Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, has unveiled his vision for an industrial strategy for Great Britain, which includes the establishment of a new Innovation and Knowledge centre to boost the commercialisation of research.
The strategy, which some commentators quipped is a long-time coming, is somewhat thin on detail, but key themes include the creation of a government-backed small business bank, a series of individual sector strategies and a moves to increase the commercialisation of research.
The plan is that the establishment of the business bank will help companies invest in capital and drive their expansion.
"The scale and modus operandi of the institution are still under discussion, but it could operate through alternative providers such as the new challenger banks and non-bank lenders," Cable said.
"Not only would this boost their lending capacity, but would also corral existing provision such as co-investment and guarantees to support business expansion," he added.
The government is also intending to create a stream of "collaborative but challenging" sector strategies in advanced manufacturing, knowledge-intensive traded industries, and the enabling industries.
This, it says, will include building strategic partnerships with industries as well as offering targeted support to help them achieve their growth potential.
Also of particular interest to the life sciences sector, Cable announced that a 'commercialisation of research' strategy will look to accelerate the journey from academic research to market entry, "to help boost ground-breaking technologies of the future".
As such, Cable announced that the Technology Strategy Board, along with research councils and other partners, will establish a new Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC) in Synthetic biology, in order to assess the potential opportunities of the sector.
Established by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, IKCs are centres of excellence given five years' funding to accelerate and promote business exploitation of an emerging research and technology field.
Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the ABPI, has welcomed the move, "as this area of scientific research has potential application for the discovery and creation of new medicines".
"Continued investment in projects like these are genuinely valued by industry, as are a number of other initiatives such as the ‘patent box’," he said, but also stressed that the government shouldn't overlook other issues of "fundamental importance", including "patients being able to access the most innovative medicines and treatments".
"The Innovation, Health and Wealth review, which aims to resolve the problem of restricted access to medicines, is absolutely crucial to the future success of the life sciences industry, but also, and more importantly, to the health of UK patients,” he stressed.
The BioIndustry Association also applauded news of the new IKC, which will become the seventh in existence, and said it would "encourage UK companies to apply for funding from the £6.5 million competition for synthetic biology, launching next month".
Introduce CIFs, BIA says
But despite welcoming Cable's plans, the BIA said it believes government can go further to secure long-term investment in the knowledge-based economy, by introducing Citizens' Innovation Funds (CIFs).
These would offer an income tax break on investments up to £15,000, which would be pooled to support innovative companies and thereby allow the general public to invest in UK innovation.
This scheme could raise £300 million per year to provide an additional stream of much needed funding for innovative companies in the UK, the Association claims.
"The introduction of CIFs would not only diversify the supply of finance but also help provide the long-term capital that innovative, high growth firms need," noted BIA chief executive Steve Bates.