The biotech sector continues to strengthen and evolve across the globe, developing innovative treatments through new routes. In the UK, our world-class research base has long provided the strong foundations for a thriving ecosystem. Here, David Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, Magnus Life Science, details their ‘spin in’ approach to nurturing the ground-breaking biomedical research undertaken in the UK.
The biotech world is facing exciting times:
- There is a major resurgence in the UK biotechnology community
- There is more investment than ever going into driving innovative, new biotech science
- We are at an inflection point in science and are on the cusp of seeing new, exciting sources of treatment making their mark on society and having a significant influence on the way that we treat patients and potentially cure disease
Like many executives involved in this industry, I am extremely excited to be involved at this particular point in time but I am also a little worried. Whilst the environment that we operate in has undoubtedly changed, has our business model kept pace?
Funding sources – and I would contend their attitude to risk – remain the same. However, the model of sourcing innovation from our world-leading universities is today handicapped by systematic failings in our technology transfer approach. So what do we do? Like the scientists that we employ to drive our innovation, perhaps it’s time to experiment.
At Magnus we passionately believe that universities remain the singularly most important source of innovation and are the fuel for growth of our biopharmaceutical industry. We also believe that the NHS remains one of the best systems in the world in which to test and further develop the next generation of medicines. The sources of funding can certainly remain the same – but how we combine these three factors cannot.
When most people think about commercialising ground-breaking university research, the model they’re likely to have in mind is the ‘spin-out’. It’s an established route and the go-to model for our academics and universities. However, at Magnus Life Science, we believe the spin-out model has significant shortcomings and that much research would be better served – and ultimately have more commercial impact – if a ‘spin-in’ model was used instead.
A spin-in, as we see it, involves taking an entire company and putting it within a university. Innovation needs to be nurtured. It’s the opposite to the ‘chicks out of the nest’ approach of the spin-out. It also has advantages over the use of incubators which do provide a supportive environment but still fall short of providing the full infrastructure and culture available to a business truly embedded in a university.
With this approach, science is nurtured rather than being sent out into the wilderness. It’s a warmer environment, with many of the barriers between the academic and commercial worlds broken down, and one we think will allow us to progress our programmes more effectively.
The UK is an ideal place to adopt this new approach to translational science. As mentioned above, we have some of the world’s leading academics in some of the world’s leading universities. Second, we have a health care system that is willing to experiment and provide early access to potentially innovative new medicines. Finally, in the UK and in Europe, we have access to some of the largest pots of venture capital managed by some of the most knowledgeable and experienced investors and entrepreneurs. These are not solely sector specialists but also investors who can be attracted to life sciences from other high growth areas.
The model that we have developed at Magnus aims to bring all of these key stakeholders together. Through an industrial collaboration, the Company’s operational and R&D teams are located (“spun-in”) within University College London with renowned experts who are practising clinicians working closely with an experienced management team to take the academic, commercial and clinical lead on projects.
There are challenges to the model, of course. At the core of the model has to be trust. Trust that the spin-in company will not abuse its privileged position. Trust that the university and their staff will respect the commercial sensitivity of the work being performed and help protect the valuable IP being generated.
The university has to be incentivised but there are ways and means of achieving this through fee for service, equity based models and even opportunities to access additional funds for the university through the UK Quality-related Research (QR) funding process.
There is also a limit to the size a company could reach as a spin-in – perhaps 200 to 300 people – and a fine balance between academic research and freedom of creativity vs commercial pressures to deliver.
But for us, we believe the spin-in model will be core to our success and I am confident that our progress will be seen as an example and help lead to more excellent research having the commercial and societal impact it deserves.