Driving the industrial biotechnology revolution

The Centre of Excellence for Biocatalysis, Biotransformations and Biocatalytic Manufacture (CoEBio3) at Manchester is pioneering enzyme discovery and engineering to deliver cheaper, safer and more sustainable chemical manufacturing.

Impact highlights

  • Enzymes offer sustainable alternatives to many energy intensive industrial processes.   
  • CoEBio3 discoveries have helped industry adopt sustainable enzymatic manufacture processes.   
  • CoEBio3 research has informed government strategy to drastically increase the UK bio-economy. 

Harmful, energy-intensive manufacturing

Many industrial processes used in the production of complex consumer products rely upon non-renewable petrochemical feedstocks and ingredients, harmful metal catalysts and energy-intensive steps.

Industrial biotechnology solutions can improve the sustainability of these manufacturing processes. Enzyme-based biocatalytic approaches allow the manufacture of complex consumer products from renewable raw materials and present production routes that avoid the need for hazardous chemicals or energy-intensive steps.

Professor Nicholas Turner

Professor Nicholas Turner

Nicholas Turner is Professor of Chemical Biology at The University of Manchester.

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Answering the call for a more sustainable approach

In nature, products are synthesised naturally through multiple enzymatic processes acting in sequence, converting simple starting materials into complex products.

The Centre of Excellence for Biocatalysis, Biotransformations and Biocatalytic Manufacture (CoEBio3), based at The University of Manchester, has demonstrated the ability to mimic these multi-biocatalytic processes in the lab to construct both synthetic and natural products. The team are now assisting the pharmaceutical industry with scaled-up adoption of these techniques.

Enzymes catalysing sustainable chemical manufacturing

The team developed a collection of more than 1,000 engineered enzymes across 20 different reaction types, broadening the array of industrial products that can be synthesised by sustainable biocatalytic approaches. These include:

  • a family of highly active enzymes (reductive aminases) that can couple amines and ketones in water, enabling more efficient manufacture of pharmaceutical or agrochemical products;
  • a metal-free biocatalytic process for combining alcohols and amines, enabling sustainable manufacture by removing the need for expensive and potentially harmful metal catalysts;
  • new biocatalysts that directly couple amines with carboxylic acids, or esters, to produce amides and only water or alcohol as waste.

These biocatalysts are commercially available and have been utilised in the manufacture of hundreds of kilograms of pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals.

“Developments in industrial biotechnology will provide new generations of molecules never-before-seen in nature, as well as the processes for rolling out potential drug leads for clinical evaluation, and clean, sustainable methods based on synthetic biology approaches.”

Rob Field,
Director of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology

Applying research to real-world techniques

Since 2017, more than 250,000 small batches of CoEBio3 enzymes have been sold for screening purposes; more than 3,500 medium batches sold for scale-up prototype testing; and 187 higher-scale orders sold for industrial use.

Among these, a leading pharmaceutical manufacturer identified and refined a CoEBio3 biocatalyst as part of their biocatalytic manufacturing process for a potential anti-HIV medication. The engineered CoEBio3 biocatalyst is a crucial component in the three-step biocatalytic cascade they have developed to replace a 16-step chemical synthesis.

In total, the manufacturer identified 20 CoEBio3 biocatalysts that they have used in operations supporting pharmaceutical chemistry and early process development. Recently CoEBio3 has developed another engineered biocatalyst currently being used in the large-scale production of a COVID-19 drug.

Driving the bio-economy and developing skills

Beyond practical applications in industry, CoEBio3 has played an integral role in supporting the growth of the UK’s bio-economy. In 2018, its members co-authored Growing the UK Industrial Biotechnology Base, a report that influenced the UK’s bio-economy strategy and policy, with the goal of creating a bio-economy worth £440 billion by 2030.

In addition, CoEBio3 researchers designed a free online industrial biotechnology course to allow anyone to access and understand its key principles. As of February 2022, more than 10,000 learners have completed the course, with 12% reporting that they started a new career afterwards and 17% reporting a tangible career benefit.

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