GUV's list of hot spin-outs to watch in 2015.
As the festive season comes around again, Global University Venturing looks back at some of the most impressive technologies driving academic spin-outs which have crossed our pages over 2014. While many spin-outs utilise cutting edge intellectual property, here are the 12 most eye-catching we’ve seen which we anticipate to have a big year ahead.
Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Sector: Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI), once the mainstay of dystopian science fiction films and novels based around the creation of AI being a harbinger for the end of mankind, is finally leaving the worlds of prose and celluloid behind and becoming a reality. In fact, many AIs are already with us in the form of Apple’s personal assistant Siri or the countless billions of AIs regularly slaughtered at the hands of overzealous computer games aficionados.
In the same month period that renown physicist Stephen Hawking added his own concerns over the future of humanity should AI continue to evolve, Global University Venturing has tracked no less than five separate deals support five different AIs. Maryland-backed FiscalNote, aimed at regulatory analytics, raised $7m. Narrative Science, capable of sorting raw data into readable stories and backed by the Central Intelligence Agency’s corporate venture arm In-Q-Tel, added $10m to its previously raised $32m. Columbia’s Ebravia attracted $1.5m to provide AI-led due diligence on legal documents. And Kensho, a collaborative spin-out from MIT and Harvard, attracted $15m for its investor-friendly financial data analysis AI from investment bank Goldman Sachs.
However, the biggest deal with the widest scope for impact and further unsettling sci-fi fans is MIT’s Sentient. The AI was awoken from stealth mode at the end of this year, emerging with $143m, $103.5m of which came in a series C backed by conglomerates Access Industries and Tata Communications.
Founded in 2007, the company is aiming to produce the most powerful AI the world has seen. Sentient will be used to provide problem-solving services to researchers, individuals, and corporates, with the latest funding going to support a significant increase in Sentient’s AI products. While under stealth, the company provided services for financial trading and medical research, but it is thought that the potential scope for Sentient could be much wider.
Sentient and its fellow AIs may not yet be at the level of HAL 9000 of Space Odyssey fame, but progress in the area is rapidly developing, and is expected to become more and more of a regular feature in GUV during 2015 and the years ahead. Especially so if we hire Narrative Science’s financial journalism AI anytime soon.
Institution: University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
Sector: Computer Components
MIT’s Sentient AI may have great ambitions to be the most advanced computer ever made (or possibly third, for fans of the Hitchhiker’s Guide of the Galaxy), but it is nothing without the components upon which it is built.
Another company to emerge from stealth recently may be able to help with that. Launching from UCLA in 2009 as Waveconnex and appearing in November as Keyssa, the spin-out is looking to revolutionise computer connectors using its ‘kiss connectivity’ technology. Keyssa’s technology works by placing two connectors within close proximity where they “kiss” and exchange large volumes of data, reaching speeds of up to six gigabits per second – capable of downloading a 1 GB file in two seconds.
When deployed into smartphones and laptops, the devices free up considerable space compared to its current wired and wireless counterparts while remaining low powered and extremely efficient at transferring high volumes of data at speed. Connectors are a $50bn annual industry, and it has remained largely unchanged while everything else in computing has advanced. Keyssa’s tech changes that, and could inspire a new wave of design innovation in future smartphones and tablets.
Seeing as the company only just revealed itself, it may be too early to estimate just how much of an impact the tech will have over the coming year. Yet, it will surely be one to watch if and when companies begin to utilise the technology in their products.
Institution: Oxford University
Global University Venturing has had a good run of success predicting that immunotherapy firms will have a strong year ahead, even if it is somewhat of a rigged bet in our favour. In 2013, we awarded UCLA’s Kite Pharma Deal of the Year, and the firm would go on to raise $50m in May this year before holding an IPO worth $128m. And then again on this list last year, we tagged Juno Therapeutics as hot property for 2014, and the company went on to raise $310m over two rounds before announcing an IPO, which it now targets a further $212m for, netting our Deal of the Year 2014 along the way.
It is with that track record in mind that we stack our chips happily on Oxford’s Adaptimmune. It’s already been a solid year for the UK-based firm. Launched in 2008, held its series A in September, and raised a massive $104m in and oversubscribed round with Oxford University, New Enterprise Associates, and a range of other backers. It also attracted pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline for a collaboration and licensing agreement in June.
Given Adaptimmune’s intellectual property, the year ahead looks like smooth sailing for the company. Much like its two US-based peers, Adaptimmune is using engineered T-Cells to treat cancer, but also has a parallel focus on infectious diseases. The cells are extracted from a patient’s body, genetically engineered to target the disease in question, and then are infused back with the ability to specifically target a tumour or disease.
Due to the scope of immunotherapies to not only be offered alongside traditional oncology therapies but perhaps even to replace them, the area has become white hot for interest and investment. While the treatments are mostly currently in the clinical trials phase, immunotherapies have so far shown great success in complete cancer remission in patients as well as far less side effects than conventional treatments such as chemotherapy. Immunotherapies will undoubtedly grow over the coming year, and with Adaptimmune’s scientific and financial backing, it would seem like the Oxford company will be among the other spin-outs which will continue to grab headlines in the life sciences sector while providing hope for cancer sufferers.
Institution: Uppsala University
In excess of 70% of all drug candidates are rejected at the early stages of development due to solubility. With the body unable to absorb the drug, no matter the potential, the candidate will get shelved.
That’s where upsalite comes in. Discovered last year in the ways of gunpowder and penicillin – by accident – the material stops drugs from crystallising, and therefore makes them soluble. Set up earlier in 2014, Disruptive Materials is now commercialising the discovery, which is described as a solid material with small pores that acts as a sponge for the drugs.
Upsalite could not only be used for drugs currently in development and future drugs yet to be discovered, but could also open the door to previously dismissed substances. While it was previously hypothesised that pharmaceutical companies would not want to return to struck off drugs, that has not turned out to be the case for Disruptive, which received requests from 2,000 companies at launch.
The company, which won Global University Venturing’s Technology of the Year, is still inundated with requests into its technology, and is looking down to narrow down its focus in the year ahead. While the eventual focus areas are yet undecided, the overall impact of Upsalite and Disruptive Materials could turn out to be massive.
Institution: Imperial College London
Sector: Allergy Treatments
The scope for allergy treatments such as cat allergies and hay fever is estimated to be a $12bn global market.
In the largest UK biotech floatation this side of the millennium, Imperial College London spin-out Circassia brought in $332m in its March IPO. Trading at the top of its range, the IPO saw ICL’s tech transfer unit Imperial Innovations deliver over a three-fold return on investment for its £25.5m ($42.64m) stake, now worth £82m. Circassia’s primary products are focused on treating common allergies, such as cat allergy and hay fever.
Although it is now trading publically, the future looks bright for Circassia. Should it received the FDA approval the company is now aiming for, its cat allergy treatment alone will be on the way to providing relief to 24 million people in the US.
Institution: Leeds University
Sector: Regenerative Tissue
Marking its second outing, Leeds spin-out Tissue Regenix yet again makes it onto our spin-outs to watch list after a year of establishing itself in the US market.
Driving Regenix’s move to the states is its dCell technology. In the US, chronic wounds (ie. Wounds that take over three months to heal – some of which never heal) affect up to 6.5 million people, with healthcare costs running in excess of $25bn. The burdens of such a wound, physical, mental, and financial, make them crippling for a person to deal with. Tissue Regenix aims to alleviate the condition. Its biological scaffolding technology dCell has shown great promise in healing the wounds. 87% of patients treated have seen a reduction in their wounds, with 60% seeing the wounds healed entirely.
The company has now established several commercial partnerships in the US to utilise the technology, and is turning its focus to clinical trials in the EU.
Institution: Université Pierre et Marie Curie
Sector: Retinal Implants
The World Health Organisation estimates that 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired, with 39 million of those being blind.
Pixium Vision, based in France, is looking to change that. Launched in 2011 and raising $20.3m in its series A last year, the company is developing retinal implants to patients who have lost their sight through degenerative eye diseases.
This past year, the company raised a further $46.7m through an IPO. The company is using the cash raised to further develop its technology, which Pixium plans to bring to market in the US and Europe over 2015.
Institution: King’s College London
Dental caries, which affects 2.3 billion people every year, is one of the most common preventable diseases. Until now, however, it was not possible to reverse tooth decay once it has begun. The decay happens through several stages, starting as a microscopic defect where minerals leach out of tooth. Minerals continue to move in and out of the tooth in a natural cycle, but when too much mineral is lost, the enamel is undermined and the tooth is said to have developed a caries lesion. If left untreated, this eventually becomes a cavity.
Reminova, launched by KCL in June, aims to will stop dental decay. It is the first spin-out from the King’s College London Dental Innovation and Translation Centre, launched in January 2013.
Reminova’s technology is the holy grail of dentistry, a breakthrough that the industry has been researching for several decades. It rebuilds the tooth and heals it without the need for drills, needles or amalgam by accelerating the natural repair process of calcium and phosphate minerals re-entering the tooth to repair a defect. The two-step method first prepares the damaged part of the enamel, before using a tiny electric current to push minerals into the tooth.
The technology, called Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralisatio, could be brought to market within three years. In the year ahead, Reminova will be seeking private investors to fund development.
Institution: Harvard University
Sector: Surface Coating
Spinning out from Harvard in October, Slips Technologies is commercialising a coating that is able to repel almost any type of liquid and solid.
Based on research at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the company was spun out by the university’s Office of Technology Development. Its name stems from its eponymous technology, an acronym for slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces.
Slips has been developed as a platform for non-medical applications, and was invented by Joanna Aizenberg, professor of materials science at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences as well as a core faculty member at the Wyss Institute. Aizenberg’s co-inventors are Philseok Kim, a senior research scientist at the institute, and Tak–Sing Wong, a former post-doctoral fellow at the institute.
The technology can be applied to metals, plastics, optics, textiles and ceramics and essentially makes them self-cleaning as it repels almost any liquid and solid – including rain, dust and bacteria – it comes into contact with. It has a wide range of potential applications, including medical, energy, packaging, consumer, automotive, and environmental sectors.
At launch, the company attracted $3m for its series A, half of which came from chemical company BASF’s venture arm. Given the scope of possible deployments, it is likely that the series A is just the start for Slips, with more potential funding arriving in 2015.
Institution: Edinburgh University
Sector: Internet Communications
With the much hyped Internet of Things (IoT) on the rise, with an estimated 26 billion devices expected to be connected to the machine-to-machine network by 2020, there is an opportunity to provide the framework upon which IoT is built.
PureLifi, a communications technology spin-out of Edinburgh University, is looking to capitalise upon that opportunity with the commercialisation of its next-generation product called Li-Flame.
The company, which spun out in 2012 under the name pureVLC before rebranding in October 2013, is currently marketing a high-speed wireless communications solution called Li-1st, launched in the first quarter of 2014. The technology exploits off-the-shelf LED technology to set up wireless access points, which increases capacity of traditional wifi in any given area by a factor of 1000.
Li-Flame builds on the technological success of Li-1st and improves it to hold a connection even when there is no LED light bulb in direct sight. The company is hoping the technology could form the basis for IoT communications and for 5G systems. The company plans to have its technology ready for market by the end of this year, marking a potentially exciting 2015 for the firm.
Institution: Queensland University
Sector: Needleless Injections
Drawing on inspiration from Star Trek, Vaxxas, a Queensland University spin-out, has developed technology which could mean vaccine delivery via needles and syringes could soon be a thing of the past.
The World Economic Forum has now named the company a Technology Pioneer, along with 23 other startups such as the Raspberry Pi Foundation, makers of the eponymous cheap computer. Mark Kendall, inventor of the technology, will present at the forum’s next annual meeting in January 2015.
The nanopatch, based on research at the university’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, is, as the name suggests, a small patch which delivers vaccines painlessly and more efficiently than syringes.
Spun out by UniQuest, the university’s technology transfer office, Vaxxas’s technology consists of thousands of tiny projections which inject the vaccine directly into immune cells in the skin. A needle delivers the vaccine into the muscle, where much fewer immune cells are located.
The company is received funding from the World Health Organisation, on top of a $15m series A from 2011, to lend its technology to WHO’s polio vaccination efforts. Should Vaxxas get its nanopatch through clinical trials and regulatory approvals in 2015, the company will be part of a consortium trying to secure a polio-free world.
Institution: Swansea University
Sector: 3D Bioprinters
With 3D printing technology sector set to explode over the coming couple of years as the technology becomes more accessible to the consumer market, the next generation of 3D printers are due to print more than just plastic prototypes and designs.
One spin-out exploring this area is 3Dynamic Systems, a spin-out of Swansea University, which is releasing two 3D bioprinters dubbed Alpha and Omega.
The company is hoping to use the bioprinters to create transplantable bone and complex tissue constructs. The process is based on research by Daniel Thomas, senior research officer at the university’s Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating. The printing is based on stem cellular materials, which can be turned into specific tissue.
The Alpha bioprinter has been designed to deal with bones, while the Omega has been designed to print soft tissues. Omega is currently able to produce tissues of a high enough quality for pharmaceutical trials.
Should the bioprinters prove successful, they could be a major breakthrough in tissue engineering technology, and could be used to treat severely injured patients by simply printing out replacement parts.