Theme overview

Gloved hand holding a prosthetic eyeball Biotechnology involves utilising biological systems or living organisms to develop or create different products to solve global challenges in food, water, energy and healthcare.

As the world continues to develop, there is increased pressure on various systems to ensure equal access to food and water security, medicines and green energy.

Researchers from this theme aim to address these issues to ultimately improve human health and wellbeing.

Research areas include healthcare, pharmaceutical production, biofuels and bioengineering.

Examples of this research include

  • Future vaccine manufacturing - We have a large, collaborative programme that looks at vaccine manufacturing possibilities from a local to a global level, tackling diseases from COVID-19 to endemic issues in developing countries such as cholera, yellow fever or Ebola. The programme involves everything from systems-level design of “pop-up” vaccine manufacturing facilities to improved biosensors and bioreactor design for more controlled vaccine quality to novel options for delivery and storage. The programme is in collaboration with the Department of Medicine and University College London.
  • Bioenergy and industrial biotechnology - We have a collaborative programme aimed at improving the commercial viability of biobased products and technologies in the UK’s rapidly expanding bioeconomy. This programme looks at new ways of manufacturing biobased products from lignocellulosic biomass, from biomass harvesting through pretreatment and sugar isolation and on to fermentation for products in bioenergy, biofuels, biopharmaceuticals and bioplastics. Novel manufacturing processes and new recycling technologies in the circular economy foretell the future of the materials manufacturing sector.

Scientific scope

The biomedical engineering research focuses on the use of imaging techniques and the development of computational tools to achieve a deep understanding of the behaviour of fluids in biological systems.

The protein-based biotechnology expertise ranges from protein production and purification, to stabilisation and storage.

Cellular based capabilities include proteomics, cell and gene therapies, and multi-scale modelling of biological systems – including cell functions, tissue behaviour, biological transport and drug delivery.

We also have extensive expertise in bioprocess modelling, post-translational protein modification, biosensor design and biomaterials.

Our research centres and institutes include Engineered Medicines LabPharmacat and the Future Vaccine Manufacturing Research Hub.

Highlight videos

Introduction to Dr Ali's Yetisen's research

Dr Ali Yetisen is a Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering who conducts research into biosensors - such as 'smart tattoos', contact lenses and holographic sensors. In this video he provides an introduction to his research and some of the grand challenges he is addressing with his work.

This video introduces Dr Ali Yetisen's work on biosensors.

Introduction to Dr Ali's Yetisen's research

Dr Ali Yetisen introduced his research into biosensors such as 'smart tattoos' and contact lenses.

Dr Ali Yetisen is a Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering who conducts research into biosensors - such as 'smart tattoos', contact lenses and holographic sensors. In this video he provides an introduction to his research and some of the grand challenges he is addressing with his work.

Dr Maria Papathansiou introduces her research.

Introduction to Dr Maria Papathanasiou's research

Dr Maria Papathansiou introduces her research and how it's addressing society's grand challenges.

Dr Maria Papathanasiou is a Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering who carries out computational research and investigates methods for improving processes such as drug manufacturing and distribution. In this video she provides an introduction to her research and explains how her work is addressing some of society's grand challenges.

Dr Cleo Kontoravdi discusses vaccine manufacturing capacity.

Coronavirus: Can we produce enough vaccine?

Dr Cleo Kontoravdi discusses vaccine manufacturing capacity in reference to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Case study: Imperial-led Future Vaccine Manufacturing Research (FVMR) Hub  

Imperial’s FVMR Hub and the Vax-Hub, led jointly by UCL and the University of Oxford, are funded by the Department of Health and Social Care and began in December 2017. The Hubs broadly focus on supporting vaccine technologies for lower and middle income countries (LMIC).   

The FVMR Hub set out to rethink the way we approach vaccine design and manufacture. Whilst current vaccination programmes have been very successful, our capacity to respond rapidly to emerging disease threats has been limited.  

Prior to COVID-19, the timeline from emerging threat to licenced vaccine was typically around 10 years. Even when successful vaccines have been developed, the cost of making and distributing the vaccines is often unaffordable for developing countries 

The Hub has focused on two main strategies to tackle these problems: improving existing vaccine manufacture and distribution, and overhauling the entire process in favour of newer, more efficient technologies. A key philosophy of the Hub has been to work alongside LMIC partners to ensure that research remains focused on providing affordable solutions that work for all. 

Professor Nilay ShahHead of the Department of Chemical Engineering, has been using modelling to redesign and optimise a new flexible modular system for rapid development and deployment of vaccines. Tackling a global pandemic requires the design and production of billions of doses of vaccines within months, with several hurdles along the way including safety testing, regulatory approval and acquiring manufacturing facilities. Professor Shah's team works on modelling this entire process ahead of time so that quality vaccines can be produced as efficiently as possible during a pandemic. 

The department’s Professor Jason Hallett is also working on making both new and existing vaccine technologies more accessible by stabilising vaccines so that they can be stored without the need for refrigeration. Most vaccines (including RNA vaccines) need to be kept cold to prevent spoilage, leading to costly distribution infrastructure known as the “cold chain” – literally the chain of refrigeration facilities required to get the vaccine from A to B. Professor Hallett's team are working on strategies to eliminate the need for the cold chain entirely.  

This will drastically aid vaccine distribution, especially within LMICs where setting up cold chain infrastructure can be prohibitively expensive. In the meantime, improving stability so that vaccines can be stored in the fridge rather than deep-freezing at -80 °C can still have major cost and logistical benefits. 

This is part of an Imperial news story: 'Next generation vaccine tech offers post-COVID opportunities'.