The University of Cambridge and four companies in the UK and Europe’s leading BioMedTech cluster have shared more than £1 million in the first Biomedical Catalyst funding round announced today by the Medical Research Council and Technology Strategy Board.The University wins £600k and Cambridge UK technology pioneers Domainex, Endomagnetics and Sentinel Oncology Ltd up to £150k apiece. Intelligent Fingerprinting at Norwich Research Park, which recently raised £2m from US investors, also receives up to £150k.
The awards are the first under a joint £180m initiative and were being announced by Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts, at the British Business Embassy’s life sciences summit at Lancaster House.
These initial awards, which will inject nearly £10m into 14 universities and 18 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), will support UK academics and businesses on the vital first step in exploring the market potential of their early-stage scientific ideas.
The MRC ‘Confidence in Concept’ awards, totalling £7.4m, will give universities grants of between £360,000 and £750,000 to help them progress more promising research ideas towards clinical testing.
The grants will fund about 150 pilot projects, allowing academic researchers to begin the process of turning a bright idea into a viable proposition. For example, a university research group may use the funds to validate therapeutic targets and undertake the earliest stages of development of new treatments.
Universities receiving an award have control over allocating the funding internally, allowing them to respond rapidly to new opportunities and have the flexibility to pursue the most promising translational research opportunities.
Eighteen SMEs have been awarded funding totalling nearly £2.5 million by the TSB to carry out feasibility studies. These awards will enable the companies to explore and evaluate the commercial potential of an early-stage scientific idea, to validate the scientific concepts, fully test the market opportunity and construct future development plans.
David Willetts said: “The UK’s world leading life sciences industry is changing fast and we need to stay ahead of the game. The Biomedical Catalyst will help bridge the so-called ‘valley of death’ that exists between when a bright new idea is developed in the laboratory and the point when a new drug or technology can be invested in by the market. This will support our most innovative life sciences SMEs and academics, drive growth and benefit patients.”
Dr Wendy Ewart, Deputy Chief Executive of the MRC, added: “The MRC’s Confidence in Concept awards will empower leading UK universities to respond quickly to emerging translational opportunities as they arise. They will give academic researchers the opportunity to generate enough evidence to leverage further investment from a variety of sources to progress the best ideas, helping to bridge the gap between discovery and development.”
The first applications for larger translational projects through the Biomedical Catalyst, including those seeking to demonstrate clinical utility, are currently under consideration. Funding for successful applications will be announced before the end of October.
Of the feasibility grant winners, Cambridge Science Park-based Domainex Ltd is a drug discovery company with a reputation for speed and innovation built on an exceptional track record of drug candidate delivery. It has a world class discovery team with an unrivalled track record of five candidate drugs delivered in five years.Domainex claims to reduce industry average drug discovery timelines by as much as 30 per cent through the application of novel proprietary technologies.
Endomagnetics Ltd is based on UCL IP but recently moved into Cambridge. Around the world the incidence of cancer is growing, and with it the demand for better, faster and cheaper solutions to diagnosis and treatment.
Current techniques for cancer staging are limited by the availability of the radioactive tracers currently used for sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB), now regarded as best practice in the treatment of breast cancer.
Of more than 500,000 breast cancer patients in the West that could benefit from the procedure, only around 50 per cent have access to SLNB. This figure drops to five per cent in China, and is minimal in most of the rest of the world.
Endomagnetics has introduced an exciting new technology to overcome this issue with a system based on magnetic materials rather than radioisotopes. The SentiMag® and its magnetic tracer, Sienna+®, allow for best practice to be used globally, with lower costs and reduced workflow complexity, and leaving surgeons fully in control of the procedure. Sienna+® magnetic tracers require no special preparation and handling, making for more efficient workflow.
The Endomagnetics solution provides much-needed flexibility and control in the fight against breast cancer. Melanoma and colorectal cancer sufferers are also likely to benefit from this exciting technological advance.
Sentinel Oncology was founded in 2005 and is a drug discovery company dedicated to the development of new therapeutics to treat cancer where there is an unmet medical need. The company’s portfolio comprises of programmes focused on the PI3K pathway (p70S6 Kinase), DNA repair (Checkpoint kinase 1), cell signalling (FLT-3) and features a novel and innovative strategy for cancer treatment, ‘Targeted Synergy’ that was developed with funding received from the Wellcome Trust’s Seeding Drug Discovery initiative.