‘Biotechs and the City’ Part 5/7 - Cancer Research Technology

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: Keith Blundy is the CEO of Cancer Research Technology which is Cancer Research UK’s development and commercialisation company. Keith has over 200 projects in his portfolio available for licencing and co-development and he’s a commercialisation expert.

I want to start by looking at the development path and if we look at how that path should be determined, by need fashion, pragmatism, optimism and should it be asset centric versus new companies?

Keith Blundy: The question may seem somewhat insulting to many people in the audience but in our role, our position is to try and develop things as fast as possible. As a representative of a charity we are not there necessarily to make the most money out of it but to ensure that science and technology gets developed for the benefit of the patients. You need to go back to first principles and ask yourself this science I’ve got how is it best developed? A new company might be the way, a collaboration with another company or a collaboration with other scientists using translational funding from other funders may be the way. I just think you need to go back to square one and think what is the best way to develop the opportunity rather than going with whatever the fashion is.

Many of us here have been around long enough to know when there was a whole gamut of funding to form new companies, most of which probably should never have been companies; they provided a short-term development vehicle and then most of them dried up and left the assets in no man’s land. It’s really just thinking from first principles what you need to do. Is this a joint venture opportunity, do I need other technologies, do I need skills capabilities I don’t have and where do I most readily get those and what do I construct to take those things forward?.

Terry O’Dwyer: Would you say that’s a shift in mind-set that’s required by companies?

Keith Blundy: If there is money around for doing things in a certain mode, for exploiting that, that’s pragmatism but it’s just common sense to think through what the science is and how it’s best developed. We don’t tend to roll our sleeves up and want to form what I would call a bona fide new company unless we’ve got a platform or something which could create multiple products because putting together and working to put together a VC syndicate, a requisite management team and we’ve all heard about how important people are, finding the right people. The right people are only going to come for something which is potentially going to have some longevity of funding and opportunity so you need to choose very carefully those that you say ‘I’m really going to try and make this into a new company whether it’s virtual or not but to try and put that sort of funding and effort into it. Sure you can create single project vehicles, they’re a means to have an easy exit at the end but if you’re really going to go into the newco business you need to choose your opportunities very carefully.

Terry O’Dwyer: In a world when the bioscience industry funds less research, whose job is it to fill the early gap, is it government, charities, philanthropists, VCs and what do you think the new models could be?

Keith Blundy: It’s all of the above, there’s a gap there and there’s always going to be a gap no matter what funding gets put in place nearly every project falls to a point somewhere where it’s looking for money to do something. With industry doing less research there’s less uptake from industry of the earlier stage science, someone has to fill that gap otherwise what’s the point of all us funders, including my parent, funding all this research if it’s not going to get developed. It’s not doing anyone any good so what you’re going to see here and we’re already seeing it, I would say it’s the best time in the time I’ve been working in early stage translation for working with industry because they’re much more open to doing new models, sharing finance and taking risk and sharing their capabilities and you’re going to see all kinds of different models because people are genuinely opening up to working in different ways. They’re realising if they take risks with other partners they’ll have to share some of the reward. It’s not announced yet but I’ll give you an example of a model we’ll announce soon. A joint facility with a pharma where we’ll have some of our employees and their employees, we’ll put financing and our science in, they put their employees and all their technological capabilities in, that will come out soon. I can’t say what it is at the moment but the idea that you’ll have pharma employees on a long-term basis and the charities employees working together on scientific projects that would have been unthinkable when I started doing this.

Part 6/7 – Apposite Capital will be released on Wednesday 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 ouOctober and November offering here. 


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