Universities carry out research into some of the most fundamental questions about life and the world around us, with researchers utilising specialist facilities and equipment to investigate and advance human knowledge. 

This doesn’t happen overnight, and there is inherently a level of risk involved in carrying out new research. Not every experiment is successful, and sometimes, it can take years to reach the conclusion that a new idea is wrong. Sometimes, it takes much longer than originally planned for a new theory to be proven one way or another. 

But, sometimes, something entirely new is identified or created through research.

Those advances can transform lives. For example, by establishing a potential new way to treat a life–limiting disease, potentially unlocking a better quality of life for patients.

While the breakthrough is highly significant, the university still needs to find the best way possible to enable its research to benefit patients. And that’s where commercialisation and spinouts can come in.

Dr Anne Lane is CEO of UCL Business, the commercialisation company for UCL, one of the world’s leading multi-disciplinary universities.

“When our university’s researchers are on the path to creating or finding something new with significant potential, that’s where we can come in and help. Firstly, we help our researchers to protect their intellectual property (IP), including through patenting. It’s very important to ensure that IP is protected because it means it is defensible and cannot be copied. 

Breakthrough research can cost a lot in resources, but also personal commitment, and it’s important that this isn’t something that can be easily copied.” says Anne.

With the IP protected, UCLB’s staff then help the university and its researchers to consider the best way to make an impact from their work. Sometimes, the best way forward is to sell or license the IP to an existing organisation, which is well positioned to take it forward quickly. For example, because it already has the manufacturing processes or expertise required, or products in complementary areas already.

But sometimes, the new IP is strong enough to standalone and drive the formation of an entirely new company, and this is known as a ‘spinout’. In this case, the new spinout company will seek to take the IP forward and deliver new products and services that utilise it.

There are some significant advantages to doing this, including the ability for the researchers involved in the breakthrough research to keep more control over its destiny, and to keep developing it and building on its success over time. And, it may result in greater financial returns for those involved, and ensure the product finds it ways to those it would help most faster and more effectively.

“While not suitable for every opportunity, spinouts can be one of the most effective ways of taking forward pioneering new IP – like new therapies, or new medical equipment for example – because they enable an organisation to be set up with the sole intent of bringing it to market. It can potentially mean that research finds its way to making an impact on patients’ lives much faster than relying on external partners to do so. It can take investment from the university, and external partners like venture capital and medical charities to achieve this, but the results are often truly lifechanging.” says Anne.

NovalGen is a UCLB spinout that is looking to do just that. Its first pipeline product is a proprietary T Cell engager therapy that safely harnesses the immune system to fight cancers. Its lead program, called NVG-111, enters the clinic in the first half of 2021 and is capable of targeting over 20 different hard to treat cancers.  NVG-111 is a first in class bispecific antibody T cell engager targeting Receptor tyrosine kinase-like orphan receptor 1 (ROR1)

The company is starting their clinical studies in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and Mantle Cell Lymphoma, utilising IP that was licensed from research originally carried out at UCL. It has a focus on breakthrough bispecific antibody therapies harnessing the immune system to fight cancer 

To do that, it has assembled a dedicated and expert team of experienced scientists, physicians and professionals.

“NovalGen is a great example of why a spinout can be the right route forward. It is supported by a foundation of outstanding UCL research into potentially lifechanging bispecific therapies and has been established with a very clear vision and purpose to improve the lives of patients.” commented Anne

Soon, NovalGen aims to take the next step forward, with the first ever clinical trials of its new ROR1 T Cell engager therapy in a cancer patient. The results of those trials play a vital part in enabling spinouts like Novalgen to gain regulatory approval for new therapies and bring treatments to patients who badly need them.

Through spinouts, research that’s underway in universities today can make a big difference to the therapies available in our healthcare systems tomorrow.