At the University of Edinburgh it is policy to promote the commercial potential of any new ideas, discoveries or inventions arising from research, and there is an established commercialisation process for transferring them to industry through Edinburgh Innovations (EI).
EI guides University staff on how best to create impact and commercialise their research, depending on the type and stage of technology, the market demand, and each individual researcher’s ambitions.
Licensing technology to an existing and market-established company enables the University to maintain ownership of its intellectual property (IP) and oversee that it is developed and commercialised by the licensee, while simultaneously generating royalty income from the use of that IP by industry. Licensing is generally best suited to technologies with discrete identifiable applications and a well-understood market, as was the case with the breakthrough discovery of the compound known as NXP900, which led to a multi-million-dollar licensing deal with US biopharmaceutical company Nuvectis Pharma Inc. to develop medicines for hard-to-treat cancers.
With support and expertise from EI, researchers Professors Neil Carragher and Asier Unciti-Broceta submitted a patent application to protect NXP900, which had been a decade in development. EI Technology Transfer Manager Dr Maria Lopalco, who worked with the research team from an early stage to develop the commercial proposition, brokered a complex and high-value licence deal on behalf of the University. As a result, the University entered into one of the most significant commercial partnerships it has ever secured, worth over $3.5 million. Nuvectis has licensed exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialise cancer treatments based on the University's technology.
Forming a company is the best course of action for technologies with a wide range of applications, and which require ongoing support or complex chains to bring a product to market. EI provides a leading enterprise support service, working with University staff to turn innovations into startups or spinouts (companies in which the University retains an ownership stake) and connecting them with funding and investors. This is the route that Professor Stuart Forbes took after specialist healthcare investment company Syncona Ltd discovered the ground-breaking cell therapy research he and his team were conducting at the University. Professor Forbes had been exploring the role of macrophage cells in organ repair for over a decade, so when Syncona funded a fruitful two-year research collaboration with Professor John Campbell’s cell therapy group at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS), the team were able to make significant progress and file several foundational patent applications. The success of the collaboration motivated Syncona to invest a further £26.6 million to form Resolution Therapeutics in 2020 and bring the team’s pioneering science to a clinical setting. In 2022 Resolution Therapeutics completed a £10 million financing extension from Syncona, and the company is now channelling its leading-edge expertise into developing macrophage cell therapies to treat chronic liver disease.
EI's Business Development team members are embedded within the University's schools as first points of contact for staff seeking to commercialise their work or ideas, whether they are ready to launch or have only the beginnings of an idea. The team can assist with the commercialisation process and development funding, as well as pointing staff in the direction of further support and opportunities, both at EI and beyond.