as an independent company specialising in the production and processing of biomolecules, mainly antibodies. The company was initially housed in sapce within the Department but has now moved out to external premises.

Asterion

Asterion grew out of a collaboration between MBB and the Medical School at Sheffield, to develop new technologies for third generation drugs that would last longer in the human body, with fewer side effects. Current products treat growth disorders, anaemia and neutropenia.


Absynth

Our expertise in microbiology led to Absynth, which develops vaccines and antibodies to prevent and treat bacterial infections. Its main target is Staphylococcus aureus, including its more problematic drug-resistant form, methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), the worrying hospital superbug.

Case study - CBMNet

One approach to a more sustainable chemicals industry is the use of microbial cell factories to produce key chemicals from sustainable feedstocks. However, a major barrier to commercial production is poor product yield, often caused by intoxication of the cells. To address this problem, a £3 million research project (DeTox) has been awarded by the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst fund to a consortium of scientists led by the Sheffield-based Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Crossing Biological Membranes Network in Industrial Biotechnology (CBMNet). Professors Jeff Green and David Kelly along with Dr Susan Molyneux-Hodgson at the University of Sheffield are working with colleagues at the Universities of York, Nottingham and Cambridge and five companies (Green Biologics, ReBio, Lucite, CPI and Ingenza), to overcome poor product yields by focussing on how the properties of the bacterial cell membrane can be modified to create more robust cell factories.
Prof Green, Director of CBMNet, said: “ The DeTox project is an exciting opportunity to improve the efficiency of cell-based chemical production that emerged from the creative discussions within the CBMNet management board and our industrial partners.”

DeTox is only one of the many achievements of CBMNet. So far it has funded seven Proof-of-Concept grants along with seven Vacation Scholarships (worth over £175,000) and five Business Interaction Vouchers (worth over £50,000). Many of these awards have focused on supporting students and early career researchers to ensure that the biotechnology expertise continues to grow.

Industrial placements for MBB students

Our undergraduate students have several opportunities to work in industry during their time here. One option is to gain industrial experience for a year between the second and third years of the BSc degree course, to graduate with a degree with industrial experience. This type of course is run by a wide range of UK universities. However, we also offer a different (and, in our opinion, better) option - to do the fourth year in industry. The degree is then a Masters level degree (MBiolSci), and the students often spend 12 months working in industry, which provides the students a better experience. Almost all graduates from these programs go on to do PhDs subsequently. This option is also better for the company, because the students have by then had three years of lectures rather than two, as well as having done a research project in their third year, so the students can be much more productive. Students apply for the places competitively and are very successful in getting places. They usually go to pharmaceutical companies. In the past we have had many students going to GSK and Astra Zeneca, as well as to Pfizer, Eli Lilley and 3M.