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These are the East of England’s strongest scientific industries

PUBLISHED: 09:30 27 September 2017 | UPDATED: 10:20 27 September 2017

Visitors to High Lodge in Thetford gave visitors the chance to find antibiotics in the soil. Picture: Ian Burt

Visitors to High Lodge in Thetford gave visitors the chance to find antibiotics in the soil. Picture: Ian Burt

These are the four key sectors outlined in the Science and Innovation Audit.

Earlham Institute at Norwich Research Park. Picture: Earlham Institute Earlham Institute at Norwich Research Park. Picture: Earlham Institute

Life sciences

Life sciences in the East of England is already a “world class” industry, according to the audit.

It recognised the region’s assets in the growing markets of drug discovery and development, genomics and medical technology, or medtech, and said it was “well positioned” to capitalise on opportunities in the latter.

An analysis of EU funding indicates that the region accounted for 20% of the UK total in drug discovery, 23% in regenerative medicine, and 14% in personalised medicine.

Norwich Research Park, home to 3,000 scientists and 75 businesses, is marked out as a hub for research in food, health and microbiome (studying the microorganisms in a particular environment, including the human body).

The report said the growth of opportunities in medtech and investing in convergence – bringing together academic disciplines to create opportunities for innovation – would be important for the sector going forward.

Project lead Dr Ji Zhou using crop analysis technology in wheat field trials at Earlham Institute. Picture: Athony Cullen Project lead Dr Ji Zhou using crop analysis technology in wheat field trials at Earlham Institute. Picture: Athony Cullen

Agri-tech

The audit’s analysis of agri-tech said regional knowledge in ICT, plant breeding and microbial research could be utilised drive innovations – and commercial opportunities – in the field.

The report said “distinctive – and in some cases world-renowned – expertise” covered areas like genomics, agronomy and robotics.

Further strengthening of the “mechanisms of commercialisation” would help the agri-tech sector to flourish, the report added.

Necessary improvements highlighted by businesses included more investment in research projects, support to get new technologies onto farms, and better broadband and transport connections.

Zenos Cars technicians at work on the chassis of the Zenos E10 at the factory in Wymondham. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY Zenos Cars technicians at work on the chassis of the Zenos E10 at the factory in Wymondham. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

ONS data estimates there are nearly 5,400 enterprises employing around 86,700 people in agrifood and food processing the region. Around 35% of UK Research Council funding in plant and crop science is estimated to have been invested in the East between 2004 and 2016 – totalling £41m.

Advanced materials and manufacturing

“Inconsistent” links between researchers and businesses in advanced materials and manufacturing (AM&M) were considered to be one of the sector’s biggest barriers.

The report focused on the aerospace and defence, automotive, construction and offshore renewable energy industries, identifying a hub for the latter on the Norfolk/Suffolk coast.

According to Bureau van Dijk’s FAME database, AM&M companies in the East of England spent £256m on R&D in 2015, with Hethel Engineering Centre among the biggest investors.

The annual BT Innovation Week showcase at Adastral Park. Picture: GREGG BROWN The annual BT Innovation Week showcase at Adastral Park. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The report said “radical approaches” to innovation and high levels of digital skills would be “paramount” to progression in the sector.

It also identified a gap between education of STEM subjects and employment – the region produced 1,210 new graduates in mathematics and engineering and technology in 2014/15, but less than a third were in employment shortly after graduation.

Information and communications technology (ICT)

The East of England’s ICT sector, featuring globally influential businesses like ARM Holdings, is considered to be underpinned by the region’s universities.

The University of East Anglia and Anglia Ruskin University perform best in retaining ICT students in local employment.

Emerging business clusters were identified in Norwich and Ipswich, including Adastral Park – home to

BT’s Global Research and Development headquarters and Innovation Martlesham.

The report said there was scope in the East for a “test-bed” for a new generation of data-intensive research and smart technology trials – but improvements to the ICT infrastructure connecting universities and research institutes would be required.

According to European Patent Office data, between 2004 and 2014, inventors from the East accounted for more than 17% of all UK patents in computer technology and telecommunications, 15% in audio-visual technology, and 14% in digital communications.

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