The Oxford Centre for Plant Science Innovation is the University of Oxford’s interconnected centre for research and development to address challenges in agriculture and forestry.
The centre was set up using £1.9m of funding from the government’s Local Growth Fund, secured by OxLEP, to establish a centre in Oxford city centre, delivering jobs and apprenticeships for Oxfordshire and enabling the creation of spin-out companies.
Initial ambitions of the project set out to enable the University of Oxford to deliver at least nine full-time jobs, three apprenticeships and nine student placements, as well as the creation of at least two spin-out companies through the Centre.
Since the completion of the Centre last year, it has produced spin-out Wild Bioscience, which utilises its platform to harness wild solutions to deliver radically enhanced crop yields. The bioscience company currently employs 20 people, with aims to increase this by the end of the year and has a purpose renovated building housing its labs and growth facilities in Milton Park, Abingdon.
Wild Bioscience was the featured company in a Financial Times "Big Read" article, The UK’s dream of becoming a ‘science superpower’
Funding has also grown the research of a second university spin-out company, MoA (Modes of Action) Technology, whose work building on fundamental biology from Oxford’s Department of Biology, has seen the company set up the first systematic empirical search for new MoAs through 3 distinct discovery platforms.
With challenges such as weeds becoming resistant to traditional herbicides, the demand for farmers around the world to feed the growing population, but with less environmental impact, has never been higher – or more challenging.
Herbicides with new modes of action (the way chemistry interacts with plant biology to inhibit weed growth) can break resistance and improve safety and sustainability.
MoA Technology, with headquarters now based within Oxford Science Park – one of the most influential science and environments in the UK – recognises that in order for farmers to continue to produce required levels of food sustainably, more effective herbicides are required, to be used in more effective ways. Failing this, farmers are likely to need to rely on more water and fertiliser use, with devastating effects including erosion, deforestation and CO2 emissions worldwide.
MoA Technology currently employs 55 people, with plans and funding in place to increase this to 75 by the end of the year.
Further to this, the company has grown research, opening a second research facility in Yorkshire, providing new R&D opportunities, funding and jobs far further afield than its Oxfordshire origins.
At the end of last year, MoA Technology opened the facility at the Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC) situated at Cawood between Leeds and York, utilising the pipeline of promising lead candidates flowing from the high throughput screening platforms at its Oxford headquarters, to be tested in state-of-the-art glasshouses and on into field trials within this 75 hectare site on prime arable land.
The expansion of this university spin-out offers a prime example as to how initial funding secured in R&D here in Oxfordshire can support levelling up ambitions, boosting productivity and spreading opportunity elsewhere in the UK.