#UK CIC a unicorn in its own right after wooing £1bn investment to Cambridge

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Funding powerhouse Cambridge Innovation Capital has now attracted £1 billion of investment into Cambridge companies and managing partner Andrew Williamson has hired more Silicon Valley talent to ensure the technology cluster maintains its upward trajectory on the global stage.

The £1bn funding landmark has come within the last five years of CIC’s six-year existence but Williamson tells Business Weekly that Cambridge can leverage even more international capital as it builds on AI, deep learning, life science and therapeutic market leads.

CIC’s leading position as a gateway to accessing world-leading innovation was underlined by its performance in the six months to the end of September.

CIC has simultaneously unveiled Vin Lingathoti, a 10-year Valley veteran in the deep technology sector, as a partner to focus on enterprise software. Williamson himself spent 20 years in the US technology heartland while investment director Michael Anstey excelled at The Boston Consulting Group’s office in Toronto and has advised multinational healthcare businesses across North America, Europe, India, and Japan.

Williamson said the team was wired to help steer a new wave of growth for the Cambridge technology sector. He said: “The high quality of opportunities afforded to CIC as a result of our preferential access to IP from the University of Cambridge and our superior network through the Cambridge ecosystem ensures we are the gateway for accessing world-leading innovation.”

In the six months under review, CIC invested £22.8 million into three new and 11 existing portfolio companies; Riverlane, Sense Biodetection and PredictImmune joined CIC’s portfolio.

CMR Surgical closed a £195m Series C to commercialise its next-generation surgical robotic system, clinching unicorn status at the same time.

Gyroscope Therapeutics raised £50.4m of Series B funding round including from CIC and lead investor Syncona for the development of gene therapies and surgical delivery systems for retinal diseases.

Cytora closed a £25m Series B financing round to develop its artificial intelligence-powered insurance technology platform and PROWLER.io raised $24m to support product expansion and growth in artificial intelligence decision-making. CIC also figured in prominent deals for Storm Therapeutics, Audio Analytic and Bicycle Therapeutics.

Investing from its £275 million first fund, CIC has injected capital into 29 companies to date. Williamson stressed that international big hitters had invested alongside CIC to accumulate the landmark total. 

Thrilled with what he called a show of confidence in Cambridge, Williamson said the local deep technology market was set for further unprecedented growth because the cluster was so uniquely endowed with IP-rich, transformative businesses.


Cambridge Innovation Capital managing partner, Andrew Williamson

In an exclusive interview with Business Weekly, Williamson said Cambridge gloried in companies creating differentiated technologies. These were prolific, thanks in no small measure to Cambridge University and its exponential success in nurturing and spinning out transformational life science and hi-tech companies.

CIC’s close relationship with the university and follow-up companies is evidenced by the fact that 18 of the 29 businesses in whom it has invested to date are Cambridge University spin-outs.

What is less well known is that the astute and highly forensic CIC team has seen around  1500 investment opportunities to date and engaged closely with around 1000 of those without committing investment. So the portfolio businesses are in an elite minority. The common denominator is that besides having great technology they also have the capability to scale rapidly on a global basis, says Williamson.

This Solomon-esque insight makes CIC more than just another investor and more like an anchor institution within the burgeoning cluster.

Williamson told me: “Not every investment opportunity converts immediately; sometimes we bide our time and look at investments over a number of years: 97 per cent of companies we see we don’t invest in but by engaging with them closely we are able to suggest how they can get themselves investment ready. 

“So in addition to capital, we invest a lot of time building relationships. And the model works: The quality and number of high-potential companies is growing year by year. We have acknowledged the reality that some companies may be exceptionally IP rich but take a little bit longer to develop than ventures based on more traditional business models.”

This is where CIC’s globally experienced team comes in once more. 

Williamson says: “CIC has a lot of PhDS on its teams with deep tech backgrounds. Every business we invest in is a global business and a significant amount of capital we have invested has been globally secured, so we are seen as a safe pair of hands by investing entrepreneurs and funds across the planet.

“A lot of promising deep tech businesses are too small to build into $1bn businesses as things stand which is why it is vital to incorporate a US, Asian and European growth strategy.

“While all our portfolio businesses tend to have started in Cambridge and developed disruptive Science & Technology within the cluster, many have opened up markets on the West Coast of the US or in Asia, for example. 

“We see some ventures that are fantastic in terms of their own specific propositions but because of their business model they remain too small currently to build into a global business. For example, we don’t get involved in consumer related brands – it is just not our model. We and our co-investors require that businesses we back have the ability to scale as rapidly as possible.”

Williamson makes the point that the quality of talent emanating from Cambridge University – principally the calibre of its engineers – is second to none on the worldwide stage.


CMR Surgical CEO Martin Frost with the company’s surgical robotic system –Versius®

And the best of our companies – such as CMR Surgical and PROWLER.io – have learned how to attract and retain top global talent by offering stimulating work environments and employment packages that encourage good people to stay and grow with the business.

Williamson says: “In the US engineers can move to new roles almost on an annual basis depending on the packages on offer. In Cambridge, engineers are attracted by the quality of the work, they can become shareholders – personally and professionally they are in a very good place here and they tend to stay loyal to a progressive, switched on employer.

“Swim.ai – which started with commercial operations in San Jose – came to Cambridge because of access to the high quality engineering talent and brainpower available through the university. Their model is sustainable: Swim.ai is already hiring big and filling all their slots. 

“Hiring top talent to sustain scalability on an international basis is clearly a challenge for the cream of our technology companies locally but businesses like PROWLER.io, CMR Surgical and Swim.ai provide highly productive workplaces, challenging working environments and great incentives to be part of a business that can transform technology sectors globally.

“The ability of our top life science and technology companies to grow sustainably and consistently recruit top people is possibly the greatest cultural change in the Cambridge science & technology environment in the last 20 years.”

Similarly, while many tech entrepreneurs and investors continue to look to Silicon Valley as an exemplar, Cambridge is no longer a generation behind in terms of maturation compared to the West Coast ecosystem. 

“Our own ecosystem now compares favourably,” says Williamson. He praised the energy and growing global influence of Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s commercialisation arm, and the prodigious input of financial and business building expertise from Cambridge Angels.


Vin Lingathoti, partner, Cambridge Innovation Capital

New executive recruit Vin Lingathoti is a software engineer by training and has held roles across multiple functions including engineering, product management, corporate strategy, private equity and corporate development. 

Most recently he was regional head of Venture Investments and Acquisitions at Cisco Europe, where he led multiple direct and fund-of-fund investments and played a vital role in helping Cisco’s executive leadership team develop its European investment strategy.

He says: “The Cambridge cluster has many similarities to Silicon Valley. The University of Cambridge produces some of the best engineering talent in the world, on a par with Stanford and MIT. 

“It has one of the most active angel and seed investor communities in the UK and is home to prominent deep tech companies such as PROWLER.io and Riverlane. Many of the global software giants such as Microsoft and Amazon have opened R & D centres in Cambridge in pursuit of hard-to-acquire engineering talent.

“CIC is uniquely positioned to leverage this Cambridge advantage. We have a close relationship with the University of Cambridge and deep connections to the local startup community. 

“We have an exceptional team of investment professionals with deep domain expertise and global perspective. All of us have lived in multiple countries and held roles in large corporates and startups and understand the challenges faced by early-stage founders. We take a collaborative approach in helping founders navigate through their journey of building world-class companies.”

Stars in the CIC firmament

Riverlane
Riverlane, where CIC led the £3.3m seed round in which Cambridge Enterprise also participated, is a quantum computing software developer transforming the discovery of new materials and drugs. 

Riverlane’s software leverages the capabilities of quantum computers, which operate using the principles of quantum mechanics. In the same way that graphics processing units accelerate machine learning workloads, Riverlane uses quantum computers to accelerate the simulation of quantum systems. 

Riverlane is working with leading academics and companies on critical early use cases for its software, such as developing new battery materials and drug treatments. The company will use its seed funding to demonstrate its technology across a range of quantum computing hardware platforms, focused on early adopters in materials design and drug discovery. It will also expand its team of quantum software researchers and computational physicists.

Sense Biodetection
Sense Biodetection, where CIC co-led the £12.3m Series A funding round alongside Earlybird, and which is developing a portfolio of instrument-free, point-of-care molecular diagnostic tests, is pioneering a new class of diagnostic product. 

Sense Biodetection plans to invest the new funds in the development and manufacture of a range of tests utilising its novel and proprietary rapid molecular amplification technology, targeting in the first instance infectious disease applications such as influenza. 

PredictImmune  
PredictImmune, in which CIC participated in a £10m Series B round alongside Cambridge Enterprise and other new and existing investors, is developing pioneering prognostic tools for guiding treatment options and improving patient outcomes in immune-mediated diseases. The Series B round cements PredictImmune’s strong financial position, enabling it to build on the successful launch of its first product, PredictSURE IBD™, with a major focus on continued commercial expansion across Europe, the US and other territories.

CMR Surgical
CMR Surgical closed a £195m Series C funding round, Europe’s largest ever private financing round in the medical technology sector, to commercialise its next-generation surgical robotic system, Versius®. 

CIC was an early investor in CMR Surgical having first backed the company’s Series A round in 2016 and has continued to provide financial support and guidance, enabling the realisation of the potential of the Versius® system. CMR Surgical has launched initially in hospitals India with further expansion across the NHS and elsewhere globally expected in short order.

Gyroscope Therapeutics
Gyroscope Therapeutics, in which CIC participated in a £50.4m Series B funding round alongside lead investor Syncona, is developing gene therapies and surgical delivery systems for retinal diseases. With this new round Gyroscope Therapeutics will continue to advance: the clinical development of the company’s investigational gene therapy GT005 for dry age related macular degeneration (dry-AMD), the leading cause of permanent vision impairment for people aged 65 and older.

Cytora
Cytora closed a £25m Series B financing round to continue developing its artificial intelligence-powered insurance technology platform that enables insurers to underwrite more accurately, reduce frictional costs and achieve profitable growth. 

Cytora’s underwriting platform applies Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing techniques to public and proprietary data sets, including property construction features, company financials and local weather.

PROWLER.io
PROWLER.io, where CIC participated in the $24m funding round to support product expansion and growth, continues to define the artificial intelligence decision-making market, developing the world’s first technology that can help businesses and organisations make better decisions in processing dynamic, real-time data in complex and uncertain environments. 

Storm Therapeutics
Storm Therapeutics closed a £14m extension to its Series A financing, bringing the total Series A financing to £30m. Storm is a drug discovery company that is tackling disease through modulating RNA modifying enzymes. 

Audio Analytic
Audio Analytic, in which CIC participated in a $12m Series B funding round, has has developed cutting-edge AI sound recognition technology which can be embedded into consumer devices to make them more helpful to people, by understanding and reacting to the contextual information provided by sounds. 

Bicycle Therapeutics
CIC also participated in Bicycle Therapeutics’ Nasdaq IPO to progress the company’s lead candidate, BT1718, through the clinic and continue to advance its preclinical programmes, including toxin drug conjugates and immune modulators to treat cancer and other debilitating diseases. Bicycle is the first company in CIC’s portfolio to conduct an IPO.

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#UK Iotic raises €7.5m to target new technology at $260bn market

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Cambridge-based Iotic has secured investment of €7.5 million to accelerate growth and meet increasing demand for its pioneering digital twin technology. 

Iotic enables enterprises and their ecosystems of assets, objects, companies and people to interact automatically and securely. It operates in a $260 billion industry that’s expected to double by 2021.

The digital software company provides the secure operating environment and tools to create digital twins of any thing, enabling their secure interactions and building true interoperable ecosystems. 

The investment from leading European VCs IQ Capital, Talis Capital and Breed Reply, will drive rapid deployment, deepen channel partnerships and expand market adoption of its patented Iotic Operating Environment, Twin technology and Event Analytics. 

The funding will allow Iotic to capitalise on its patented technology and unique market position.

The Iotic vision is a world where any thing can interact with any other thing – from the smallest sensor, to the largest power station, engine, train and plane along with people, suppliers and customers. 

The digital version of a thing, the Twin, has access to all its data and controls throughout its entire life, converting those end points into meaningful events – empowering enterprises to deliver on the promise of AI and Machine Learning, and to truly be digital. 

The investment enables Iotic to build on its global pipeline of enterprise customers, including Rolls-Royce Power Systems and BAM Nuttall, who have deployed Iotic’s technology to overcome fractured, inflexible IT infrastructure and data management problems to solve significant business challenges and create new services and better customer experiences.

Robin Brattel, CEO of Iotic said: “This investment is a further major endorsement of our operating environment and tools and the business strategy behind them. 

“Having already secured a number of high-profile clients, we are focused on further development and scaling – initially targeting high-value manufacturing, construction and infrastructure sectors. 

“Our longer-term vision is for our interoperable Twins and their Event Streams to be incorporated into every single technology stack that will help to underpin digital transformation and to deliver a strong return on investment for our customers.”

Founded in 2014 out of Cambridge, growing enterprise and channel demand globally has opened up new markets enabled by Iotic’s new North American operations hub in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

This has been supported by the expansion of the management team with the hiring of new COO Hans Weinberg, (previously CIO at ABB, North America), and Kathy Reppucci, (who joins Iotic as VP Marketing from IBM) to deliver global integrated marketing strategies.

Ed Stacey, Partner, IQ Capital, said: “Iotic is a leader in interoperable technology, which is the biggest evolution of data management since relational databases. 

“This technology will underpin future digital transformation projects in manufacturing and many other industries, enabling companies to integrate their data streams much more easily, securely and flexibly and at any level of scale.”

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#UK Pioneering breast cancer business clinches £32m Series B

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Cambridge startup business Azeria Therapeutics has secured a blockbusting £32 million Series B financing to expand the global reach of its technology.The ubiquitous and highly supportive Syncona injected £29.5m of the cash alongside existing investor the CRT Pioneer Fund.

Azeria was founded in 2017 by Sixth Element Capital, manager of the CRT Pioneer Fund and Cancer Research UK’s Commercial Partnerships team. The objective was to build a world-class pioneer factor oncology company, developing breakthrough treatments for hormone resistant breast cancer patients.

It was based on the work of leading expert in the field, Professor Jason Carroll at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge, UK, whose scientific insights have led to a new approach to target FOXA1 driven cancer. The company is based at  the CRUK Cambridge Institute.

FOXA1 is an essential pioneer factor which has been shown to be pivotal in the tumour growth, progression and maintenance of oestrogen receptor positive luminal breast cancer. This is an area of significant unmet patient need where approximately 30 per cent of patients progress to late stage endocrine resistant disease and where there is potential for new treatments to have significant impacts for patients not addressed by existing therapeutics.

Extensive target validation and drug discovery work to date supports the lead programme, with a plan to take the programme into the clinic over the course of the Series B funding. Azeria is seeking to develop the programme to commercialisation and to explore a pipeline of further programmes in oncology.

Azeria received initial investment of £5.5m in Series A financing from the CRT Pioneer Fund, which focuses on early stage investments in highly innovative oncology programmes. Syncona is the largest investor in the CRT Pioneer Fund and will now participate directly in the next stage of growth and development. Magda Jonikas and Martin Murphy of Syncona will join the Azeria board. 

Stephen Myatt, CEO at Azeria Therapeutics said: “Azeria is the product of more than 10 years of research by Professor Carroll at Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Institute and was created to accelerate research and development into pioneer factors, a completely new target class in oncology including FOXA1.”

Martin Murphy, Chief Executive of Syncona Investment Management Limited, said: “Azeria is an exciting company and a perfect fit for Syncona’s long term strategy building globally leading healthcare companies.

“Based on unique, proprietary scientific insight, with a world class academic founder and high-quality team, the company has an opportunity to develop and commercialise treatments which could make a significant difference for patients. 

“The Sixth Element team did an excellent job in identifying and investing in this science to take it to the point where it became an exciting and appropriate opportunity for Syncona.”

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#UK Luminance closes Series B at $100m to expand legal AI

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Cambridge-based legal AI technology business Luminance has raised a fresh $10 million from existing investors Invoke Capital, Talis Capital and Slaughter and May to wrap up a $100m Series B round. 

The funds will be used to support the Cambridge University spin-out’s recent product expansion and global growth. The UK company’s machine learning technology is now deployed in over 130 organisations on six continents following its September 2016 launch.

The announcement follows the business’ recent opening of a fifth office in New York to support global growth, adding to bases in London, Cambridge, Chicago and Singapore. The company now has four offerings and over 70 employees.

Whether used for legal due diligence, compliance reviews or eDiscovery, Luminance’s technology operates on advanced pattern recognition and machine learning algorithms that behave much like the human brain, sorting through high-volume documentation and flagging anomalies at speed, offering lawyers greater control and insight into their documents.

In just two years, the company’s technology has been deployed in over 40 countries and is used by thousands of lawyers on a daily basis. In 2018 alone, Luminance’s customer base increased by over 150 per cent, with global employee headcount more than doubling to meet this demand.

CEO Emily Foges said: “2018 was a year of significant achievement for Luminance. We have expanded from one product to four, owing to the flexibility and innovative nature of our core technology.

“This has enabled a remarkable rate of global customer acquisition over the last 12 months and these funds will valuably support this continued expansion.”

Luminance’s decision to open a New York office came as its US customer base continued to expand – now including Global Top 100 firms McDermott Will & Emery and Holland & Knight, among others. 

The company was founded by a group of mathematicians and software engineers from the University of Cambridge following years of research into pattern recognition and machine intelligence.

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#UK Global scale-up by PragmatIC after $17m fundraise

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Flexible electronics pioneer PragmatIC has further ramped global production from its Cambridge UK base after raising an additional $17 million.

Cambridge Innovation Capital led the latest round for PragmatIC, backed by fellow shareholders Arm and Avery Dennison, as well as new investors who share PragmatIC’s vision for leveraging the technology to digitally connect everyday objects.

With funding in place, PragmatIC has announced shipment of the first products in its ConnectIC family, the PR1101 and PR1102 FlexICs, designed for use in closed RFID (radio-frequency identification) systems.

The groundbreaking ConnectIC family will be pivotal in the acceleration of the smart packaging market.

Developed using PragmatIC’s unique platform of patented technologies, ConnectICs deliver connectivity solutions at the lowest cost point in the market. 

These revolutionary FlexICs are ultra-thin and flexible; suitable for embedding into a wide range of substrates, including paper and plastic; and reduce the complexity of inlays by using single layer antennas, delivering a further step down in cost to brand owners and retailers. 

These ConnectICs are extremely attractive for high-volume fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) and other mass market applications, with electronic connectivity no longer limited to high value, luxury items.

The PR1100 product series facilitates rapid detection of objects when one or more low-cost custom readers are integrated into the system. Designed for proximity identification applications, these FlexICs are ideal for applications including hierarchical inventory management, item identification and tracking, supply chain assurance and brand authentication. 

They are targeted at market segments such as food and beverage, personal and home care, pharmaceutical and healthcare. They also support the introduction of digital interactivity into physical toys and games.

CEO Scott White said: “The ConnectIC family is set to bring connectivity to items we buy every day. We have already started shipping to our partners and we anticipate rapid expansion based on clear opportunities for global customers with extensive brand portfolios who wish to add traceability and interactivity to their products.”

Victor Christou, CEO of Cambridge Innovation Capital added: “We are delighted to continue to support the PragmatIC team as it develops its range of FlexIC products which are designed to revolutionise the functionality of packaging across an extensive range of industries.”

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#UK Raspberry Pi takes Amazon trail with High Street launch

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Raspberry Pi, Cambridge pioneer of the world’s smallest but most powerful micro computer, has followed a trail blazed by global e-retailer giants like Amazon by opening a bricks and mortar shop in the technology cluster’s Grand Arcade.

It has simultaneously introducing a new all-in-one starter kit to address broader consumer markets.

Raspberry Pi’s low-cost, credit card-sized PCs have captured hearts, minds and wallets worldwide.

Its first shop is designed to be an experiential space, offering an environment in which visitors can try their hand at programming the tiny PCs. 

Alongside a large range of Raspberry Pi’s existing products and merchandise, the outlet will also offer a new ‘Everything you need to get started with Raspberry Pi’ kit.

This includes the latest Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ alongside a complete set of official peripherals and everything a beginner needs to get started with programming their PC.

Eben Upton, CEO of Raspberry Pi (Trading), said: “Opening Raspberry Pi’s first shop and introducing the new kit, are important steps on our way to achieving broader adoption of our products. 

“Our vision has always been to make low-cost PCs accessible to everyone: the shop provides potential customers with a chance to learn about Raspberry Pi, while at the same time giving us a chance to learn more about their needs. The kit is intended to provide a smoother out-of-box experience for this group of new customers.

“Of course, the shop will also be a great destination for existing Raspberry Pi fans. We have a loyal and highly engaged community and it’s great to be able to offer them another way to interact with us and our products.”

Raspberry Pi was founded in Cambridge and has just taken major office space at The Maurice Wilkes Building at St John’s Innovation Park.

It provides outreach and education to help more people access computing and digital making; this entails developing free resources to help people learn about computing and how to make things with computers, and train educators who can guide other people to learn.

• Image courtesy – Raspberry Pi

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#UK Fetch.AI’s ICO could be a first for Cambridge

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Cambridge-based artificial intelligence startup Fetch.AI launches an Initial Coin Offering on Binance Launchpad on February 25 and believes it may be the first ICO by a company based in Cambridge.

The company is coy about fixing potential values to the token sale but believe it will prove considerable and underpin its global growth strategy.

The Fetch.AI token acts as a medium of exchange, allowing autonomous agents to exchange tokens for data, services, and other goods within the Fetch.AI network, supporting machine-to-machine microtransactions.

For businesses, the new approach means virtually any networked machine or real-world asset, such as a hotel room or hospital bed, can now be represented by an autonomous agent so they can manage their own affairs, like autonomous booking, pricing, and maintainance. 

This type of infrastructure enables new marketplaces to evolve and flourish without the need for intermediaries.

Binance was founded in China but moved its servers and headquarters out of China and into Japan in advance of the Chinese government ban on cryptocurrency trading in September 2017. By March 2018 the company had established offices in Taiwan.

Humayun Sheikh, CEO of Fetch.AI said: “Today’s internet is built for ecommerce solutions that enable connectivity between humans. 

“The new web needs to enable more autonomous, machine-based solutions and this requires building the infrastructure and tools to make it deployable. Fetch.AI is building the deployment infrastructure which brings the new AI-based autonomous machine economy to life.”

For users, an autonomous agent can live on a smartphone continuously learning the intimate needs of the user based on decisions the human takes and by accessing data from calendars, email, and many other systems to enable highly personalised experiences. 

The data needed to inform this step-change in personalisation and automation remains sovereign to the user, informing the agent but without the need for the agent to reveal the underlying data to third-parties.

Sheikh added: “Let’s take travel. Today, people rely on traditional travel agents or spend hours searching for the travel combinations they need. An autonomous agent learns from your behaviour to build a clearer picture of your needs. It uses that insight to search vast combinations of options, confirms availability with, say, an airline or rail network, negotiates a price and completes the transaction.

“For businesses, this enables a more targeted selling opportunity without the need for a user’s personal data or deployment of machine learning algorithms.”

Binance CEO and founder, Changpeng Zhao added: “The Fetch network is in a position to help overcome barriers presented by centralised systems for bringing data to life, leveraging an AI and decentralised solution. 

“We are looking forward to this project that will help create a decentralised digital world for the future of economic activities and marketplaces.”

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#UK New DNA search engine a ‘bug-busting Google’

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A new search engine which effectively acts as a Google for bug-busting genomic scientists has been unveiled by researchers at EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute at the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Cambridge.

They have combined their knowledge of bacterial genetics and web search algorithms to build a DNA search engine for microbial data.

The search engine, described in a paper published in Nature Biotechnology, could enable researchers and public health agencies to use genome sequencing data to monitor the spread of antibiotic resistance genes. 

By making this vast amount of data discoverable, the search engine could also allow researchers to learn more about bacteria and viruses.

The search engine, called Bitsliced Genomic Signature Index (BIGSI), fulfils a similar purpose to internet search engines, such as Google.

The amount of sequenced microbial DNA is doubling every two years. Until now, there was no practical way to search this data. This type of search could prove extremely useful for understanding disease. 

Google and other search engines use natural language processing to search through billions of websites. They are able to take advantage of the fact that human language is relatively unchanging. 

By contrast, microbial DNA shows the imprint of billions of years of evolution, so each new microbial genome can contain new ‘language’ that has never been seen before. The key to making BIGSI work was finding a way to build a search index that could cope with the diversity of microbial DNA.
 
Take, for example, an outbreak of food poisoning, where the cause is a Salmonella strain containing a drug-resistance plasmid (a ‘hitchhiking’ DNA element that can spread drug resistance across different bacterial species). 

For the first time, BIGSI allows researchers to easily spot if and when the plasmid has been seen before.

Zamin Iqbal, research group leader at EMBL-EBI said: “We know that bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics either through mutations or with the help of plasmids.

“We also know that we can use mutations in bacterial DNA as a historical record of bacterial ancestry. This allows us to infer, to some extent, how bacteria might spread across a hospital ward, a country or the world. 

“BIGSI helps us study all of these things at massive scale. For the first time, it allows scientists to ask questions such as ‘has this outbreak strain been seen before?’ or ‘has this drug resistance gene spread to a new species?’.”

The search engine complements other existing tools and offers a solution that can scale to the vast amounts of data the lab is now generating.

Iqbal adds: “As DNA sequencing becomes cheaper, we will see a whole new host of users outside basic research, and a rapid increase in the volume of data generated. “

We will very likely see DNA sequencing used in clinics, or in the field, to diagnose patients and prescribe treatment, but we could also see it used for a range of other things, such as checking what type of meat is in a burger. Making genomics data searchable at this point is essential and it will allow us to learn a huge amount about biology, evolution, the spread of disease, and much more.”

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#UK Sosei Heptares and Medicxi form €40m neuro disease venture

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Cambridge brainpower is spearheading a €40 million play to fight neurological diseases.

Sosei Heptares, whose R & D mothership is in Cambridge, is partnering with Medicxi – whose founding partner and chief scientist, David Grainger, operates internationally from a Cambridge base – to form two independent companies, Orexia  and Inexia.

The new ventures aim to develop novel therapies based on positive modulators of the G protein-coupled receptors Orexin OX1 and OX2 for neurological diseases. Medicxi will be investing in both companies with an aggregate amount of up to €40 million.

Orexia and Inexia will obtain a portfolio of related patents and have the rights to exploit a series of Orexin OX1 and OX2 positive modulators and products derived.

Orexia will focus on the development of oral therapies while Inexia will steer development of candidates for intranasal delivery using the Optinose Exhalation Delivery System. 

Japanese owned parent company Sosei Group Corporation will retain an equity holding in both businesses and receive R & D payments as well as further payments on the achievement of pre-defined development milestones.

The funding committed by Medicxi, will enable the further development and optimisation of lead candidates for oral or intranasal administration into clinical development and through to proof-of-concept, utilising Sosei Heptares’ platform, discovery and clinical development expertise including extensive experience of neurological disorders. 

Specific target indications will be determined as the programmes advance, and will include narcolepsy, a rare sleep disorder.

The orexin system is a key regulator of behavioural arousal, wakefulness and sleep. The loss of the orexin neurons has been shown to be strongly linked to multiple neurological conditions including narcolepsy. In this indication, orexin receptors remain intact and functional, providing an opportunity for therapeutic intervention.

The primary target indication of narcolepsy is characterised by frequent transitions between states of wakefulness and sleep and the inability of maintaining a wakeful state. 

Narcoleptic patients experience excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), manifesting as attacks of falling asleep at unpredictable times, as well as often suffering from cataplexy, a sudden debilitating but transient weakening of muscle tone that can cause sufferers to collapse. 

Dr Malcolm Weir, executive VP and chief R & D officer of Sosei Heptares, said: “The asset-centric approach pioneered by Medicxi has proved to be very successful for developing discreet and novel assets and for creating significant value, and allows us seamlessly to transfer our ongoing activities and IP into these two special purpose vehicles.

“We see great promise in the orexin agonist program and believe it can be advanced significantly with this focused funding and within these new structures in which we retain a significant stake.”

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#UK MoD fuels Marshall success as £35m Boeing liaison continues to take wing

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Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group in Cambridge is to supply the MoD with fuel tanks that will allow aircraft to hunt for submarines for long periods, the Minister for Defence Procurement Stuart Andrew has revealed.

During a visit to the UK company, the Minster said  that the first of the Boeing P-8A aircraft featuring the tanks will be ready for use in a year’s time.

Speaking to staff he said: “I’ve been truly impressed by this company and I think the work that you’re doing is really is superb. The design and manufacture of these vital parts could not be in the hands of a more trusted partner.

“It marks another important milestone for this very important programme. They will provide crucial global protection to NATO and our allies as well as enhancing maritime search and rescue capability.

“The Ministry of Defence is the defence industry’s largest customer, creating a global and thriving competitive defence industry. The P-8A is the latest chapter in our successful partnership and it will be setting the tone for our working relationship for many decades to come.”

Speaking to Business Weekly about the contract he said: “Marshalls are not backward in coming forward and going for new business. It’s a company that has had a long working relationship with the MoD to ensure that our armed forces get the capability they need, which is why it’s been really good to come here to see what they’re doing.”

He also praised Marshall for its commitment to apprenticeships. “What’s great about this company is that even when apprenticeships weren’t fashionable they were still doing them. There are a lot of lessons that other companies can learn about how Marshall have been doing things.”

On the inevitable subject of Brexit he said: “We are used to working with companies on a global scale, not just within the EU. We’re listening to industry but I see there are real opportunities for us in the future as we go forward whether that’s with us leaving with a deal or without. 
“I can see us having greater prosperity in the future if we take advantage of every opportunity that exists if we leave on March 29.”

Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group CEO CEO Alistair McPhee added: “This is a programme in which the company has invested a lot of effort and money for quite some time; we have provided these fuel tanks for US aircraft, for Australian aircraft, Indian aircraft and for many other fleets. It’s a proud moment to be actually doing this for our own RAF aircraft.”

Speaking to Business Weekly he added that the deal was part of ongoing work with Boeing that generates about £35 million a year and provides employment for around 65 people.

The group will also be taking on around 50 apprentices this year. McPhee said: “We’ve had an unbroken apprenticeship scheme for 98 years, which is down to the Marshall family and their commitment to young people.”

The RAF’s Air Commodore Ian Gale, who is responsible for the PA8 Programme spoke to staff of the importance of the aircraft:  “It’s a challenging place out there, primarily from Russia, but there are other people who have high interest in challenging our security.

“I’m really impressed when I come here with a number of things that you do, the way you do it and that you are a proper all-British company.  I’m delighted what you are doing with apprenticeships here at Marshalls.

“We value the work you are doing and are looking forward to seeing your fuel tanks in our aeroplanes.”

Anna Keeling, MD of Boeing Defence UK, outlined the value of the Marshall team to the global aviation giant. She said: “You are such a key supplier to Boeing. These tanks are going on a multi-mission, maritime control aircraft – one that is really proving itself every single day around the globe. When it arrives it will really provide the UK unparalleled capability.”

from Business Weekly http://bit.ly/2G1ci8Q

Publié dans #UK