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Research Questions

  1. What is the value chain of Synthetic Biology and how does Synthetic Biology relate to other sectors and industries?
  2. What are the barriers and challenges of synthetic biology commercialisation?
  3. How could standards help companies overcome some of the barriers?

The British Standards Institution asked RAND Europe to conduct a study identifying the impact that adoption of synthetic biology is likely to have on the global marketplace (buyers, sellers and users) as well as any existing barriers or obstacles preventing the rapid scale-up and commercialisation of the technology.

Synthetic biology can generally be thought of as a platform technology that enables the design and engineering of biologically based systems. Through a literature review and stakeholder interviews we have developed a categorisation of the synthetic biology value chain, splitting it into three parts: an idea of the product to be produced; the engineering steps of design, build, test repeated until the desired product is produced; and a scale-up process to produce enough product for it to be usable as a product in its own right, or within other industries. We identified a series of drivers that will influence the field of synthetic biology in the future, and mapped these onto the stages of the value chain. Finally we used scenarios to explore future opportunities for synthetic biology and to test the role standards might play.

Companies generally thought that standards will help to reduce uncertainty and overcome a variety of barriers they encounter en-route to commercialisation. In setting standards the community needs to make sure it does not lose sight of the importance of 'soft' standards, which can facilitate norms and behaviours within the sector, as well as affect how synthetic biology is perceived by society.

Key Findings

The Synthetic Biology value chain

  • We have categorised the synthetic biology value chain into three parts: an idea of the product to be produced; the engineering steps of design, build, test repeated until the desired product is produced; and a scale-up process to produce enough product for it to be usable as a product in its own right, or within other industries.
  • The synthetic biology value chain interacts with the value chains in other sectors through i) absorption, where parts or all of the value chain of synthetic biology are used themselves within a sector-specific company, and ii) selling in, where a product is designed through synthetic biology in a company and sold into the production step of a specific sector.

Barriers

  • Economic factors, such as synthetic biology being seen as risky and expensive by investors, and social factors around possible problems of social acceptability of synthetic biology products tended to be the biggest concern of companies.
  • While barriers affect companies at all stages of the value chain, the most numerous barriers and challenges emerge at the scale-up stage of the value chain.

Standards

  • Companies think that standards will help reduce uncertainty and help to overcome a variety of barriers they encounter en-route to commercialisation. In setting standards the community needs to make sure it does not lose sight of the importance of 'soft' standards, which can facilitate norms and behaviours within the sector, as well as affect how synthetic biology is perceived by society.

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Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Value chain analysis

  • Chapter Three

    Driving factors

  • Chapter Four

    Barriers and challenges for commercialisation

  • Chapter Five

    Standards in synthetic biology

  • Chapter Six

    Scenarios

  • Chapter Seven

    Conclusions

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was commissioned by the British Standards Institution and conducted by RAND Europe.

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