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6 biotechnology universities in the UK leading the way for future talent

The U.K. has a selection of world-class universities offering biotechnology courses, whether students are looking for undergraduate or graduate programs. The country is also home to the ‘golden triangle’, encompassing the biotech hubs of Oxford, Cambridge, and London, all of which boast some of the world’s best universities for biotechnology.

In this article, we have listed six of the top biotechnology universities in the U.K. 

Table of contents

    University of Cambridge 

    Known for its academic excellence, the University of Cambridge has given rise to numerous famous science graduates, including Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Stephen Hawking. 

    The university’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology offers an undergraduate course in Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, which integrates the two topics together and teaches students the scientific principles that underpin them both, as well as how they can be applied to solve real-world problems. 

    Graduates of the course can expect to find careers such as: creating chemical and biological processes to transform molecules into valuable products; designing chemical and biological products for the benefit of society; using new technologies to facilitate the energy transition away from fossil fuels and to mitigate the effects of climate change; provision of improved healthcare and therapeutics; and using systems thinking to improve the sustainability of processes and products.

    As well as the combined topic undergraduate course, the university also offers a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) specifically in Biotechnology. The program is designed to provide students with core and advanced knowledge skills, practical and research skills, and business skills in biotechnology.

    To help matters further, the historic city of Cambridge itself happens to be a major biotech hub within the U.K. and is home to numerous startups and well-established companies, offering prospective graduates plenty of opportunities to get a job in the biotech industry once they leave university. 

    University of Oxford

    Just like the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford is world-renowned for its academic prestige and is situated in another major biotech hub in the U.K., in the historic city of Oxford. 

    Even more impressive is the fact that the University of Oxford helped to develop one of the first COVID-19 vaccines with AstraZeneca, which just goes to show how much of a powerhouse it is in terms of scientific research. 

    This U.K. university offers two undergraduate courses related to biotechnology, which are Biomedical Sciences and Biochemistry. The Biomedical Sciences program focuses on how cells, organs, and systems function in the human body, while the Biochemistry program involves learning about the use of molecular methods to investigate, explain, and manipulate biological processes.

    There are also a number of graduate programs to choose from at the University of Oxford, including a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Biochemistry and a Master of Science (MSc) in Biochemistry, both of which aim to train students in cutting-edge laboratory research applying techniques in bionanotechnology, biophysics, computational biology, microscopy, molecular biology, structural biology, and systems biology to a broad range of fields including cell biology, chromosome biology, drug discovery, epigenetics, host-pathogen interactions, membrane proteins, ion channels and transporters, and RNA biology.

    Additionally, a PhD course is available in Interdisciplinary Bioscience, which is a four-year course supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) that provides innovative training for graduates from a life science, physical science or computational and mathematical science background who wish to conduct leading-edge bioscience research. 

    Imperial College London (ICL) 

    Another one of the most prestigious universities in the U.K., based in the nation’s capital, Imperial College London (ICL) runs multiple undergraduate and graduate courses related to biotechnology, and is perhaps one of the most exciting universities in the U.K. to study biotech due to the array of options available. 

    The university has an undergraduate course in Biotechnology, which explores the vital links between biology and technology and teaches how bioprocesses can be applied to real-world situations. During the course, students will gain hands-on lab skills, while also learning about applications, industry, and entrepreneurship. There is even an optional year abroad or a year in industry/research. As well as simply studying biotechnology on its own, students can choose to take Biotechnology with Language for Science to advance language skills, or Biotechnology with Management to develop management potential. 

    Other undergraduate degrees offered at ICL that could offer you a career in biotechnology include Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering, Molecular Bioengineering, and Biochemistry. 

    ICL’s graduate programs include three MSc courses. One is in Applied Biosciences and Biotechnology, which will provide students with an in-depth understanding of modern bioscience research and allow them to acquire the skills necessary to pursue a career in the field. Meanwhile, the second MSc course is Engineering for Biomedicine, in which students will learn how to tackle modern healthcare challenges with bioengineering technology, and the third course is Advanced Chemical Engineering with Biotechnology, which will provide students with a firm foundation in the science and engineering of biological processes. 

    And, for those more interested in active research, there are four Master of Research (MRes) programs available: Biological and Physical Chemistry, in which you can tackle the multidisciplinary problems that lie between life sciences and physical sciences; Cancer Technology, in which you can develop a unique understanding of cancer from a bioengineering perspective; Chemical Biology and Bio-Entrepreneurship, whereby you can learn the skills needed to address future scientific challenges in chemical biology; and Drug Discovery and Development, in which you can build your expertise in multidisciplinary drug discovery research and explore emerging technologies.  

    University College London (UCL)

    Another one of London’s prestigious universities is University College London (UCL). It is considered one of the top universities in the U.K. for courses that combine biotechnology skills with pharmaceutical management skills. 

    This is because it offers an MSc in Biotech and Pharmaceutical Management that focuses on the business and management of biotechnology and pharmaceutical ventures, as well as a Drug Discovery and Pharma Management MSc, which was introduced by UCL as a spin-off from the MSc Drug Discovery in response to the increasing opportunities which now exist for research scientists who can evaluate the business potential of their science as well as generate the science itself.

    There are also undergraduate courses at UCL that students can take to help them launch a career in biotechnology. The UCL Department of Biochemical Engineering offers two main undergraduate programs. These are a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) in Biochemical Engineering and a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Bioprocessing of New Medicines (Business and Management). The BEng in Biochemical Engineering fully integrates engineering and biotechnology and is ideal for those who would like to explore careers in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, or bioenergy sectors, while the BSc in Bioprocessing of New Medicines is designed to give students a firm grounding in both the science of bioprocessing and the management of new emerging technologies in healthcare.

    Additionally, the university offers a Master of Engineering (MEng) in Biochemical Engineering, which is a four-year program that builds upon the BEng, enabling students to gain research skills. An MSc in Biochemical Engineering is also available to take, plus postgraduates can build on this even further, and have the opportunity to complete a PhD in Biochemical Engineering, too. 

    University of Edinburgh

    The University of Edinburgh is a top biotechnology university in the U.K. and is home to the Institute of Quantitive Biology, Biochemistry and Biotechnology, which brings together researchers from a range of backgrounds to tackle fundamental questions in biology and to develop biology-based solutions to real-world problems.

    As well as offering a BSc in Biological Sciences, which gives a broad overview of the subject area, the university offers students the opportunity to specialize within Biological Sciences, including a BSc in Biological Sciences with a focus on biotechnology. In this program, students will explore areas including microbial biotechnology, genetic and cloning technologies, drug design, plant cell technology, synthetic biology, stem cells, and biological production methods. 

    There are also 12 other Biological Sciences degrees, with focus areas such as biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, and immunology. 

    The university also offers an MSc specifically in Biotechnology. Here, students will learn research and development skills to enable the creation of new products and services, investigate the economic basis for current biotechnology structures and areas of future demand, including the global pharmaceutical industry and carbon sequestration, learn how technology can be applied to solve pressing real-world biological problems, and gain the skills and expertise needed for future developments in biotechnology.

    Furthermore, there is the option of an MSc in Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology, in which students will have the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for developing innovative solutions and tackling the pressing global challenges we are facing, such as rapidly changing human demographics and resulting health pressures, growing demand for more and healthier food, resource shortages, and sustainable fuel transition and a cleaner environment.

    University of Manchester

    The University of Manchester only offers a few biotechnology-related courses, but considering it is home to the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, it is considered one of the best universities to study biotech in the U.K. 

    The institute was founded in 2006 to facilitate cross-disciplinary research to develop new biotechnologies that have applications in human health, the energy economy, food security, and the environment, and currently has more than 40 research groups that lead a portfolio of pioneering research projects that continue to advance our knowledge and uses of biotechnology. 

    The University of Manchester offers a 3-year BSc Biotechnology undergraduate program, in which students can develop a comprehensive understanding of science, technology and business management, and collaborate with entrepreneurs on a project to develop a business plan for real life sciences products. There is also the option to do a four-year BSc program in Biotechnology with Industrial/Professional Experience, in which students can spend the third year of their degree gaining valuable work experience to enhance their CV, with a choice of placements from placements all over the world.

    In terms of graduate degrees, the university provides students with the opportunity to complete an MSc in Biotechnology and Enterprise. Here, students will learn how to turn scientific discoveries into inventions and commercial products and develop research skills in biotechnology and scientific knowledge applicable to a range of careers, including working as a consultant, in business development, as a research and development manager, patent engineer and technical specialist, or continuing research in a PhD program.

    Biotech spinouts from UK universities

    Over the years, there have been numerous biotech companies that have spun out of U.K. universities, which just goes to show the quality of research being conducted at the top universities in the country. In fact, the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, and ICL were all recently listed as the U.K.’s most prolific universities when it comes to filing patent applications and producing startup spinouts with a focus on biotech, as well as artificial intelligence (AI) and greentech. Many of the top biotechnology universities in the U.K. also have partnerships with U.K.-based biotech companies. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is biotech company Apollo Therapeutics, which has core innovation sourcing and drug discovery collaborations with the University of Cambridge, UCL, ICL, and King’s College London, allowing it to translate some of the world-leading basic biomedical research conducted in the U.K. into innovative new therapies.

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