Innogen Annual Meeting

3 June 2021

On the 24th May over 30 Innogen members from the Open University and the University of Edinburgh participated in the Institute’s virtual meeting. Following the keynote presentation by Prof. Smita Srinivas on ‘The What, When, How of Policy for Technological Capabilities’, various PIs and PhD students gave short presentations on their work and future plans. Over the course of the day, they were able to exchange ideas and identify new opportunities for collaboration and funding.

Smita’s talk focussed on her work on institutional variety and its role in advancing new technologies and determining public health policies. The COVID-19 pandemic and cancer care provide good examples for looking at how different countries are tackling these public health challenges.

Niki Vermeulen and Isabela Cabrera-Lalinde presented the OU-Scotland-funded project they are working on: ‘The choreographies of Scottish seaweed’ that is examining the historical and emerging uses of seaweed as food, feed, cosmetics, bioplastics and biofuel. This project is part of Vermeulen’s broader interest in integrating social sciences, arts and humanities into Scotland’s marine science innovation strategy.

Marine cultural heritage and coastal knowledge are also topics that Mark Lamont has been working on through a GCRF-funded project in Kenya. He highlighted the importance of engaging communities with maritime heritage to improve livelihoods, resilience and sustainable development.

David Wield spoke about ongoing work with Smita Srinivas and Andrew Watkins on the lessons from UK and India’s COVID-19 industrial response. They have studied the UK Lighthouse Laboratories (in Milton Keynes and Glasgow) and the UK PPE responses as examples of ‘local’ innovation initiatives focussing on three issues: national autonomy, industrial policy for local health challenges in emergencies, and capability around health policy. They are seeing a new form of import substitution industrialisation that couples an inward focus on domestic capacity and production with intensified global outreach to new and existing suppliers.

Geoff Banda outlined his work on cancer innovations in Africa and the suitability of existing business models for the production of biologicals in Africa. Through the TIBA partnership, he has provided advice for the WHO’s neglected tropical diseases roadmap and is comparing the COVID-19 responses in 8 African countries.

Ann Bruce presented some of her work on innovations in sustainable food systems and the use and regulation of rapid diagnostics for antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Among other things, she has developed a public engagement tool for a H2020 project on responsible cattle breeding and has been examining the resilience of upland sheep and beef in the UK. From July, she will be working on a new OU and Halpin Trust project on the management of species-rich wet meadows (machair) of Scotland.

In the afternoon sessions, Joyce Tait and Amy McGoohan presented their OU-Scotland-funded project on the role of innovation in improving the sustainability of fish farming in Scotland. Their research highlights innovations in feed production, such as using whisky industry waste to replace fish oils and fish meal protein in feed, as being key to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and loss of biodiversity.

Chris Warkup discussed the government’s new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) and specifically its mission oriented approach towards high-risk and high-pay off scientific research.

Alan Raybould is working on implementing the Responsible Innovation Framework (RIF) developed with BSI to help companies innovate responsibly. As part of an Innovate-UK-funded project, REACT-FIRST, he will be implementing a RIF for Proton, a proprietary single-cell protein developed by Deep Branch Biotechnology and synthesised using waste CO2 from power stations.

Identifying the social, environmental and health-related risks and benefits of Proton early-on will allow Deep Branch to manage them more effectively and make any necessary changes during the development of the product. This will enhance acceptance of the product throughout its value chain and stakeholder groups. He also highlighted the challenge of gaining societal acceptance of transformed systems and technologies such as gene editing in crops.  

Theo Papaioannou spoke about his latest work on the role of the state in innovation and the impact of regulations on new technologies and development. With Smita Srinivas and Geoff Banda he has been working on a UKRI proposal to investigate inclusive innovation in emergency situations.

The meeting ended with presentations by four PhD students. Lizzie Babister’s thesis explores how best to fund and deliver overseas development aid for shelters and settlements after disasters. Jarmo de Vries presented his work on the implementation of the NHS genomic medicine service and how it may influence medical work and expertise. Pallavi Joshi is exploring what drives the development and access to inclusive health innovations in India, focussing on the medical device and diagnostic sector for the early detection of cancers. Cristina Moreno-Lozano’s research focuses on antibiotic stewardship in public hospitals in Spain (post 1970s) to tackle AMR. Engineer, Kirsteen Merrilees, is exploring different approaches for road building in Nepal and trying to determine which is best to support development objectives: equipment-intensive or labour-based.

The variety of topics presented at the meeting is testament to the breadth of Innogen research and its efforts to overcome traditional disciplinary barriers. 

Professor Theo Papaioannou, Director of the Innogen Institute, said: “The Innogen Institute’s annual meeting was a great opportunity to catch up with a range of cutting-edge projects in emerging technologies and policy frameworks. It demonstrated that our work in innovation has not only reached a high level of rigour but also applicability, influencing public, private, and social sector stakeholders alike.”