Innovation news in brief: Brexit; Venturefest East; microbial fuel cells; smart shoes

Life science bosses have warned that Brexit could bring uncertainty to the sector

Life science chief executives warn against Brexit

The UK’s leading life science companies have warned that leaving the EU could add risk to the wealth and health of the nation by bringing uncertainty to the industry, adding barriers to investment in the UK and threatening access to the latest medicines.

In a recent letter to The Observer, the chief executives of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI), Glaxo SmithKline, AstraZeneca and the BioIndustry Association are amongst more than 90 signatories who claim that the future success of the UK life sciences sector is underpinned by being part of the EU’s single market, and EU regulatory processes.

If the UK was to leave a reformed Europe, companies would have to apply for separate market authorisations to sell their products in both the UK and Europe – which they say could delay access for the millions of NHS patients to the latest drugs and treatments.

The industry warning follows the publication of new government statistics which suggest the life sciences sector in the UK has grown to £60.7 billion, with the UK’s EU membership shown to be key to the sector’s expansion.

Life sciences minister George Freeman MP said: “This is a serious warning from the leaders of the UK’s £60 billion life science sector, which highlights the choice in this referendum: our economic security and global influence as part of the EU, or a leap in the dark.

“Being out on our own would risk the employment of 220,000 people, billions of pounds of inward investment, and our life science exports to the EU - which last year were worth over £29 million every day."

Mike Thompson, chief executive officer, ABPI, said: “Our members are overwhelmingly supportive of remaining in the EU. We believe that staying in the EU will mean that patients in the UK will be more likely to get faster access to new medicines than if we left. It will also encourage global pharmaceutical companies to continue to invest, employ, research, manufacture and export in the UK, rather than elsewhere.”

Business and investors join to promote growth at Venturefest East

Hundreds of innovators, entrepreneurs and investors will gather for the inaugural Venturefest East event later this month.

Venturefest East, which takes place at Rowley Mile Race Course, Newmarket, on 24 May,  and will showcase innovation in the region.

The chief executive of Innovate UK, Dr Ruth McKernan, will give the keynote speech at the opening of the day-long event.

The day will include a number of sessions on themes specific to business innovation in the East of England including:

  • Innovation in life sciences and pharmaceuticals
  • Innovation in agri-tech
  • Making your business investor ready
  • Opportunities in the Internet of Things
  • Growing a cleantech business
  • Gamification

Venturefest East has been created by St John’s Innovation Centre and Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough and New Anglia local enterprise partnerships and is part of the Innovate UK series of events.

Register for Venturefest East.

Student scoops $75,000 first prize for developing fuel cells

A Canadian student has won $75,000 for developing microbial fuel cells (MFCs) that more efficiently convert organic waste into electricity.

Han Jie (Austin) Wang, 18, of Vancouver, Canada, is the recipient of the first place Gordon E. Moore Award at this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which is the world’s largest high school science research competition.

Wang identified specific genes in genetically enhanced E. coli bacteria that enabled them to generate power efficiently. His system can produce significantly more power than existing MFC processes at a cost that is competitive with solar energy, which he believes will make MFCs commercially viable.

Idom Merebrook expand at Stirling science park

Global environmental and engineering design consultancy Idom Merebrook is set to expand its operations in Stirling by moving into larger premises on Stirling University Innovation Park.

The firm, part of the Idom group which employs 2,700 people worldwide, will move from the city’s Castle Business Park into larger premises on Stirling University Innovation Park to accommodate their growing workforce.

The Spanish owned company, which offers a wide range of engineering, design and project management services, will launch a recruitment drive for apprentices and experienced engineers this summer.

Principal engineer at Idom Merebrook, Alex Sinclair, said: “Stirling was recently voted the ‘best place to start a business’ in Scotland and it is easy to see why. As well as high quality office space, our new base at the Innovation Park offers us exceptional business support, the chance to join a well established network of innovative businesses and access to the University’s world class expertise in environmental science. To attract the top engineering talent you need to offer people an enviable lifestyle to match their career aspirations. As Scotland’s most affordable and arguably most beautiful city, Stirling ticks all the boxes.”

Lynn Blaikie, head of Stirling University Innovation Park, said: “Stirling’s central location and stunning landscape, coupled with its excellent transport links and highly educated workforce, make the Innovation Park an ideal base for businesses large or small. Idom Merebrook’s workforce spans the globe, but they have identified Stirling as a growth area particularly in the renewable energy market.”

The firm’s current Scottish projects range from the renovation and restoration of the historical Alytre Estate to establish a creative campus for Glasgow School of Art in Forres, to the £50 million redesign and expansion of Michelin’s tyre curing workshop in Dundee.

easyJet tests smart shoes to help its customers explore destinations

Airline easyJet has unveiled a prototype smart shoe – named the ‘Sneakairs’ – which with their built-in technology could help customers explore new cities with ease, enabling them to take in their surroundings without getting lost.

The revolutionary smart shoe incorporates a technology which connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone app which uses phone’s GPS and directs the wearer which way to walk by triggering small vibrating sensors within the shoe.

The airline recently unveiled a world-first in airline uniforms by demonstrating wearable technology into cabin crew and engineers’ uniforms to improve communication and passenger safety procedures.