Three Edinburgh Innovations clients are among the “30 under 30” list of Europe’s leading young entrepreneurs published by US business magazine Forbes.
Douglas Martin, founder of MiAlgae, which aims to revolutionise the acquaculture and agriculture feed markets with its microalgae-based product, and Jack Ryder and Sam Howarth, founders of Bump, the online marketplace for streetwear, are among 2020’s “young visionaries boldly redefining 10 industries across 32 European countries”, according to Forbes.
All three have been clients of EI’s Enterprise Services team since 2016 when Martin was studying MSc Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology and Howarth was a Business Management undergraduate student. They have been advised throughout by EI’s Liza Sutherland, Senior Enterprise Executive.
Sutherland’s support for MiAlgae has included helping value the business proposition, raising funding through grants and investments, building the business’s team, writing business plans and securing office space.
In the case of Bump, EI was instrumental in introducing the team to Fanduel founder Rob Jones, an encounter that radically changed their approach, and then to an Edinburgh graduate who advised them successfully on how to secure a place at the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator programme in California, after which Bump received a major investment.
“Douglas has always been a thinker, learner and experimenter who has wanted to make an environmental impact on the world while building a world leading ambitious business.
“Jack and Sam from Bump have been total grinders, working nonstop on building their marketplace. They are very ambitious, have a goal, set their eyes on it and take it. Plus they are very cool wearing all that streetwear.”
University of Edinburgh researchers are joining forces with commercial companies to develop new technologies to help tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and support the NHS.
Edinburgh Innovations has connected academic scientists and engineers with a range of companies, from SMEs to major multinationals, to help them fast-track product development, and has streamlined procedures to prevent delay.
Products and processes
The aims of joint research projects under way include speeding up the manufacture of antiseptic products, developing a rapid point-of-care test for the virus, and using the sewage system to monitor the population’s Covid-19 infection rate.
University specialists are collaborating with a company in the north of England on three projects: engineers are helping scale up delivery of an existing antiseptic product, while physicists are working to develop a new gel version of a liquid antiseptic and seeking a way to disinfect used face masks in the NHS, which could relieve pressure on mask supplies nationally.
Researchers from the University’s School of Biological Sciences are working with a major US manufacturer to find a new way to chemically bond antimicrobial agents to paper fibres.
This could enable a range of products such as facemasks, tissues and dressings to kill the Covid-19 virus, which would improve their effectiveness as well as potentially making them “self disinfecting” – reducing the danger associated with Covid-19-contaminated items.
EI and the University have agreed to streamline the usual procedures for engagement between academic researchers and industry. This enables joint research projects to begin immediately, while contractual arrangements are negotiated as the work is ongoing, or put on hold until the emergency is under control.
“It is essential that we apply our exceptional academic talent to help develop and deploy interventions to support the NHS and the wider global crisis as quickly as possible.
“To expedite this, we have paused commercial considerations to let the collaborative work get under way immediately.”
– Edinburgh Innovations Chief Executive Officer Dr George Baxter.
In addition to collaborating with industrial partners, the University is focusing its own world-leading research on mitigating the impact of Covid-19 and helping the quest for treatments, across areas including virology, biomedicine and public health policy.
Many of the University’s researchers have begun new research targeting the pandemic, while clinical academic staff are increasing their support to NHS services.
Edinburgh researchers have drawn up guidelines for clinicians on how to treat Covid-19, are helping pinpoint genetic regions of the virus that may be changing as it infects people, are trying to trace how and when it was first transmitted from an animals to humans, and have supported the World Health Organisation on policy, governance and global surveillance.
Around 80 researchers and representatives from the pharmaceutical and biotech industries came together to seek innovation opportunities at the University of Edinburgh’s Horizons in Neuroscience conference, hosted by EI.
The event aimed to ignite ideas in the fields of developmental, regenerative and degenerative neuroscience and to explore opportunities for translating research into commercial development.
The conference was opened by Professor Siddharthan Chandran, Director of Edinburgh Neuroscience, and Dr Andrea Taylor, EI’s Head of Business Development for the University’s College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine (CMVM).
‘It’s been amazing’
Thematic sessions were then presented by Edinburgh academics and colleagues from Amsterdam and Glasgow, plus industry leaders. Talks were on the themes of development, regeneration, degeneration and challenges in translational neuroscience.
“It’s been amazing. I’ve been taking plenty of notes because I’ve learned a lot.
“Roche as a company feels science has no borders, innovation happens everywhere, and a lot of it happens in academia. It’s really only by collaborating and finding opportunities to share knowledge that we can help one another make progress.”
– Paulo Fontoura, Head and Senior Vice-President, Neuroscience and Rare Diseases Clinical Development, Roche.
Industry partners at the event ranged from pharmaceutical giant Roche to SMEs and recent startups, as well as venture capital investors active in the neuroscience sector.
“We’ve got a very diverse audience. There have been a lot of questions from industry participants, asking about facilities, and lots of great discussions about the science.
“We’ve got that translational industry-to-academic bridging going on. Everyone’s very enthusiastic.”
– Neil Carragher, Professor of Drug Discovery and Director of Translation.
‘Great example of joint event’
The conference follows the recent establishment of the CMVM Translational and Commercialisation Board and associated Vision, to boost industrial relationships and the impact research is making to patients and society.
“It’s a very positive time. We’re trying to optimise the relationship between the business development function of EI with the strategy of the College’s institutes.
“This is a great example of a joint EI and CMVM event. Through events like this we are coming much closer together, so the College can help business development colleagues support us, by understanding what we’re doing, what our priorities are, what our challenges are.”
– Professor Neil Carragher.
Neuroscience has been identified as a focus for this new whole-College approach to translation and commercialisation, with Edinburgh a recognised centre of excellence in the neuroscience field.
“Edinburgh’s fantastically well positioned to capitalise on opportunities that new technologies bring to discovery innovation and translation for disorders of the brain across the life course.
“I hope today will spark ideas especially among early career researchers and give them confidence to be bold and imaginative.
“There are also influencers here who can take the reinforced message that Edinburgh is very serious in this area.”
Novel treatments that may reverse the effects of multiple sclerosis will be investigated by a new drug-discovery company spun out from the University of Edinburgh.
Backed by Series A funding of £5 million over its first three years, Pheno Therapeutics will search for new drugs that aim to repair damage to the nervous system and significantly improve patients’ debilitating symptoms.
Building on original research by Professors Siddharthan Chandran and Neil Carragher, the company aims to develop new therapies for MS by identifying novel molecules that cause the body to repair or replace the damaged myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells.
This so-called remyelination process has the potential to slow or arrest the progressive disability caused by MS.
Edinburgh Innovations helped deliver the formation of Pheno Therapeutics, bringing together the scientific and clinical expertise in partnership with Advent Life Sciences to launch the company.
Pheno Therapeutics is supported by Advent Life Sciences, the London-based venture capital firm; the Scottish Investment Bank, with backing from the Scottish Government through the Scottish Growth Scheme; and independent medical research charity LifeArc. Together they have committed to invest £5 million over three years, subject to the company meeting certain milestone conditions.
“I’m delighted to see this company launch with the support of such credible investors.
“Everyone involved is focused on driving the science forward, and we look forward to supporting the team as momentum continues to build, ultimately offering the promise of new treatments.”
– Dr George Baxter, CEO of Edinburgh Innovations.
Key to the company’s potential impact in MS treatments is the University’s advanced cell based technology platform, which enables the screening of large compound libraries on novel human cellular platforms, in addition to the founders’ and investors’ combination of clinical and drug discovery expertise.
Pheno Therapeutics intends to optimise the leads emerging from its cutting edge phenotypic screens via medicinal chemistry to deliver new candidate compounds that will progress through pre-clinical tests then proof-of-concept clinical trials.
Professor Siddharthan Chandran
Pheno Therapeutics co-founder Professor Siddharthan Chandran, who is Director of the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University, said: “There are no interventions for people with later stage multiple sclerosis, which is a devastating and debilitating condition.
“The opportunity for this company is to bring new and repurposed therapeutics to clinical trials and, by doing so, meet an urgent and currently unmet need.”
MS affects more than 100,000 people in the UK and 2.5 million worldwide. Targeting the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, the disease occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the protective layer surrounding nerve cells called the myelin sheath, slowing or disrupting the electrical signals travelling along the nerves.
It causes a wide range of symptoms including problems with movement, vision, sensation and balance.
Current treatments mainly focus on the immune system aspects of the disease and reduce the severity and frequency of relapses. There is a significant medical need for novel neuroprotective agents that halt the disease progression and prevent long-term disability.
Pheno Therapeutics is a spinout company from the University of Edinburgh founded by Professors Chandran and Carragher, Advent Life Sciences and Dr Jon Moore, Operating Partner at Advent Life Sciences.
“At the Seed Fund, we look to use our translational expertise to invest in enterprises with a sound scientific concept and the potential to lead to new interventions that address patient needs.
“In the founders of Pheno Therapeutics and their research to induce myelin repair, we saw an appealing opportunity, particularly given the existing clinical needs in progressive MS. We are delighted to have reached an agreement to support Pheno Therapeutics translate their discoveries.”
More than 60 multi-disciplinary academics have come together at Edinburgh Innovations to shape the work of the new £20m Advanced Care Research Centre.
The ACRC is part of a partnership between the University of Edinburgh and Legal & General, the UK’s largest pension fund investor. The agreement, announced in January 2020, follows 18 months of industry engagement work led by EI.
The Centre is a seven-year multi-disciplinary research programme that will combine research across fields including medicine and other care professions, life sciences, engineering, informatics, data and social sciences. It will enable data-driven, personalised and affordable care that delivers independence, dignity and a high quality of life for people living in their own homes or in supported care environments.
The funding of £20m from L&G marks the University’s largest industry investment to be confirmed as part of the £661m Data-Driven Innovation programme of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.
L&G’s Doug Munro addresses the large group of academics.
During 2019, Liz Casely, EI’s ACRC Programme Manager, brought together the participation of researchers from across the University, building the case that Edinburgh’s experts are uniquely placed to fulfil the mutually identified need for the ACRC.
On 7 February, following the conclusion of the agreement, the academics convened to develop the ACRC’s Work Programmes – the activities that will improve understanding of care in later life and revolutionise how it is delivered.
Dr Stella Chan discusses the impact of images on wellbeing.
EI Chief Executive Officer Dr George Baxter introduced the ACRC’s vision, after which Doug Munro, L&G Head of Structuring and Solutions, addressed the audience. A choice of workshops followed.
Alasdair MacLullich, Professor of Geriatric Medicine and former President of the European Delirium Association, said he was “immediately struck” by the wide range of interests represented at the workshops.
“In the very first workshop I learnt so much from what others were saying. Suddenly all sorts of new ideas came to my mind that could be achieved by working together.
“I think there’s great potential for interdisciplinary working. We’re all very keen to look for new ways of tackling these massive problems, and I think that only by bringing people together will those ideas lead to solutions.”
– Professor Alasdair MacLullich, Chair in Geriatric Medicine, University of Edinburgh.