#UK Technology revolutionising management of tax

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Digitalisation is having an increased impact on the tax and finance team – tax authorities around the world are using sophisticated digital platforms that require businesses to submit tax data in real time, increasing the importance of ensuring that accurate tax information exists in the business at the right time, writes Stuart Wilkinson,  office managing partner and head of tax at EY in Cambridge.

It also creates opportunity as it has the potential to make systems more effective, increase standardisation and improve data quality, whether you are a small to medium sized enterprise, owner managed business, or a global company. 

Back in 2017, HMRC announced ‘Making Tax Digital’ (‘MTD’) with an initial focus on VAT – it attracted widespread interest, and indeed some negativity in the early stages, with many businesses viewing its implementation and the changes it would bring to transforming tax administration as problematic in the short term, given its proposed implementation timetable. 

Responding to feedback, HMRC gave businesses with complex or legacy IT systems the opportunity to apply for additional time to put the required digital links in place, but only if they meet certain qualifying criteria (otherwise the deadline is April 2020).

It’s clear that MTD is here to stay, although the Government did announce in the Spring Statement 2019, that MTD will not be introduced for any new taxes, with the exception of VAT, until the system has been shown to work, and that they will consult on corporation tax before making any decision on whether to bring in MTD for further taxes.  

Putting aside the specifics of MTD for a few minutes, what does digital mean for the future of the tax team?  For both tax authorities and tax teams, technology disruption and the digital economy have created significant complexity and change. Now, more than ever, the tax team needs to be better connected to how the business makes its money and supplies its goods.

Previously, tax advisers only needed to know how to interpret and apply tax rules. Now the tax team must act as a business adviser, technologist, systems expert and still know how to apply the tax rules! 

As a result, we need to attract people into our tax teams that have a wider and different skill set than before. We need coders, software developers, implementors of new technology and people that can create new processes, tools and systems to future proof our own business against digital transformation – many businesses are now recruiting tax technology managers who are busy writing their own role descriptions.

Technology will undoubtedly improve and eventually overtake the process part of our business: there will be less need for human intervention in certain aspects of what the tax team does today. 

But we should not be afraid of embracing this change, as it should give us more time to understand the business, to build better relationships with our customers and clients so we can really add value by bringing better tax insights. 

We also have to manage the transitions as we move from current ways of working and training to new ways as technology develops.

We should remind ourselves that our greatest asset will always be our people, yet technology offers us a fantastic opportunity to support our talent to learn new skills, embrace new opportunities, and, as a result, have much better experiences during a career in tax. 

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#UK Avacta Group revenues rocket with order intake and sales pipeline strongest to date

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Avacta Group plc in Cambridge, which develops Affimer® biotherapeutics and reagents, is racking up record revenue figures, according to a trading update for the 17 months to December 31.

Revenues for the period, which include the initial milestone payment from LG Chem, have grown 100 per cent to £5.5 million from £2.76m (12 months ended July 31, 2018) and are ahead of market expectations. 

Revenues from the Affimer® diagnostics business have grown by 130 per cent as more customer evaluations of the Affimer® platform are underway. The group’s order intake and sales pipeline into 2020 are the strongest to date.

Avacta says revenues this year will benefit from the expanded LG Chem partnership, a new collaboration established with ADC Therapeutics and the recently announced joint venture with Daewoong Pharmaceuticals – each of which will fully fund Avacta’s related R & D activities.   

The cash position at December 31 was £8.7m (31 July 2018: £5.2m), also ahead of market forecasts, following completion of the placing in November 2019.

The group is focusing its resources on its partnered programmes and on taking its first pre|CISION pro-drug, AVA6000, into the clinic in the second half of 2020.

Chief executive Dr Alastair Smith, said: “We are delighted with the significant commercial and operational progress that has been made during the period, expanding our therapeutic development partnership with LG Chem and adding new collaborations with ADC Therapeutics and with Daewoong. 

“Our diagnostics business has continued to gain traction and is poised for continued growth in 2020 which should ultimately lead to license revenues.

“We are also due to take our first drug AVA6000, a re-engineered form of the chemotherapy Doxorubicin, into the clinic in the middle of 2020, making it a ground-breaking year for the group. 

“AVA6000 has been modified with Avacta’s pre|CISION technology to reduce the side effects without affecting the efficacy of this effective cancer treatment. 

“The initial readout, which aims to show that the side effects of this chemotherapy have been reduced, are expected before the end of the year which represents a major value inflection point for Avacta and a significant commercial opportunity.”

Avacta recently announced the appointment of Paul Fry as non-executive director with effect from February 3. Fry has extensive financial experience across a number of industries including biotechnology, pharmaceutical and telecommunications.

He is currently chief financial officer of Vectura Group plc, an industry leading inhaled drug delivery specialist listed on the FTSE Main Market. 

Prior to his current position, he was chief financial officer of Immunocore Limited, a biotech company focused on the development of a new class of immunotherapeutic drugs based on proprietary T-cell receptor technology. 
 
He has also served as director of global finance operations at Vodafone plc and spent more than 25 years at GlaxoSmithKline where he held a number of senior roles.

Fry will be appointed chair of the Audit Committee.

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#UK Cranfield or Wyton as Marshall ADG ditches Duxford

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Cambridge industrial behemoth Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group has ditched IWM Duxford from a shortlist of three potential new UK locations.

It leaves a straight choice between Cranfield and RAF Wyton in St Ives for a new HQ – and the Bedfordshire site would appear to be vastly superior, in terms of facilities and required investment spend. A decision will be taken as soon as possible this year.

The only signifiant factor Wyton would appear to have in its favour is that so many of Marshall ADG’s 1500 staff live in north Cambridgeshire so travel to work tyreprint would be reduced if Marshall cold-shouldered Cranfield, which is around 38 miles away. But Wyton has already been deemed inadequate once before – back in April 2010.

IWM Duxford was named as a potential relocation option for the business when it announced its intention to move out of Cambridge by 2030. But after uncovering a number of insurmountable issues, both Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group and Imperial War Museums have now reluctantly agreed IWM Duxford is no longer a feasible option.

Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group CEO, Alistair McPhee, said: “We had identified an area of land at IWM Duxford situated to the far South-West of the existing airfield that did not impact areas of historical interest or require complex infrastructure upgrades.

“Initially this appeared to be an ideal location, giving us more than enough space to accommodate existing and future requirements, however as we progressed our due diligence we hit a very significant challenge in terms of the need for reclassification of airspace that would have made any sort of aerobatics from the airfield virtually impossible.

“As part of our operational discussions with IWM and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) it became apparent that the airspace above our buildings would need to be classified as a no-fly zone. 

“This, along with the existing restrictions over Duxford village, would massively restrict the ability for historic aircraft to take off safely for air display and we said at the outset that we would not engage in a plan that in any way compromised the historical integrity of the site.

“In partnership with IWM we have worked very hard to find a way around this challenge by either re-routing the take-off, flight path and landing of aircraft participating in displays but unfortunately none of these options have proved feasible.

“We’ve also looked at alternative locations within the existing IWM campus but again have not been able to find a viable option and therefore, very reluctantly, both parties have now agreed that all possible avenues have been explored.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the team from IWM and members of local government for all of the support and hard work they have put into this project and I know they are as disappointed as we are that we could not find a way to make it work.”

Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group remains confident it will be in a position to confirm its preferred option during 2020 as planned.

Vacating the Newmarket Road, Cambridge site will provide space for 12,000 homes and 5 million sq ft of business and commercial space, creating a large number of new jobs as well as crucial residential and commercial capacity for Cambridge.

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#UK Cathedral splendour a fitting tribute to Sir Michael Marshall

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Cambridge entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Michael Marshall loved Ely Cathedral and worked tirelessly for its various restoration appeals.

His soul and spirit pervaded every inch of the ancient edifice as his family staged an inspirational service of thanksgiving to his memory.

Sir Michael passed away peacefully while on holiday in Spain last July. The funeral service was a private affair but the family decided to stage a celebration of Sir Michael’s life.

The cathedral was packed with friends and associates from many diverse realms of society – representatives of royalty, the RAF and other Services, business, academia, charitable organisations and employees of the Marshall Group of Companies that Sir Michael so admirably cherished. Young and old. Able bodied and not so able bodied. Die-hard successes and apprentices starting out.

Michael cherished them all. With unfailing charm he took an interest in everyone he met and helped scores of people along the way, regardless of their background or circumstances. He had an unbridled passion for life and everyone who walked the hallowed planet wherever he came upon them.

In terms of the music, the tributes and the tone of the ceremony this was such a fitting tribute to a remarkable man. Lord Robert Mair, an old friend of Sir Michael, spoke from the heart about the impact the great man had on people, projects and society – and his incredible energy.

A wartime evacuee to Canada, something of a Biggles figure as an intrepid pilot, a talented oarsman for Cambridge and Britain and a passionate advocate of all things Cambridge; Sir Michael’s life story was one long ripping yarn.

A fabulous piano recital by Carson Becke provided a magical interlude; Dr Becke is an alumnus of Ashbury College in Ottawa in Canada which Sir Michael attended along with brother David and sister Judy when they were evacuated in the Second World War.

Sir Michael supported Carson while he was studying and working in the UK between 2005 and 2019 and Carson flew from Canada to Cambridge to pay his own tribute at the ceremony.

His stunning arrangement and interpretation of Jupiter from Holst’s The Planets had guests spellbound. It seemed to echo the reality that Sir Michael’s entire attitude to life was universal and the impact of his approach often stellar. 

Like a few moment’s in Michael’s company, this keyboard wizardry was uplifting. The memories of the man and his own kind of magic will stay with this friend and admirer for all my remaining days on this particular planet.

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#UK Cambridge blue sky thinking in ‘green skies’ revolution

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A top Cambridge brain could hand beleaguered Boeing, the under-fire US airline, a boost for the future manufacture of its 737 aircraft.

Research by Dr Chez Hall at the Whittle Laboratory on a potential replacement for the 737 is typical of the innovation that has stemmed from the Lab since Sir Frank Whittle invented the original turbojet jet engine and patented it in 1930. 

A new report from the Whittle Lab on ‘green sky thinking’ from the globally renowned blue sky research hub says of Dr Hall’s work regarding the 737: “This futuristic aircraft architecture involves an electrical propulsion system being embedded in the aircraft fuselage, allowing up to 15 per cent reduction in fuel burn.”

While the advance would not address the many immediate problems of Boeing’s new Max jet, any improvements to planes in its 737 fleet could prove gold dust to the American operator and its supply chain long-term as it seeks to rebuild credibility.

Envisioned in 1964, the initial 737-100 made its first flight in April 1967 and entered airline service in February 1968 with German carrier Lufthansa. 

The Max has been grounded by American regulators after two fatal accidents and triggered a storm of criticism from Congress and almost 3,000 redundancies at one of the planemaker’s major suppliers.

Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group in Cambridge, for example, holds a Boeing Performance Excellence Award.

Dr Hall told Business Weekly: “My current research into new propulsion technology for reduced emissions is completely unrelated to the problems with the 737-MAX.

“Of course, any future aircraft design certainly shouldn’t have any of the same issues, but in my view this requires a greater number of angle of attack sensors, improved instrument panels and completely new flight control software rather than any new technology for reduced fuel burn.”

Whittle says it has developed a rapid way of turning ideas into new technologies in the aviation and power industries across the entire sweep of the sector, affecting all airlines.

The Whittle report says that a common thread in aircraft technologies and those needed for renewable power is their reliance on efficient, reliable turbomachinery – “a technology that has been central to our work for the past 50 years. 

“Currently we’re working on applications that include the development of electric and hybrid-electric aircraft, the generation of power from the tides and low-grade heat, like solar energy, and hydrogen-based engines.

“We’re also working on existing technologies as a way of reducing the carbon emissions, like wind turbines, and developing the next generation of jet engines such as Rolls-Royce’s UltraFan engine, which will enable CO2 emission reductions of 25 per cent by 2025. 

“A great example is Dr Chez Hall’s research on a potential replacement for the 737. This futuristic aircraft architecture involves an electrical propulsion system being embedded in the aircraft fuselage, allowing up to 15 per cent reduction in fuel burn.”

Professor Rob Miller, director of the Whittle Laboratory, describes how researchers plan to scale the process to cover around 80 per cent of the UK’s future aerodynamic technology needs.

He writes: “We’re seeing a transformational change in the propulsion and power sectors. Aviation and power generation have brought huge benefits – connecting people across the world and providing safe, reliable electricity to billions – but reducing their carbon emissions is now urgently needed.

“Electrification is one way to decarbonise, certainly for small and medium-sized aircraft. In fact, more than 70 companies are planning a first flight of electric air vehicles by 2024. 

“For large aircraft, no alternative to the jet engine currently exists but radical new aircraft architectures, such as those developed by the Cambridge-MIT Silent Aircraft Initiative and the NASA N+3 project, show the possibility of reducing CO2 emissions by around 70 per cent.”

Dr Miller says a key element of meeting the decarbonisation challenge is to accelerate technology development. Over the past five years, the lab’s primary focus has been the process itself.

“We’ve been asking ‘can we develop technology faster and cheaper?’ The answer is yes – at least 10 times faster and 10 times cheaper,” writes Dr Miller.
“Our solution is to merge the digital and physical systems involved. In 2017, we undertook a pioneering trial of a new method of technology development. A team of academic researchers and industrial designers were embedded in the Whittle and given four technologies to develop.

“The results were astonishing. In 2005, a similar trial took the Whittle two years. In 2017, the agile testing methods took less than a week, demonstrating a hundred times faster technology development.

“We describe it as ‘tightening the circle’ between design, manufacture and testing. Design times for new technologies have been reduced from around a month to one or two days using augmented and machine-learning-based design systems.

“These make use of in-house flow simulation software that is accelerated by graphics cards developed for the computer gaming industry.

“Manufacturing times for new technologies have been cut from two or three months to two or three days by directly linking the design systems to rows of in-house 3D printing and rapid machining tools, rather than relying on external suppliers. Designers can now try out new concepts in physical form very soon after an idea is conceived.

“Testing times have been reduced from around two months to a few days by undertaking a ‘value stream analysis’ of the experimental process. Each sequential operation was analysed, enabling us to remove over 95 per cent of the tasks, producing a much leaner process of assembly and disassembly. 
“Test results are automatically fed back to the augmented design system, allowing it to learn from both the digital and the physical data.

“There’s a natural human timescale of about a week whereby if you go from idea to result then you have a virtuous circle between understanding and inspiration. 

“We’ve found that when the technology development timescale approaches the human timescale – as it does in our leaner process – then innovation explodes.”

A new Whittle Laboratory that will house the National Centre for Propulsion and Power, is due to open in 2022 with funding from the Aerospace Technology Institute. 

A national asset, the centre is designed to combine a scaled-up version of the agile test capability with state-of-the-art manufacturing capability to cover around 80 per cent of the UK’s future aerodynamic technology needs.
Key to the success of the Whittle Laboratory has been its strong industrial partnerships – with Rolls-Royce, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Siemens for over 50 years, and with Dyson for around five years. 

So another component of the new development will be a ‘Propulsion and Power Challenge Space’. Here, teams from across Cambridge University will co-locate with industry to develop the technologies necessary to decarbonise the propulsion and power sectors.

Whittle says the length and depth of these partnerships have so many benefits. They’ve enabled technology strategy to be shared at the highest level, and new projects to be kicked off quickly, without the need for contract lawyers. 

Joint industry–academic technology transfer teams move seamlessly between industry and academia, ensuring that technologies are successfully transferred into product.

Most importantly, the partnerships provide a source of ‘real’ high-impact research projects. It’s these long-term industrial partnerships that have made the Whittle the world’s most academically successful propulsion and power research laboratory.

Whittle Lab says: “We are at a pivotal moment, in terms of both Cambridge’s history of leading technology development in propulsion and power, and humanity’s need to decarbonise these sectors. 

“Just 50 years ago, at the opening of the original Whittle Laboratory, research and industry faced the challenge of making mass air travel a reality. The New Whittle Laboratory will enable us to lead the way in making it green.”

• PHOTOGRAPH: The Boeing 737 MAX 7. Image courtesy of Boeing.

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#UK Say hello to Bollywood: Stansted unveils new route to Mumbai

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Air India has expanded its services from Stansted Airport to Mumbai – the economic powerhouse of India and home of Bollywood – just three months after opening up the northern city of Amritsar to the thriving business and technology communities of Cambridge and the London corridor.

Stansted says the development will deliver a major boost to trade and tourism across the region and the UK in general.

The three-times a week service to Mumbai starts on February 21 initially for the winter season and will be operated by a 256-seater Boeing 787 Dreamliner offering both business and economy class.

Ken O’Toole, London Stansted’s CEO, said: “With London Stansted sitting in one of the most vibrant, exciting and innovative regions in the UK, it should come as no surprise that Air India has decided to launch this new service to one of the world’s most important economic hubs.

“This new route is further evidence of the growing demand from businesses and passengers across the region for more long-haul connections from their local airport. 

“We know that 200,000 people from our region travel to Mumbai every year from other airports, so this new service will not only provide greater choice but help cut down unnecessary journeys and provide a shot in the arm to the regional and national economies.

“As a forward-thinking and innovative airport, we have the ambition and runway capacity to open up even more exciting destinations across Asia, the Middle East and beyond to satisfy rising demand, provide greater choice for consumers and provide a vital boost to jobs and the local economy over the coming years.”

Mumbai is India’s key economic powerhouse with a population of nearly 20 million people. It lies on the west coast of the country and is a major port on the Arabian Sea.

In 2018 it was rated the 12th richest city in the world and is home to India’s film industry, known by many as Bollywood. 

Headquarters of several major companies are based in Mumbai including Tata Group, Essel Group, Reliance Industries and Aditya Birla Group. It accounts for more than six per cent of India’s economy and is home to some of India’s largest consumer packaged goods companies like Hindustan Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Nivea, Colgate-Palmolive, Godrej Consumer Products and many more.

Life sciences entrepreneur Sunil Shah CEO of o2h ventures, a leading investment firm based in Cambridge, said: “This is great news for me personally and for the team at o2h Ventures. Flying to Mumbai previously meant travelling from other UK airports but the new direct service from Stansted will save us serval hours commuting time. 

“Mumbai is rated amongst the top 10 centres for commerce and is known as the commercial capital of India so I’m confident the new route will help facilitate business opportunities for companies in both countries.”

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#UK Abcam strides towards doubling scale of business as CFO jets in from US

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Burgeoning first half results have set Cambridge life science influencer Abcam well on the way to achieve its strategy of doubling the scale of its business. 

Abcam expects to report total first half revenue of £138.2 million (H1 2019: £124.7 million) for the six months ended December 31: that represents growth of 10.8 per cent on a reported basis and 8.3 per cent on a constant currency basis.

Based on the expected revenue phasing for the year, Abcam says it is tightening its constant currency revenue growth target for the full year to 9-10 per cent.

Catalogue revenue, representing approximately 95 per cent of the total, grew by 11.6 per cent in the first half on a reported basis and 9.1 per cent on a constant currency basis, with all regions and product categories growing faster than estimated underlying market growth rates.

Revenue in China grew faster than the market at 17.4 per cent in the year on a constant currency basis, representing over 17 per cent of total company sales.

The group recently closed the acquisition of Expedeon, Innova Biosciences and TGR BioSciences from Expedeon AG. These businesses are expected to contribute approximately £4 million of incremental revenue in the current fiscal year (FY2020) and be neutral to adjusted earnings.

CEO Alan Hirzel said: “We have recently set out ambitious plans to double the scale of our business and we are making good progress in investing in, and scaling up, the company. 

“Earlier this month, we completed our largest acquisition in the last five years, securing a portfolio of leading protein conjugation technologies and products. I am pleased to report that we have continued to gain market share and sustain profitable growth in the period, whilst investing in the business.”

Abcam has added another ace to its hand with the appointment of Michael Baldock as CFO to replace Gavin Wood. 

His appointment will be subject to receiving the necessary approval from the UK Home Office allowing him to wing in from New York to work in the UK.
Baldock has over 30 years of relevant functional and sector experience acquired through senior leadership roles at HSBC, Lazard, Bentley Health Care and SG Warburg. 

He is a founding partner at Ondra Partners, an independent financial advisory firm which has advised Abcam for several years. 

In another development, Abcam and Cambridge neighbour SomaServe, a pharma service and specialist reagent business, have struck a partnership to advance a special area of cell technology.

They aim to commercialise the cell delivery potential of polymer-based ‘bionic’ nanoparticles which can carry a range of payloads directly to live cells. 

The collaboration will initially focus on the development and global commercialisation of a suite of CelLuminate dyes, specifically created to revolutionise live cell imaging by enabling cells to remain functional and viable for up to 14 days.

This crucial reduction in toxicity gives users the ability to thoroughly probe and analyse their cells, enabling them to achieve deeper insights and advance their understanding.  

Beyond improving and enhancing live cell imaging, the team will work together to expand the delivery and assay options of the platform, including optimising its potential in combination with antibodies and other technologies. 

In addition to the commercial partnership, Abcam has invested in SomaServe’s seed round to help accelerate the development of an innovative market leading platform for research, diagnostic and therapeutic applications. 

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#UK Cambridge in world’s top 12 for wooing VC investment

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The UK’s technology sector is outperforming all the others in Europe and even those in the US and China – in terms of the increase in venture capital investment it saw in 2019. 

And Cambridge is one of the 12 top destinations in the world for venture capital investment, beating cities like Oslo and Dublin.

Research carried out for the UK government’s Digital Economy Council by Dealroom.co and Tech Nation shows that venture capital investment in the UK reached record levels in 2019 of $13.2 billion.

This was a 44 per cent improvement on 2018’s figures: over the same period VC investment in the US and China slipped by 20 per cent and 65 per cent, respectively.

Cambridge tech companies received $700 million of new venture capital investment in 2019, the report confirms.

Nationally, almost half of the UK investments (£4.6bn) in 2019 came via US and Asian investors and the UK tech sector recently overtook the US for foreign investment per capita. What’s more, when compared to Germany and France, the UK had the widest overall mix of foreign versus domestic investors. 

The UK’s success in attracting venture capital investment in 2019 also fuelled, in part, a surge in the UK’s best performing sectors – fintech, AI and deep tech, and clean energy.

Again, when compared with Germany and France, UK fintech firms raised £4.1bn last year – an impressive 7.5 times the amount raised by French fintechs, and three times as much as FinTech firms in Germany.  

This figure represents a 100 per cent increase from 2018’s total of £2bn, as a result of both the Greensill and Checkout.com investments plus significant fundraises from the likes of World Remit ($197m), Monzo ($147m) and Starling Bank ($98m). 

In AI and deep tech, investments in Benevolent AI ($90m), Melody ($60m) and Wayve ($20m) helped push the investment total across these sectors to £2.5bn  – up from £2bn from 2018, and twice that invested in Germany and France’s respective sectors. 

While clean energy is a smaller market, OVO Energy’s $260m deal, alongside $81m investments in photovoltaic and solar panel firm Oxford PV and BBOXX, similarly helped push 2019’s total investment in this sector to just short of $1bn for the first time, which is a 45% increase on 2018’s figures.

Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “These brilliant new numbers demonstrate the strength of the UK tech industry and how it is a sweet spot of our economy.

“Our tech companies are not only commanding the confidence of global investors but they are also creating new jobs and wealth across the country. It’s absolutely vital we maintain this impressive success and in Government we are working tirelessly to make sure the conditions are right.”

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Nicky Morgan MP

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#UK Illumina paying Pacific Biosciences $98m after duo scrap merger plan

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Genomics giant Illumina, which is expanding its Cambridge UK operations, has agreed to call off a proposed $1.2 billion cash takeover of fellow Californian business Pacific Biosciences.

The companies shook hands on a potential merger in November 2018 but have been frustrated by a failure to date to win regulatory approval.Illumina issued a statement today saying it would honour a merger agreement pledge to pay Pacific a $98m termination fee.

The statement read: “Considering the lengthy regulatory approval process the transaction has already been subject to and continued uncertainty of the ultimate outcome, the parties decided that terminating the agreement is in the best interest of their respective shareholders and employees.”

Francis deSouza, president and CEO of Illumina, went into greater detail. He said: “We believe this proposed combination would have broadened access to Pacific Biosciences sequencing technology, significantly expanded and accelerated innovation, and ultimately increased the clinical utility and impact of sequencing.

“I’d like to thank our employees, as well as the Pacific Biosciences team, for their unwavering dedication and commitment throughout this process. Moving forward, we will continue to look for ways to increase the impact and benefit of sequencing technologies for researchers, clinicians, and most importantly, patients.”

Pacific CEO Michael Hunkapiller, added: “We are disappointed that our customers and other stakeholders will not realise the powerful advantages of integrating the sequencing capabilities of our two companies.

“With that said, we are confident in the future of Pacific Biosciences as we continue to pursue improved sequencing accuracy and throughput that can be utilised in an ever-expanding number of applications.”

Photograph by CDBeckwith/Wikipedia

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#UK Apple confirms acquisition of Cambridge UK company

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Apple has confirmed it has acquired Cambridge UK image technology business Spectral Edge for an undisclosed sum.

As we reported yesterday, all the Spectral Edge directors had quit to be replaced by an Apple legal eagle based in California. The US technology business confirmed our story today but declined to disclose details concerning the amount paid for Spectral Edge or its plans going forward.

Spectral Edge directors resigned in November and were replaced by Peter Denwood, director, Corporate Law – International at Apple.

Apple intends to fuse the Spectral Edge imaging technology into its smartphone enhancements, just as it used speech technology from VocalIQ in Cambridge to return fire on Amazon’s Alexa.

In July, Business Weekly revealed that Apple was moving its Cambridge research hub from 90 Hills Road to a new building at 30 Station Road which provides 79,000 sq fit of space with the capacity to accommodate up to 800 people. Regeneration specialist Brookgate, regional contractor R G Carter and fund Aviva Investors started work on Apple’s new facility in October 2019. Completion is due in July 2021.

We speculated that this was to accommodate a fresh acquisition: Apple eased into Cambridge via the acquisition of little-known speech technology startup VocalIQ. Image enhancement technology looked to be a natural bolt-on if Apple could find the right player in the market. Spectral Edge certainly appears to fit the bill. 

In April 2018 Spectral Edge raised $5.3 million from existing investors Parkwalk Advisors and IQ Capital. The new money was to expand the company’s R & D team and support the development of real-world applications for its technology in key areas of focus – notably smartphones, webcams and security applications. 

The team, which in 2014 spun the business out of academic research at the University of East Anglia, has developed a mathematical technique for improving photographic imagery in real-time, also using machine learning technology. 

The technology – which can be embedded in software or in silicon – is designed to enhance pictures and videos on mass-market devices. Mooted use cases include for enhancing low light smartphone images, improving security camera footage or even for drone cameras.

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