The biggest-ever return to the University seed funds was the highlight of another successful year for the University’s commercialisation arm.

The University can now support its spin-outs better and for much longer than we could before

Tony Raven

The University seed funds, which support new companies based on Cambridge research, saw their biggest-ever return this year, according to annual results from Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm.

The return of nearly £7.7 million, which will be used to support future Cambridge spin-out companies, resulted from the sale of biotechnology company BlueGnome to US-based genetic analysis company Illumina for $95 million. The total return to the seed funds will rise to £10.7 million in 2014, once milestone payments are met. BlueGnome, which specialises in improving IVF success rates, was founded by Cambridge graduate Nick Haan in 2002 with funding from Cambridge Enterprise.

The revitalisation of the University seed funds means that Cambridge Enterprise can now support more companies each year, and for longer in their development. In addition, the launch of Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC), a £50 million investment business backed by the University, ARM, City institutions Lansdowne and Invesco and others, and a second successful year for the University of Cambridge Enterprise Fund (UCEF) means that Cambridge Enterprise has the financial resources to support new businesses from start-up all the way to exit. Last year, Cambridge Enterprise invested a record £2.27 million in University spin-outs, more than triple the amount invested in 2011/12.

“Too often, promising young companies fail to reach their full potential because the financial resources to help them get there simply don’t exist,” said Dr Tony Raven, Chief Executive of Cambridge Enterprise. “But with the launch of CIC, the extraordinary realisation from the sale of BlueGnome and UCEF, the University can now support its spin-outs better and for much longer than we could before.”

One of the most promising companies in the Cambridge Enterprise portfolio is XO1, which secured $11 million in funding this year in order to develop ichorcumab, a revolutionary new anticoagulant drug for thrombosis, a condition which causes heart attacks and strokes. Ichorcumab has the potential to treat thrombosis without causing bleeding, which is considered the ‘holy grail’ in this area of research.

Potential new therapies are also being developed through a new programme of open innovation taking place at Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC), and coordinated by Cambridge Enterprise, in order to accelerate the process of drug discovery. There are now three University research teams in place at SBC, who are developing potential new therapies for chronic pain, MS and animal allergies. By giving University researchers access to the drug development expertise of industry, it is hoped that this programme will serve as a model for collaboration between other universities and the private sector.

Consultancy activity continued to be an area of major growth for Cambridge Enterprise over the past year, with a 22% increase in the number of signed contracts, worth collectively £4 million, over 2011/12. Some of the largest of these contracts were carried out by researchers in the arts, humanities and social sciences, a reflection of the value that all areas of Cambridge research have in the marketplace.

Technology licensing, the core of Cambridge Enterprise’s business, had another successful year with 109 licences completed. Total sales of quantum modelling software CASTEP passed $30 million, and Alemtuzumab, formerly known as Campath, was approved for treatment of multiple sclerosis in the European Union. Although Alemtuzumab, now known as Lemtrada, faces an uncertain future in the United States, it has been one of the University’s biggest success stories over the past two decades.

For the year ended 31 July 2013, total income from licensing, consultancy and equity transactions was £16.6 million. Of this amount, £15 million was or will be distributed to academics and departments, or returned to the University seed funds. The team completed 109 licences, signed £4 million in consultancy contracts, and made ten investments totalling £2.27 million.


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