‘Biotechs and the City’ Part 1/7 - Imperial Innovations

The following panel transcript is taken from the 4th September ‘Biotechs and the City’ – Tech Transfer, Translational Funding and Start-Up Capital event held at Imperial College Incubator, and produced by Biotech and Money and sponsored by Marks & Clerk LLP.

The panel included Keith Blundy from Cancer Research Technology, Dr Allan Marchington from Apposite Capital, Tony Hickson from Imperial Innovations, Dr Mike Capaldi from Edinburgh BioQuarter, Richard Seabrook from the Wellcome Trust and Simon Portman from Marks and Clerk.

Terry O’Dwyer: Tony Hickson leads a team that is focused exclusively on commercialising IP developed from Imperial College.

I’m going to start Tony by asking you how you see TTOs evolving to meet the modern challenges of technology transfer? I recall when we interviewed you, you spoke of a move from technology transfer offices to technology development offices. Can you explain what that means?

Tony Hickson: The biggest change we have seen is the availability of translational funding from governments and charities that previously wasn’t available for tech transfer offices to access in terms of moving their projects forward and that has resulted in a change in mind-sets away from the old days of having data sheets where you patented the piece of technology, you produced a data sheet, stick it up on a website or take it out to a conference and try and market your IP asset to someone. Technology is not very well developed, it’s an early technology readiness level and very difficult to find a licensing partner or way to move that technology forward. The big difference now is the availability of translational funding is enabling us to move technologies up the technology readiness level scale and de-risk them with time and that increases our chances of finding a licensing partner or forming a spin out company around it because investors will find de-risking more attractive. As a result of that, we’re having to reconfigure the tech transfer office to have more project management expertise, to access experts, consultants, people who can inform us about these technologies and how to manage projects and especially drug development projects in a more appropriate manner.

Terry O’Dwyer: When talking about the development of opportunities, is there too much of a patent obsession? Where do you think the high quality opportunities can develop?

Tony Hickson: Imperial Innovations is both a technology transfer office and an investment company, we invest in technologies coming out of the golden triangle and one of the things we very much notice from our venture colleagues is that ideas don’t always start from intellectual property, there are other ways of getting great ideas off the ground. A very successful tactic has been to use an entrepreneur in residence to go into departments and areas within the universities and to talk to scientists and they’re experts in the main area and find ideas, fantastic talent and mind and ideas and wrap a management team around that and the IP will actually come later. There’s still a really good idea, the need is clear, the market is clear and you have the right team assembled to make something from that idea. That’s lead us to think not everything starts with intellectual property. It’s not about how many patents you can file, it’s looking at a different way of getting start-up `companies off the ground.

Terry O’Dwyer: Do you feel this is widely adopted across the technology transfer industry or is this something unique to Imperial?

Tony Hickson: A lot of different universities now are looking at entrepreneurial residents models. It’s been around for a while, people are starting to understand that perhaps we were all too IP obsessed in the start so I don’t think it’s unique to Imperial Innovations. What’s unique to Imperial Innovations is we have an investment team, we have venture capital investment capability that once we find an idea like that we can get it off the ground. We can put start-up capital into it, we can attract good management to our organisation because we have capital under management that we can deploy so perhaps that is something that is useful for us.

Part 2/6 - Edinburgh BioQuarter will be released this afternoon. However, if you can’t wait for the release of the remaining pieces of content taken from the 4th September ‘Biotechs and the City’ event held at Imperial College Incubator and sponsored by Marks & Clerk, you can download the full transcript here including the group Q&A.

If you’d like to attend any of the forthcoming events in the ‘Biotechs and the City’ series, you can see our October and November offering here. 

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