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Vaccine Production in Plants Nets Scientist Innovator of the Year 2012

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Professor George Lomonossoff has been named BBSRC Innovator of the Year 2012 for his work with Dr Frank Sainsbury, to develop a system for producing vaccines and pharmaceutical proteins rapidly in plants.

The system could allow vaccines to be produced much more rapidly for emergency vaccination programmes in the face of disease pandemics.

Professor Lomonossoff, of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC, and Dr Sainsbury, of Laval University in Canada, received their prize and trophy from Business Secretary, Vince Cable, who spoke at the final in London last night.

Dr Cable said: “I would like to congratulate the winners on their success. Their innovative ideas highlight the vital role that scientific knowledge plays in driving growth in important sectors like healthcare, food, and pharmaceuticals.

“The UK is a world leader in the biosciences and it is vital that we capitalize on this strength to deliver the maximum social and economic benefit. All of the finalists have gone to impressive lengths to ensure that the impacts of their research are felt well beyond the scientific community and this is truly worth celebrating.”

Professor Lomonossoff and Dr Sainsbury’s innovation enables proteins to be produced much more rapidly and at higher levels than has previously been possible in plants.

This is revolutionizing the use of plants as bioreactors and will help make plant-produced proteins a commercial reality.

The system has already been licensed to a number of potential partners in the commercial sector including the biopharmaceutical company Medicago.

Medicago are already using Professor Lomonossoff and Dr Sainsbury’s system as the principal production platform for a number of vaccines and therapeutic proteins currently in development.

Professor Lomonossoff expressed his delight at winning, saying: “You want to hope but you don’t dare. It’s a big surprise; rather like winning an Oscar.”

Professor Lomonossoff also thanked the many people who had helped to make the project a reality.

The judging panel gave the following comment of Professor Lomonosssoff’s innovation: “The panel were impressed by the innovators drive and passion, and speed with which the technology was moved forward. He had thought really hard about what the end customer wanted and was very realistic about the scope of the technology. The judging panel considered that the innovation had the potential to have much wider impact in the future.”

Professor Lomonossoff and Dr Sainsbury also won the prize for the Most Promising Innovator. Two other category prizes - Commercial Innovator and Social Innovator - were won by Professor Jim Murray of Cardiff University and his co-applicant Dr Laurence Tisi of Lumora Ltd, and Professor Russell Foster of the University of Oxford respectively.

Professor Russell Foster of the University of Oxford was awarded the Social Innovator prize for his work to revolutionist our understanding of the eye which has had impacts both in the clinic and further afield.

His findings are having a major impact across society helping, for example, with the design of new lighting systems and the use of natural light in buildings.

Professor Jim Murray of Cardiff University took the Commercial Innovator prize with Dr Laurence Tisi of Kumora Ltd, for their efforts in developing a system, called BART (Bioluminescent Assay in Real-Time), for detecting infectious organisms like bacteria and viruses that can be used almost anywhere. This could dramatically improve healthcare for patients in the developed and developing world.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Innovator of the Year Award is a competition designed to recognize and reward scientists who are ensuring that the UK's excellent bioscience research is translated into outcomes that positively affect economic growth and quality of life for everyone.

The award, now in its fourth year, was established with a view to encouraging researchers to consider the potential of their research and take the necessary steps to maximize the social and economic impact of the excellent work they do.

The nine finalists (see 'Notes to editors' section for details) were selected by an independent judging panel to compete in each of the three categories and for the overall prize.

Also speaking at the final was Jeremy Webb, Editor-in-Chief of New Scientist. Offering his congratulations, he said: “I don’t think I’ve come across a better collection of ideas in all my travels with the New Scientist over the past 20 years.”

Dr Celia Caulcott, Director of Innovation and Skills, BBSRC said: "This is the age of bioscience with techniques and technologies advancing at an exciting pace. These advances underpin so much that is so very important in our daily lives, such as food, health and fuel. The bioscience research community can make an enormous difference to mitigating the great challenges we face, enabling food security and life-long well-being, and helping to address climate change. Today's innovations highlight the impact of this potential and the enormous possibilities from bioscience."

Talking about the potential for innovation in Bioscience, Glyn Edwards, Chief Executive, UK BioIndustry Association, said: “The UK is a stunningly good place to do this. There has never been a better time for bioscience.”