As one of the leading technology transfer companies, UCLB’s mission is to benefit both the economy and society as a whole by commercialising the discoveries and developments that come out of UCL. The ‘B’ stands for business and it has linked the university’s research to market opportunities for nearly 30 years.
For UCL’s many innovators, UCLB provides the whole gamut of services from intellectual property protection and patent registration through to the licensing and sale of technologies to industry partners.
In between, it also supports the creation of new businesses, doing anything and everything from sourcing funding, building teams, finding workspace and providing the introduction to development partners outside of UCL.
The majority of its spinout companies – in a portfolio currently worth circa £270m – are enabling the next wave of technology-based businesses to thrive in a fast-moving ecosystem to tackle global challenges in the fields of biomedicine, biotechnology, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences and the built environment.
Chief executive Dr Anne Lane said: “UCL’s research strengths are in biomedicine in particular and UCLB has commercialised those activities for the past 30 years to great effect.
“We have raised significant amounts of external investment and created around 500 jobs through our top five best performing companies alone.
“At the moment, our most successful area of enterprise is cell and gene therapy and four of our top five spinouts work in that field.”
Three of those gene therapy spinouts – Autolus, Orchard Therapeutics and MeiraGTx – have been listed on NASDAQ, the American stock exchange.
However, success for many enterprises can be measured in social-gain rather than pounds or dollars.
Take one of UCL’s latest initiatives, the UCL-Ventura breathing aid, for example, and the ‘continuous pressure airways device’ the team behind it has designed.
Dr Lane said: “This device keeps patients out of intensive care and off ventilators, which are the last resort if you have Covid-19.
“It was reverse engineered from an existing face mask by UCL along with members of the Mercedes F1 team.
“There’s no Formula One this season and their resources were not being used, so they quickly pivoted, to collaborate and develop these breathing aids.
“The UCL-Ventura device has been delivered to 46 NHS trusts so far and on top of that, the design is now available on a UCL platform, free of charge, and accessible to countries all over the world.”
UCL and UCLB had helped to ensure the right legal arrangements were in the licence and that the university was protected. “It is a medical device, after all,” she said. “But it is now a globally accessible technology via our e-lucid platform.”
Another recent development has also come into its own during Covid-19 – a magnetic tracer, produced by spinout company Endomag.
It minimises the amount of tissue that needs to be removed during breast cancer surgery, thereby reducing the impact of the operation, recovery time and the length of stay required in hospital.
“That particular device is being provided to the NHS free of charge to ensure breast cancer treatment can continue even during Covid-19,” she said.
UCLB works closely with its partner hospitals – the UCLH, the Royal Free Hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital – ties that are strengthened by the work carried out by UCL’s Biomedical Research Centres (BRC’s).
Those centres are funded by the Department for Health via its National Institute for Health Research grants. The UCL, UCLH, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital most recent BRC’s awards were in excess of £130 million in total, spanning over 5 years.
The two main teams among UCLB’s 50 or so members of staff are responsible, on the one hand, for biomedical enterprises and on the other, physical science and engineering.
Dr Lane said: “Our managers are each responsible for maintaining a close relationship with certain departments or institutes within the university, so they can identify anything of possible development potential and also, conversely, so researchers know to come to us when they have an idea.
“More often than not though, researchers themselves spot something that has commercial potential.”
Beyond biomedicine, UCLB is developing opportunities from across the multi-disciplinary research base at UCL. Recent successes have included spinout companies such as Senceive which provides wireless condition monitoring of railway assets, Bramble Energy which is developing low cost fuel cell technology and finally a collaboration with the Slade School of Fine Arts and the Coal Authority which has led to the development a range of paints produced from coal mine waste.