MedCity: yet another string to London’s bow as an Innovation hub
MedCity aims to join the ranks of TechCity, EduCity and FinTech in aspiring to make London an innovation Super Centre, where all sorts of different experts in each field work intimately together to foster new businesses – like Silicon Valley.
The Mayor of London has just added a new 20-year vision for London. And contributed £4.1mn to it. MedCity will position London and the greater south east of England as a world leading, interconnected region for life science, research, development – manufacturing and commercialisation. It will provide a “go to” point for businesses and investors, whether global or local, to understand, access, invest in and collaborate with life sciences activity across the region.
The aim is to build a more entrepreneurial culture – championing new areas of collaboration, and fostering a commercial mind-set in the research and clinical community; and creating and promoting a joined up and globally distinctive life sciences offer, meeting the needs of customers and ultimately benefitting patients.
It will achieve this through understanding, communicating and promoting the internal capabilities within London and the greater south-east, enabling customers to readily access the science and industrial excellence available
It will aim to be a portal to access the Life Sciences communities within London and the greater south-east.
It will encourage and facilitate entrepreneurial activity through collaboration, networking, events and seeding activities – bringing investigators, industry and the finance community together. While the focus will be on life sciences, other opportunities will be actively sought out in order to bring together new groups of people, building on parallel initiatives such as TechCity
. It will be an advocate and an ambassador for the life sciences.
There is as yet no indication of how these aspirations will be met and how the cash will be used, but co-working and co-mingling are surely of the essence to collaboration.
John Whatmore June 2014
Bioscience brings development expertise to bear on discoveries with big potential benefits
We are widely recognised for the quality of our academic output in the UK, but stories abound about the inflexibility and lack of commercial under-standing of Technology Transfer Offices. The Wellcome Trust recently launched a vehicle for investing in spin-outs and start-ups for developing promising discoveries. Should the TSB build on its approach in the hope of making productive use of important IP that might otherwise languish for failure to find effective developers?
Most Accelerators open their doors to teams with ideas for quick-wins – an approach which inevitably misses developments that may be of strategic or technical importance. The Wellcome Trust has begun to operate at the other end of this spectrum, by identifying important discoveries and funding their development.
In 2012, the Wellcome Trust launched a fund designed to take an active role in identifying, supporting and developing technologies with potential to significantly impact the healthcare market of the future. Syncona Partners, an independent subsidiary of the Wellcome Trust with a capital of £200mn, is able to take the long view and to concentrate investment into opportunities as their underlying technology is validated. It provides financial resources to individuals and companies, including spin-outs and start-ups.
Syncona has just announced a £12mn investment in NightstaRX Ltd, a spin-out from Isis at Oxford University, a start-up which will focus on the development and commercialisation of therapies for retinal dystrophies.
The company will need to form and build teams and motivate them to work together so as to test assumptions – about developability, therapeutic value, scaleability, cost etc; and to carry through their development, dealing with tests and assessments, regulations, approvals etc, in order to demonstrate that they have an investable future (from NICE or elsewhere). Syncona’s start-up will bring commercial and organisational experience to Oxford’s discoveries and expects to enable them to be developed for the benefit of sufferers.
Its recently appointed CEO (a very experienced former Director of R&D in the industry) comments that breaking new ground and tackling new modalities of medicine requires great attention to individuals as well as to team work, and she adds that this is especially challenging with a virtual model. It will involve recruiting operating staff of the highest calibre – management and financial, and technical staff – medical and scientific, so as to develop, test and assess solutions that can be documented to the authorities or to commercial backers. And this involves melding the expertise of management, science and regulatory or commercial organisations in a single purposeful unit, and building up that organisation as work progresses.
For all of this, the Wellcome Trust relies entirely on the expertise and experience of the CEO whom it has put in place. While many developments of this kind take place in stages (eg the mobile phone), Syncona cannot marshal or manage the necessary development expertise to act in that way: so it has no option but to place big bets!
Should the TSB be working with Research Councils or Catapults to involve and ally its expertise in developing businesses with their expertise in developing technology, and fund and launch spin-outs and start-ups to work on promising strategic or technical initiatives – as has the Wellcome Trust?
Chair of Praxis/Unico high-lights its roles –
as sharing best practice and training
One of the biggest issues for Technology Transfer Offices is that senior academics do not value the staff of Technology Transfer Offices as highly as they do corresponding experts from outside the university. Among the more useful advisers for their academics who have commercialisable IP or business opportunities are university alumni who are in industry, especially those with knowledge of markets and marketing, technologies, strategy, and finance, and those with previous experience or extensive connections in the business world.
To have the expertise to identify or to support opportunities for commercialisation or help them to find funders or partners in the corporate world would require a range of knowledge and experience in all sorts of fields well beyond the capabilities of most Technology Transfer Offices.
Collaborations such as the IP Group, N8 and SetSquared have taken on these roles. Smaller universities with less of a portfolio of potential spin-outs do not have the funds to nurse them to the buy-out stage; so they need to work together.
Praxis/Unico has two main roles: high-lighting best practice and training new entrants; and judging by the way overseas organisations find their way to it for help and advice, it has much to offer. The revival of its Directors Forum is an important step in advancing these roles; and provides opportunities to capture and disseminate best practice.