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$20m collaboration launched to boost therapeutic discovery

$20m collaboration launched to boost therapeutic discovery

Evotec and Bristol Myers Squibb have launched beLAB1407 with funding of $20 million, to advance drug discovery opportunities and encourage the launch of spinout companies from the Universities of Edinburgh, Birmingham, Dundee and Nottingham.

BeLAB1407, launched by Germany-based Evotec in collaboration with US-based Bristol Myers Squibb, aims to accelerate translational research from the UK’s academic life science ecosystem.

It is the latest of Evotec’s Biomedical Research, Innovation & Development Generation Efficiency (BRIDGE) projects which the company has established across Europe and North America.

“The University of Edinburgh has a long tradition of making a positive impact on the world around us. Being part of the collaboration at beLAB1407 will help develop new solutions to unmet clinical need and continue our influence.

 

“We are delighted to, once again, be collaborating with multiple partners to create positive impact for all our communities.”

 

– Professor Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh.

EI’s central role

Edinburgh Innovations played a central role in bringing together the academic and commercial partners involved in the beLAB1407 collaboration and led the negotiations and deal closure on behalf of the University partners.

University researchers will be able to access funding from beLAB1407 to work with industrial partners to progress therapeutics research with a view to launching spinout companies. Professor Scott Webster is the academic lead on the programme for the University of Edinburgh.

Supporting spinout creation

Evotec’s BRIDGE collaborations provide a fund and award framework to validate academic projects in collaborations with pharmaceutical and biotechnology partners, with the goal to form new companies.

Since implementing the first academic BRIDGE ‘LAB282’ in Oxford in November 2016, Evotec has continued to evolve similar collaborations with a variety of academic, pharma and venture capital partners across Europe and North America.

With beLAB1407, Evotec links one of Europe’s foremost academic clusters of excellence in the life sciences with Bristol Myers Squibb as a major biopharmaceutical partner dedicated to advancing innovation in therapeutics from academia to patient benefit.

The beLAB1407 collaboration builds on a longstanding relationship between Evotec and Bristol Myers Squibb in drug discovery across several therapeutic areas.

“This innovative collaboration represents the best of academic and industry collaboration. We are delighted to be playing our part in such a high calibre project supporting early stage research become reality.

 

“The University of Edinburgh already has an impressive track record of drug discovery supported by our world class facilities. This innovative approach gives us even more opportunity to make our ideas work for a better world.”

 

– Dr George Baxter, CEO, Edinburgh Innovations.

The name beLAB1407 refers to the distance in kilometres between Land’s End in the southwest of Great Britain to its north-easternmost point, John o’ Groats in Scotland.

“We are thrilled to launch beLAB1407 together with our partners at Bristol Myers Squibb with whom we’ve worked on a variety of projects over a period of many years.

 

“BeLAB1407 provides researchers from the member institutions with a unique way to fast-track their projects, to validate them on our industrial-grade platform and have partnering options including company formations readily available to them.”

 

– Dr Werner Lanthaler, CEO, Evotec.

Related links

Evotec BRIDGEs

EI services for staff

 

 

Double win at Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards

Double win at Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards

Edinburgh Innovations has won high-profile recognition at the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2021: Dr Andrea Taylor, Head of Business Development for medicine and veterinary medicine, took the Heroes Award, and a collaboration between the Roslin Institute and industry partner Cobb-Vantress, supported by Dr Alice Barrier, won the Powerful Partnership Award.

Dr Taylor has overseen a transformation in the commercialisation of medical research at the University of Edinburgh’s College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine over the past three years.

There have been five new therapeutics spinout companies from the College based on University research over the past 18 months, aiming to tackle some of medicine’s biggest challenges and launched with substantial funding by prestigious investment companies.

And funding awards for research collaborations between the University and industrial partners have reached new highs over each of the past three years, and have continued to grow over the first eight months of the current year.

Culture of innovation

The one-team approach between the College and EI that Dr Taylor has championed has led to a greater culture of innovation, with early career researchers supported through new programmes of training and development, significant increase in industry outreach and a broadening of the relationships developed.

“It’s an honour to accept this award, which reflects the dedication of our excellent team at Edinburgh Innovations and the entrepreneurial talents of the University’s leading researchers.”

 

– Dr Andrea Taylor, Head of Business Development, College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.

Powerful partnership

The Powerful Partnership Award recognises a successful seven-year partnership between the Roslin Institute and poultry breeding company Cobb-Vantress, supported by EI Business Development Manager Dr Alice Barrier. The partnership is focused on ensuring a sustainable global poultry industry in terms of animal welfare, disease resistance, food security and preserving biodiversity.

The partnership’s outputs include patented technologies, new insights into the chicken genome, production of genome-edited surrogate birds that can lay eggs of rare breeds, and finding gene markers relevant to diseases such as avian flu.

“The partnership between the Roslin Institute and Cobb-Vantress has been invaluable to both partners in developing and translating cutting edge research to ultimately enhance lives of animals and humans.”

 

– Dr Alice Barrier, Business Development Manager.

Professor Bruce Whitelaw, Interim Director, the Roslin Institute, said: “Bringing together Roslin’s world-class scientific research with one of the world’s leading businesses in poultry genetics has enabled significant insights to support health, wellbeing and diversity of animals in one of the most important livestock sectors.”

Four finalists

Winners of the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards, run by Interface, were announced at an online ceremony. There were eight award categories, and as well as EI’s two winners, two additional finalists were EI clients.

EI’s Dr Axel Thomson has supported a partnership between Aqualution Systems, an SME based in the Scottish Borders, and Dr Faiz Iqbal and Dr Adam Stokes from the University’s School of Engineering, which has led to a fivefold increase in production of life-saving disinfectant and was a finalist in the Covid-19 Collaborative Response Award.

And Siân Ringrose has supported a collaboration between the Roslin Institute, the University of Stirling, Hendrix Genetics, and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which was shortlisted in the Multiparty Collaboration category.

The collaboration has pinpointed elements of the salmon genome that have been used to breed salmon with resistance to Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN), previously a major economic and animal welfare issue for salmon farming. The success of breeding for IPN resistance has helped spark widespread uptake of genome technologies to tackle other diseases, and is being applied to sea lice.

“Congratulations to Andrea and Alice on these awards and to all our finalists and their collaboration teams.

 

“The awards recognise sector-leading work that enables innovation informed by research, bringing benefits to the University, our partner organisations and wider society.”

 

– Dr George Baxter, CEO, Edinburgh Innovations.

Image: the eight winners of the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2021, including Dr Andrea Taylor, top right, and the poultry collaboration, bottom left.

Related links

Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards – Interface

Roslin Institute

Cobb-Vantress

EI services for staff 

Work with the University of Edinburgh

 

Data-driven projects join cross-university Venture Builder Incubator

Data-driven projects join cross-university Venture Builder Incubator

Twenty-seven data-driven projects have been chosen as the first cohort of the  Data-Driven Entrepreneurship Venture Builder Incubator.

The incubator will support postgraduate students, post-doctoral researchers and academic staff looking to solve major global challenges. It will bring their research to market as part of the ambitious Data-Driven Entrepreneurship Beacon Programme at the University of Edinburgh to support post-Covid recovery.

“We have been delighted at the response we have had to this innovative programme. The University of Edinburgh is recognised worldwide for the quality of its research and this programme will make an important contribution to unlocking the benefits of that research for communities and the economy.

 

“We will be supporting these entrepreneurial researchers from idea to business launch.”

 

– Dr John Lonsdale, Head of Enterprise Services at Edinburgh Innovations.

Heriot-Watt and edventures

The incubator is the first at the University to include students from Heriot-Watt University, making it a pioneering collaboration between the two universities.

It is also the first at the University of Edinburgh to be delivered in partnership with edventure, a pan-European university venture builder and accelerator launched in September 2020 by three Edinburgh students, Zara Zaman, Ragnor Comerford and Fynn Comerford.

Since its launch, edventure has grown to a team of more than 40 people, more than half of them women, helping over 200 students to build startups at universities across Europe.

The DDE Venture Builder Incubator is managed by Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service, and delivered by the Bayes Centre on behalf of the University’s five Data-Driven Innovation Hubs. It is delivered in partnership with Edinburgh-based strategic design consultancy Nile, as well as edventure.

“We are delighted to have some of our most promising entrepreneurial students participate in the inaugural Venture Builder Incubator and have an opportunity to collaborate with students from each of the Data-Driven Innovation Hubs.”

 

– Paul Devlin, Head of Commercialisation at Heriot-Watt University.

Interest across disciplines

Applications were received from all corners of the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University, showing wide interest in entrepreneurship.

The majority of projects selected are based on PhD research, though initiatives from masters students, post-doctoral researchers and staff have also joined the incubator. Healthcare, climate change, animal care, finances and robotics are among the areas participants will be working on during the three-month programme.

“The PhD Incubator complements the Post-Covid AI Accelerator and the University investor readiness programme, EIE (Engage Invest Exploit).

 

“The cohort will benefit from our community of over 400 internationally recognised scientists, leading industry experts, entrepreneurs and investors. I look forward to working with them – to establish new dynamic businesses that will deliver data technology solutions to real-world problems.”

 

– Jim Ashe, Director of Innovation at the Bayes Centre.

Support and funding

The cohort will benefit from tailored content and support, mentoring and conferences to turn their ideas and early-stage projects into sustainable businesses. Through the Data Driven Innovation (DDI) programme of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, each of the 27 initiatives will also receive a £2,000 grant from the Scottish Funding Council or Heriot-Watt.

Claire Ann Banga is a PhD Clinical Psychology student and founder of eMoodie, a digital platform to give people tools and interventions to manage their mental health. Ms Banga said: “Our team is very excited to be part of the incubator. We’re all looking forward to meeting like-minded individuals and hope that we can collaborate to help both our own and other projects move forward to help address current societal challenges.”

The DDI programme, which is part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, aims to help Edinburgh become the Data Capital of Europe, creating wide-reaching benefits for the economy and society.

Full list of Incubator projects:

  • Altra – an app for improving education by saving teachers’ time.
  • Bennu.ai – a smart bin that sorts waste automatically using smart sensors and AI models.
  • Car Seat Jungle – a comprehensive car seat search engine.
  • Danu Robotics – AI-powered, vision-guided robotics to automate waste sorting.
  • Efemarai – a platform for testing and debugging machine learning models.
  • eMoodie – a digital mental health app for early intervention and addressing treatment gaps.
  • Grand Bequest – a historical real estate app for old building conservation.
  • HiGHS – offers consultancy and an open source software for discrete and continuous optimisation problems.
  • Koios – a reading platform for cause-and-effect discovery in advanced materials.
  • MeetDoc – a platform to monitor health conditions and deliver medication.
  • Nature Sky Solutions – an unmanned aerial vehicle system for studying the environment.
  • NextChain – a B2B food marketplace that connects local farmers/producers with restaurants and small retail stores.
  • Nimbo – a command line tool that abstracts the AWS DevOps and infrastructure setup away from the programmer.
  • Podspectrix – a medical imaging device aided by machine learning for foot ulcer detection and ulcer management guidance.
  • Readysetcore – a hospitality-focused suite of applications that saves time and money on managerial tasks.
  • Rigpa – an event-based solution for radioisotope identification.
  • Scrapp – a personal recycling assistant that scans waste and informs if the material is recyclable. 
  • Sense Check – helps engineers learn from the measured in-service behaviour of civil structures.
  • Sleuth AI – a data testing platform for market predictions.
  • SmpliCare – a digital platform that helps families proactively support ageing loved ones to maintain independence at home.
  • Student Bubble – a platform for private student rental accommodation.
  • VisionRF – a wireless health monitoring device.
  • [unnamed project] – a canine microbiome fecal test, utilising state-of-the-art sequencing technology.
  • [unnamed project] – a comprehensive battery test to determine their value after use.
  • [unnamed project] – a financial platform that provides access to professional financial tools.
  • [unnamed project] – a tool framework to mitigate machine learning models’ negative biases.
  • [unnamed project] – working on a pregnancy test that allows early identification of non-pregnant cows.

Related links

DDE Beacon Programme

EI services for students

Heriot-Watt enterprise

edventure

Nile

eMoodie

 

Liver disease: tackling a global challenge

Liver disease: tackling a global challenge

University of Edinburgh researchers are spearheading efforts to combat Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

Professor Jonathan Fallowfield, Personal Chair of Translational Liver Research & Honorary Consultant Hepatologist, describes his work.

Many of us working in the sphere of NAFLD recognise the large steps forward we have taken in recent years. However, despite all this progress, we are still facing numerous barriers to significant improvement of patient care and outcomes.

Firstly, NAFLD has a highly variable and unpredictable rate of progression, with a lack of validated prognostic biomarkers to predict longer-term clinical outcomes.

Another challenge is that although weight loss of over 10% is an effective treatment, this is hard to achieve and even harder to maintain and, currently, there are no approved medicines for the treatment of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH – the most aggressive form of NAFLD) or liver fibrosis.

Lastly, public awareness of the disease remains low and is a barrier to preventative health strategies and to enrolment in clinical trials. For example, even among patients most at-risk for NASH (i.e., those with type-2 diabetes, obesity and hypertension), only 6% had ever heard of NASH (Continuum Clinical, 2019).

This is particularly worrying given that NAFLD is now the most common cause of chronic liver disease in Western countries, with a global prevalence of 25% and rising.

Approximately 5% of UK adults are estimated to have NASH, which is associated with risk of progression to fibrosis/cirrhosis, liver cancer and death. Indeed, people with NASH have an overall mortality rate of 7.9% within 7 years of diagnosis – almost twice that of the general population.

A pan-Scotland effort

These are just some of the galvanising reasons that led me to be the clinical lead on SteatoSITE: an integrated gene-to-patient data commons for NAFLD research – an ambitious £1.7 million initiative funded by Innovate UK. SteatoSITE is a pan-Scotland effort, managed by Precision Medicine Scotland, that will incorporate digital pathology and quantification, hepatic RNA-sequencing and electronic health record data (comorbidities, prescribing, laboratory tests, clinical outcomes) from around 1,000 (retrospective) cases across the NAFLD disease spectrum. SteatoSITE is expected to foster multiple new collaborations with academic and industry partners.

In addition, exciting ‘spin-off’ projects to SteatoSITE are already underway, including a $1 million international collaboration co-led by myself and Dr Tim Kendall and funded by Innovate UK (‘Development of an INTEgrated PREcision AI Tool for the stratification of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (INTErPRET-NAFLD)’) – a partnership between experts in digital pathology, data processing and AI.

Working with an expert team

We are making incredible progress on multiple fronts only because of the exceptional range of individuals I am lucky enough to be working with.

For example, by using the University of Edinburgh’s cutting-edge imaging capabilities, Professor Scott Semple and I are right at the forefront of MRI-based biomarker development for NAFLD and other liver disease indications (including two recent Innovate UK funded projects totalling more than £2.3 million in collaboration with Perspectum Diagnostics).

This also applies to ‘Breathomics’ where Professor John Plevris, Professor Peter Hayes and I have also recently developed methods and explored the utility of measuring volatile organic compounds in exhaled breath as diagnostic (‘stratification’) biomarkers in NAFLD.

Furthermore, the University of Edinburgh specialises in interdisciplinary molecule-to-man approaches to drug development for NAFLD which include expertise in cell differentiation and tissue engineering (Professor David Hay), control engineering/microfluidics (Dr Filippo Menolascina), single-cell RNA-sequencing (Dr Prakash Ramachandran and Professor Neil Henderson), bioinformatics (Dr Frances Turner, Dr Donald Dunbar), histopathology (Dr Kendall), in vivo NAFLD models (Professor Nik Morton, myself), drug discovery methods (Professor Scott Webster), mass spectrometry imaging (Professor Ruth Andrew), preclinical (Dr Maurits Jansen) and clinical (Professor Semple) imaging … among a wide-ranging cast of outstanding researchers.

Our Team Science approach is exemplified by ongoing studies using computational/bioinformatic analysis of RNA-sequencing datasets to inform the development of a multiplex tissue staining assay for NAFLD and testing of novel drug combinations in a microfluidic in vitro NAFLD model. Moreover, engagement with pharmaceutical companies to evaluate proprietary therapeutic candidates in preclinical models or in clinical trials is also a key facet of our research portfolio at the Edinburgh Clinical Research Facility.

A public health crisis

As I mentioned earlier, NAFLD represents a public health crisis and has massive and disproportionate healthcare and societal impacts. This means we are also actively engaging with the public, with patient representative groups and the British Liver Trust to increase awareness by disseminating our research to the widest possible audience.

Unchecked, the trajectory of NAFLD is worrying and could cause a significant and unnecessary healthcare burden. With our ongoing research, I am confident that we will unlock the secrets of NAFLD and begin to grasp this unfolding public health crisis. At the University of Edinburgh, we are using our expertise, facilities and capability to support that research journey from bench to bedside; to significantly improve outcomes for those suffering from NAFLD now and in the future.

 

Related Links

Discover more about the University of Edinburgh’s therapeutic discovery capability at Bench to Bedside — Edinburgh Innovations

EI services for University of Edinburgh staff

Edinburgh Clinical Research Facility provides state of the art facilities to support multidisciplinary clinical research locally, nationally and internationally.

Spinout BioCaptiva aims to unlock blood-based biopsies

Spinout BioCaptiva aims to unlock blood-based biopsies

A University of Edinburgh spinout company aims to revolutionise the early diagnosis of difficult-to-detect cancers with a new blood-based biopsy device.

With Edinburgh Innovations’ support, BioCaptiva has been launched with more than £1 million in seed investment from Edinburgh-based investment syndicate Archangels and Scottish Enterprise.

BioCollector device

It has developed a next-generation “liquid biopsy” technology that captures circulating free DNA (cfDNA) from patients’ blood in much greater quantities than is possible through the current standard of a single blood draw, overcoming a significant current limitation of cancer liquid biopsy testing.

Named BioCollector, the device works alongside a standard apheresis machine, filtering cfDNA from the patient’s blood system.

BioCollector is based on a decade of research led by Professor Tim Aitman, Director of the Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine, and Professor Mark Bradley of the University’s School of Chemistry.

“I’m delighted that after several years of work with colleagues in Edinburgh, we will now progress towards first-in-human trials. BioCollector will provide a step change in the capabilities of liquid biopsy for cancer detection and diagnosis.

 

“We are excited to be moving our device into this market with its huge potential for advances in the care of patients with cancer.”

 

– Professor Tim Aitman, Director of the Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine.

Prototype promise

Prototypes indicate the potential to detect early-stage cancers in patients without the need for surgical biopsy. The BioCollector also promises new approaches for monitoring minimal residual disease and detecting disease recurrence, resulting in better patient outcomes.

The seed investment will enable BioCaptiva to carry out its first trials to prove its safe use in humans. Should the technology prove successful, BioCaptiva plans to scale up its technology ahead of regulatory clinical trials, scheduled for completion during 2024.

Global market

A recent report shows the global liquid biopsy market growing by a compound annual rate of 33% and projected to be worth more than $6 billion by 2025.

BioCaptiva expects interest to come principally from companies that are developing novel cancer tests limited by current methods of extracting cfDNA, where the higher yield achieved by the BioCollector will increase the sensitivity of their detection methods.

“BioCaptiva has very exciting prospects in an important field, based on the leading research of Edinburgh scientists.

 

“The launch of this company, with such solid investment support, promises to improve many people’s lives.”

 

– Dr George Baxter, CEO, Edinburgh Innovations.

Expert team

BioCaptiva will be led by CEO Jeremy Wheeler, who has extensive experience the medical devices startup field. Frank Armstrong, who has a track record of developing healthcare products across a range of therapeutic areas, has been appointed Non-Executive Chairman of the company.

Photograph: BioCaptiva CEO Jeremy Wheeler with a prototype BioCollector device. Picture credit: Peter Devlin.

Related links

Archangels Investors

EI services for staff