Taking innovation forward can be a complex process, and university commercialisation offices help academics with specialist support to bring their research to market.
UCL Business (UCLB) is a leading commercialisation office and a part of University College London’s department of Innovation & Enterprise. UCLB has several unique funding models designed to help world-class researchers to successfully commercialise more research.
Every breakthrough is different and requires the right support to progress from lab all the way to market. By operating several tailored funding models, UCLB can maximise the chances of generating commercial breakthroughs from leading research, with the greatest potential for economic and societal impact.
Its different models include the UCL Technology Fund, Apollo Therapeutics, and a fund for social ventures. UCLB also has the Portico Ventures commercialisation model.
Chief executive Dr Anne Lane said: “UCL is home to world-class researchers working on a diverse range of exciting projects with the potential to make a major impact, both in terms of their commercial success and societal transformation.
“Having different funds and funding models means that UCLB has the tools required to support each opportunity in the right way, whether it’s funding to develop a proof-of-concept, licensing technologies and IP to established businesses, or establishing an entirely new spinout company to take it forward.
“UCLB’s business managers maintain close and trusted relationships with departments, institutes and researchers. It’s vital to our managers that they can identify the best possible way to help them.”
The UCL Technology Fund (UCLTF) is an example of how academics have successfully partnered with businesses and venture capitalists to commercialise research from universities.
UCLTF is managed by AlbionVC in collaboration with UCLB. Its focus is on physical and life sciences and they are actively investing in IP that can provide societal and market impact.
The fund works with the relevant academics to support their application for investment, whether that’s proof-of-concept, development or funding for spinouts to take their innovations to market.
It has proven highly successful, with the £50m first fund resulting in NASDAQ public listings for gene therapy spinouts Freeline Therapeutics, Orchard Therapeutics and MeiraGTx, tackling lifelong chronic conditions.
However, it’s not just early stage investment that UCTLF looks at. With its roots in venture capital, the Funds can support later funding rounds, supporting spinouts right throughout the commercialisation process.
“By partnering with AlbionVC, we’re able to provide more than just funding. It means that researchers benefit from the experience, market knowledge and networks that a successful and established VC like AlbionVC can provide.” said Dr Lane.
Apollo Therapeutics is a drug development vehicle that is funded to develop assets to pharma standards from world-leading academic research.
An advantage Apollo has over other translational funding resources is the projects are managed by its drug discovery team in collaboration with the lead researcher. Apollo supports this with the aim of having a successful, approved asset ready for licensing.
It recently secured its first out-licensing deal with Deerfield, a leading US healthcare investment firm, to take forward a novel gene therapy programme developed at UCL.
Portico Ventures is a new model of commercialisation for UCLB that helps researchers to become academic entrepreneurs and commercialise ideas where there isn’t patentable intellectual property. This includes areas such as algorithmic methods, know-how and software.
It gives academics the opportunity to access UCLB’s more than 25 years of commercialisation expertise, while offering greater independence and a greater share of the reward.
In 2019, Odin Vision – a spinout that takes AI technologies originally developed for space applications to detect bowel cancer – became the first Portico Ventures spinout to receive external investment.
“In addition to the success of UCLTF, our work with Apollo Therapeutics and our Portico Ventures model show how important it is to give researchers the tailored support they need at every step along the way.” said Dr Lane.
In November 2019, UCLB launched another significant fund designed to support new social ventures emerging from UCL’s research community. By providing proof-of-concept funding, researchers can explore how a new commercial enterprise can generate the maximum possible benefit for society at large.
UCLB worked with HeLP Digital, a social venture spinout emerging from research and clinical practice led by Professor Elizabeth Murray, to create a new digital platform for helping type 2 diabetes patients to self-manage their condition through education and advice.
“We know that many academics want to explore the wider potential of their research to bring benefit to society, and that is an important part of UCLB’s mission too. The introduction of this early-stage fund allows us to support even more social venture projects in their journey.” said Dr Lane.
Each of the different models that UCLB operates demonstrates the importance of providing trusted, tailored support to researchers with promising opportunities