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Top UK Universities for Life Sciences Spinouts

| Annabel Beales

UK universities are becoming increasingly essential incubators for entrepreneurial talent and profit-making innovations, and never more so for the life sciences industry than in the wake of COVID-19, the Government’s recently published vision for life sciences in the UK, and the announcement of a new Life Sciences Investment Programme from British Patient Capital. 

Much of this commercial work is done through spinouts, startup companies that have been created to exploit the intellectual property developed by a university or research institution. Spinouts are part-owned by the institution, through one of three mechanisms: the institution owns intellectual property which it has licensed to the company, the institution owns shares in the company, or the institution has the right to purchase shares in the company at a later date. 

In return, spinout companies are nurtured by in-house commercialisation teams, receiving support from business and research specialists alike, in order to successfully bring their products to market. Download our Spotlight on Spinouts report to learn more about the UK’s spinout population, and emerging trends in the market

Life Sciences Spinouts in the UK

At Beauhurst, we’ve identified and verified over 1,500 spinouts from academic institutions in the UK, almost a third of which (425) are operating within the life sciences sector. Of these, 62 have gone on to exit, and 77 have died, leaving 286 active, private, and ambitious life sciences spinouts. 

Unusually for the startup world, companies that are part of the life sciences ecosystem are not concentrated in London. Over 25% come from Oxford and Cambridge alone, leading the East of England and the South East to be the top regions for active life sciences spinouts, with 58 and 57 respectively. Scotland is also proving to be a hotbed for new ideas and innovative products, with 42 spinouts active in the life sciences industry. In comparison, London currently has 39. 

This ranking of the top universities in the United Kingdom for life sciences spinouts details their commercialisation processes and the type of support they give to spinouts. We’ve also profiled some of the top companies that have been developed with this support. With some of the most exciting names in the UK startup scene on the list, it’s an essential read for anyone who’s interested in the intersection of academia and business.

Top Universities for Life Science Spinouts (Since 2011)

Rank University Total Life Sciences Spinouts Exited Life Sciences Spinouts
1
University of Oxford
60
11
2
University of Cambridge
54
10
=3
UCL
29
10
=3
Imperial College London
29
8
=5
University of Edinburgh
18
2
=5
University of Bristol
18
1
7
Queen's University Belfast
13
2
=8
University of Manchester
12
2
=8
University of Birmingham
12
2
=10
University of Strathclyde
11
=10
University of Glasgow
11
=10
University of Aberdeen
11
2
=10
Newcastle University
11
14
University of Sheffield
10
2
University of Oxford

1. University of Oxford

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 60

Oxford University Innovation creates spinout companies, based on academic research conducted within and owned by the University of Oxford. As a starting point, the team helps an academic decide whether their research is suited to becoming the basis of a business. If a decision goes ahead, the team will assist with the commercialisation process by contributing to three main areas: preparing a business plan, identifying the leader of the spinout process and building the team who will run the business, and raising investment through Oxford University Innovation networks. 

The University of Oxford has spun out 60 UK life sciences companies, making it the leading university on our list. These life sciences companies include unicorn company Oxford Nanopore Technologies, which has developed a technology which sequences DNA/RNA, and Evox Therapeutics, which uses exosomes to deliver protein and nucleic acid-based therapeutics to treat rare, life-threatening diseases.

University of Cambridge

2. University of Cambridge

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 54

Cambridge Enterprise is a body within the University of Cambridge which supports academics and researchers in commercialising their work. The team offers advice and help with the protection, development and licensing of ideas, new company and social enterprise creation, and seed funding. The process begins with evaluating an idea’s market potential. Next, the team will work with the founder on developing a commercialisation strategy, assisting with intellectual property, supporting the creation of an attractive business opportunity, and negotiating and managing licence contracts and revenue generated on behalf of the inventor. 

The University of Cambridge has spun-out 54 life sciences companies to date, including Gyroscope Therapeutics, which develops gene therapies for eye diseases. So far, it has raised £164m, over three funding rounds. Another success story is CellCentric, which has created a drug to treat diseases in the oncology branch of medicine, such as late-stage prostate cancer and certain tumours. Its drug is currently in a phase one/two clinical trial.

UCL

=3. UCL

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 29

UCLB, the commercialisation body of UCL, brings new technologies to the market which are developed by researchers at UCL and its partner NHS Trusts. UCLB has business managers who help researchers work out their idea’s development potential and help them to protect their intellectual property by filing a patent. There is also a project management team available to help with the commercial and regulatory aspects of forming a spinout. This allows the researcher to focus on their work instead of the administration. UCLB also supports founders in applying for and negotiating funding. 

Spinouts from UCL include Quell Therapeutics, a biotech company which develops regulatory T cell therapies (Tregs) to address a range of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, as well as preventing organ transplant rejection. Cycle Pharma is another biotech company that has spun out from the university. It uses the latest pharmaceutical technologies to deliver drug treatments for patients with rare genetic diseases. 

More than one in three of UCL’s life sciences spinouts have successfully exited the private market, either through an IPO or acquisition. This includes biotechnology company Freeline, which develops gene therapies for patients suffering from inherited diseases. Freeline underwent an IPO on the NASDAQ Stock Market in August 2020, and raised a total of £121m ($159m).

Imperial College London

=3. Imperial College London

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 29

The Imperial Enterprise division at Imperial College London helps academics to find new ways to develop their expertise and research into benefits for society. Within this body, the Industry Partnerships and Commercialisation team and the Startups and Investments team work with researchers to help develop their research into new businesses, products or services. They will assess and consider an invention’s commercial potential and development requirements, help with protecting intellectual property, give advice on proof of concept, IP and commercial strategy, manage the licensing process, and provide individualised support.

Since 2011, Imperial College London has produced an impressive 29 life sciences spinouts. These include PsiOxus Therapeutics, a clinical-stage oncology company. PsiOxus Therapeutics is developing immune oncology products that drive sustained reprogramming of the tumour microenvironment, to overcome the challenge of resistance to therapy.

University of Edinburgh

=5. University of Edinburgh

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 18

Edinburgh Innovations is a body within the University of Edinburgh that supports organisations, students and staff with the validation, protection, development and commercialisation of inventions and intellectual property. The process involves developing the technology with a commercial partner and then either licensing it to an established business or forming a spinout, which Edinburgh Innovations will retain an ownership stake in. Support is provided to help researchers choose the most appropriate route for their idea. 

The University of Edinburgh has spun-out 18 life sciences companies, including Resolution Therapeutics, which develops cell therapies aimed at treating inflammatory organ diseases. To date, the company has raised £28m, across just two fundraising rounds. Another spinout from the university is biotechnology company Roslin Technologies, which develops agritech products, as well as providing solutions for sustainable animal farming.

University of Bristol

=5. University of Bristol

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 18

The University of Bristol’s commercialisation team works with researchers to transform research into new commercial opportunities. The process is split into three stages. In the ‘identify’ stage, they work with a researcher to identify a potential commercialisation opportunity. In the ‘translate’ stage, they will support with engaging potential markets and commercial partners. The final stage, the ‘commercialise’ stage, involves shaping, negotiating and executing commercial agreements and spinout companies. Ongoing support is also provided. The university also offers a number of business incubation and tailored programmes across a variety of disciplines to help with the creation and development of new businesses. 

Companies that have been spunout of the University of Bristol include CytoSeek, a medtech company that is developing a medical technology to enhance cell therapies for use in tumour therapies. It is currently engaged in proof-of-principle studies for multiple product candidates. A further University of Bristol life sciences spinout is Purespring, which aims to advance gene therapies for the treatment of chronic renal diseases. It has also established an in-vivo functional screening programme to initially screen for protective factors that could have applications across several kidney diseases.

Queen's University Belfast

7. Queen's University Belfast

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 13

Within Queen’s University Belfast is QUBIS, which turns academic work into commercial innovation. The Start-Up Service offers a step-by-step approach to creating a successful business. The service will assist with idea generation and innovation, the technical development of an idea and proving a concept. From there, support is also offered with building the team, validation and customer discovery, and with securing funding to scale up. 

Life sciences spinouts from Queen’s University Belfast include Re-Vana Therapeutics, which is developing technologies for the delivery of ocular therapeutics that extend the time between administrations. The company currently has two technologies, EyeLief and OcuLief. Another spinout is Causeway Sensors, which produces a device for researching and detecting the interaction of proteins in solution, which is designed for use in undergraduate studies. In 2018, Causeway Sensors received an Institute of Physics Award for outstanding innovative work, and has raised £1.73m so far. 

Queens-University-Belfast
University of Manchester

=8. University of Manchester

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 12

The University of Manchester Innovation Factory put a new team and commercialisation process in place in August 2020, designed to use the university’s intellectual property to create positive social and economic impact. The Innovation Factory uses a ‘stage gate’ process to capture and evaluate new inventions. Between each stage a decision is made to continue, recycle or cease the process. First, a new IP report is created, which is then evaluated, described and valued. Next, a business plan is built. This is followed by the commercial development of the business plan, and then the licensing of the IP, and the beginning of the investment process. A deal will then be made with a third party. The last stage of the process is asset management. 

Life sciences spinouts coming out of The University of Manchester include Gelmetix and NorthWest EHealth. Gelmetix is a healthcare company which creates gel-based treatments as an alternative to surgery for problems such as chronic lower back pain and arthritis. Meanwhile, NorthWest EHealth is a pharma company which helps the pharmaceutical industry to accelerate drug development programmes by providing an alternative approach to clinical design and management.

University of Birmingham

=8. University of Birmingham

Number of Life sciences spinouts: 12

University of Birmingham Enterprise supports existing university spinout companies, alongside academics and researchers who are considering founding a spinout. The company can help with all stages of building a startup, from assessing the appropriateness of spinning-out, sourcing, and screening potential commercial management and proof of concept requirements, through to raising investment, developing, and validating the business plan, and making further connections to sources of information and advice. 

Successful spinouts include PsiOxus Therapeutics, dually a spinout of Imperial College London, and Chromatwist which develops large Stokes shift organic fluorescent dyes for imaging systems. Chromatwist uses a molecular technology platform and scalable chemistry to innovate the dyes’ applications in the healthcare sector.

Have you read our latest report on UK spinouts?

spinouts cover
University of Strathclyde

=10. University of Strathclyde

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 11

The University of Strathclyde has formed over 50 spinout companies, making annual sales of £80m and employing more than 700 people. Of these, 11 are in the life sciences sector. Like the University of Manchester, it follows a ‘stage gate’ process to commercialisation. Outcomes of this process include the licensing of intellectual property to an existing commercial partner or forming a new spinout. 

The process begins with the submission of an invention disclosure, followed by a paper which must demonstrate the stage of development, a potential market benefit and commitment of the team. The next gate is a powerpoint presentation, which must detail the invention’s benefit in layman’s terms and set out a detailed plan for the route to market. At this point the team must decide to go down the licensing or spinout route. For spinouts, the next stage is a presentation to an external panel. It must demonstrate a market, a commercialisation route and identify a team. From here, up to £30k can be awarded and the spinout approved and formed. 

Life sciences spinouts from The University of Strathclyde include Mironid, which is building drug development programmes that will generate new and differentiated therapies for a range of diseases with high unmet medical need. Its aim is to become the world leader in cell signalling-directed therapeutic development. Another example is MGB Biopharma, a drug discovery and development company which is developing a new class of anti-infective medicine. The company’s lead drug candidate, MGB-BP-3, has recently completed a Phase 2a clinical study.

University of Glasgow

=10. University of Glasgow

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 11

The University of Glasgow provides support to researchers and staff in creating new ventures to bring products to market across various sectors. The process begins when an inventor submits an invention disclosure form. Each invention report will be evaluated for commercial potential and patentability. Further assistance from the university includes working with the inventor to market the technology, sending the information to relevant contacts and assisting with additional technical and commercial development if necessary. The product will then be either licensed to companies who are committed to taking the technology to market, or a spinout company will be created. If this route is taken, the university will support teams in forming partnerships with early-stage investors. 

Life sciences spinouts from the University of Glasgow include Caldan Therapeutics, which discovers new treatments for metabolic diseases including Type 2 Diabetes. The company recently received a £1.5m investment from LifeArc Seed Fund. Another spinout is drug development company Aurum Biosciences, which is developing new therapeutics for stroke patients. It currently has treatments for strokes and inflammation in phase two clinical trials.

University of Aberdeen

=10. University of Aberdeen

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 11

The University of Aberdeen is known for producing spinout companies across a variety of sectors, in line with the diverse areas of research it supports. Its Impact and Knowledge Exchange Team helps inventors to assess the exploitation routes for University IP, either by licensing, collaborative developments with industry, or spinout company formation. The team will offer support at each stage of the process. 

Successful life sciences spinouts from the University of Aberdeen include TauRx Pharmaceuticals and NovaBiotics. TauRx Pharmaceuticals is a leading pharma company that leads research in neurodegenerative diseases, namely Alzheimer’s. As part of its clinical research, it is currently running a phase three clinical trial to confirm its drug’s role in slowing down the disease. NovaBiotics is a leading clinical-stage biotechnology company, focused on designing and developing treatments for medically unmet diseases in the inflammation, infection, and respiratory space. This year, it was named as one of Scotland’s top ten biotech companies to watch out for in Labiotech.

Newcastle University

=10. Newcastle University

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 11

Newcastle University helps to create high technology commercial companies from university research. It has a Company Creation team, which has extensive experience in creating and managing innovative businesses. The team also works with Business Development Managers and a large network of external business managers and funders to facilitate the creation of successful new businesses. 

Newcastle University has produced 11 life sciences spinouts since 2011. They include Arrow Therapeutics (now part of AstraZeneca, which developed its COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic) and e-Therapeutics. Two further examples include Newcells Biotech, which creates in vitro 3D models for better prediction of clinical trial outcomes, and CellulaREvolution, which creates technologies for companies active in the culturing of cells. CellulaREvolution has created two products which support cultured meat, cell therapy and biologics companies.

University of Sheffield

14. University of Sheffield

Number of Life Sciences spinouts: 10

The University of Sheffield’s Impact and IP team has supported the creation of 10 successful spinouts to date. Support is given to academics in developing a business plan, building the commercial team and raising investment from internal and external sources. Each project is given a dedicated Commercialisation/Enterprise/Business manager to facilitate the process. The process has seven major steps: inventors will have to submit an Initial Commercial Enquiry, consider and map out options, define the IP, value proposition and market potential, then build the commercial team, continue technical development, build a financial plan, and then finally, raise investment. The Impact and IP team will help in building suitable business plans and securing pre-seed and seed funding. 

The University of Sheffield’s spinouts include Phasefocus and Keapstone Therapeutics. Advanced therapy company Phasefocus uses label-free Quantitative Phase Imaging technology and single-cell tracking algorithms to automatically characterise cell growth, morphology and mobility of populations of cells. Its medical devices can be applied to treat wound healing, oncology, and toxicology. Meanwhile, drug development company Keapstone Therapeutics is developing drugs to treat Parkinson’s and Motor Neurone Disease. It combines biomedical research from the university with funding and expertise from Parkinson’s UK.

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