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23 January 2014

Spin-outs to watch in 2014

Looking for potential big movers this year? Here's a selection of spin-outs which have caught GUV's eye in 2013.

Author: Gregg Bayes-Brown, editor

Many of the companies we report on at GUV could potentially have wide-reaching impacts as they grow. However, some stand out more than others. Here are eight such companies which we expect to have a stellar 2014 based on factors such as growth plans for 2014, recently funding rounds, and technologies underpinning the firms.

 

Juno Therapeutics

As many institutions were winding down for Christmas last year, three institutions decided to end 2013 with a bang: Juno Therapeutics. A collaborative effort between the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and New York-based Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre, the life science spin-out launched with a $120m series A – one of the largest in history.

While it is becoming more mission-critical for biotechs to attract large investments at the early stage, the size of the investment made by the Alaska Permanent Fund and ARCH Venture Partners (itself a spin-out of the University of Chicago) is still somewhat surprising, until the potential of Juno’s technology becomes apparent.

At the core of Juno is what’s called chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) technology. A potentially revolutionary oncology treatment, CARs reprogram the body’s T-Cells, a core component of the immune system, to be able to identify and target tumours. The result of the treatment effectively turns the immune system into a powerful weapon against cancer, and one that has shown extremely promising results.

Juno is not alone in developing CARs. In fact, it was the University of Pennsylvania, developing a separate CAR, which reported the first breakthrough in the technology. In 2010, the university’s CAR completely removed a 64-year old man’s terminal leukaemia after all other options were exhausted – the patient still remains cancer free today.

Juno’s first act of business was to engage in a legal battle with Pennsylvania over the rights to the next generation therapy (reported on in the news section of this issue). However, once legal squabbles are cleared out of the way, Juno could end up holding the keys to one of the most impressive cancer treatments to have been developed and the capital to support its development.

 

WiTricty (PowerByProxi)

While there may be some dispute behind the meaning of the song Battery by rock band Metallica, GUV editor Gregg Bayes-Brown likes to take the view that disgruntled frontman James Hetfield is singing about his disappointment over his electrical devices’ inability to hold a charge. It is an inconvenience shared by many, including the founders of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s spin-out WiTricity.

With roots traced as far back as 1891 when first demonstrated by inventor Nikola Tesla, WiTricity is developing wireless power transfer. The technology has an abundance of uses, ranging from remotely charging consumer electrical devices around the home to refuelling electrical vehicles without having to plug them in.

The scope of the applications of wireless power transfer, which reaches into consumer, defence, automotive, and medical fields, has wide reaching implications for a world ever more dependent on electricity. So much so, that the global market is predicted to increase by 86.5% annually and be worth $4.5bn by 2016.

WiTricity, which has secured 50 patents for the technology and recently completed a $25m series E bringing its total venture backing to $45m, looks to have the commanding position in the wireless power transfer market as it expands. The MIT spin-out has secured multiple contracts with manufacturers such as Audi, Mitsubishi, Delphi, MediaTek, Thoratex, and IHI, and GUV expects it to build even further momentum over the coming year.

It is not alone in the field, however. Smartphone developer Samsung, an obvious choice for harnessing the potential of wireless power transfer in its handsets, joined in with a $9m series C round for PowerbyProxi, another developer of the technology spun out from the University of Auckland. If Samsung’s acquisition of Dresden spin-out Novaled, a developer of OLED screen technology, is anything to go by, PowerbyProxi may end up being the go-to supplier of wireless power for the smartphone developer, giving the Auckland firm a substantial partner in a showdown with WiTricity.

 

2-D Tech

Back in 2004, the University of Manchester isolated a two-dimensional thick sheet of graphite. Known as graphene, the substance became heralded as a “wonder material” due to the scope of its potential uses with its discoverers, professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, picking up the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for the breakthrough.

Flexible, strong, and the world’s most conductive material, graphene could revolutionise a number of sectors and technology, from smartphones and computers to drug delivery and ethanol distillation. Manchester has since sought to capitalise on the discovery through its £61m National Graphene Institute, announced in 2012, and the formation of 2-D Tech, a Manchester spin-out formed to commercialise the results of the institution’s graphene research.

Formed with £500,000 of seed capital from the University of Manchester’s tech transfer and innovation unit UMI3, 2-D Tech currently focuses on providing graphene supply, which the company says it does at a higher quality than its peers.

However, with the construction of the National Graphene Institute underway, GUV predicts that 2-D Tech will take a more commanding role in bringing graphene products out of the university and into real world applications as time goes by, attracting further investment as it goes. If graphene lives up to the hype, 2-D tech will find itself positioned as the bridge between graphene’s home at Manchester and a world eager to get their hands on it.

 

Tissue Regenix

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, a spin-out of Leeds University, aims to allieviate 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.

On the back of this technology, the company has begun a push into the US by signing a partnership with Community Tissue Services, one of the largest tissue banks in the US, which distributes 230,000 grafts annually.

Over 2014, GUV expects to see traction for the Leeds firm as its technology begins to help the 6.5 million sufferers from wounds, potentially attracting further partnerships and investment as it goes.

 

RealVNC

Founded back in 2002, Cambridge spin-out RealVNC is the original developer of Virtual Network Computing (VNC), which enables remote control of a computer by another. Useful in a variety of applications, the top of the list being IT support, RealVNC has sold millions of copies of the technologies to customer ranging from individuals to computer manufacturing giants IBM and Intel.

It’s for this reason that the company won the MacRobert Award, one of the most prestigious awards in UK engineering, in 2013 by the Royal Academy of Engineering. What was particularly revealing about the award was how the judges tipped RealVNC, which is yet to attract any external investment, as the next Cambridge spin-out to join the 12 others to have been valued at $1bn or over.

Part of the reasoning behind the prediction is likely due to the ability for RealVNC to not only be used with desktop computers, but also smartphones and tablets, offering a greater market for RealVNC to be incorporated into. Another factor in the decision is likely to be RealVNC’s increased partnership with Intel, which will see the technology incorporated into Intel chipsets so Intel users don’t have to download additional software as well as offering the ability to use a device even if it is faulty or hibernating.

Internet giant Google is also in talks with the company to incorporate the technology with its internet browser Google Chrome.

The partnership indicate a significant upward trajectory for the firm, and GUV’s eyes will be on the firm over the coming months to see whether it fulfils the Royal Academy of Engineering’s prophecy of joining the Cambridge billion plus club.

 

HealthTell

While plenty of biotechs are focused on the later stages of oncology treatment, early detection of cancer is still the ideal way to be able to treat and survive it.

Generally, detection requires complex and expensive monitoring systems. However, Arizona State University’s (ASU) HealthTell, the 2012 winner of the Governor’s Award for Innovation in Arizona, is taking a different approach. As opposed to looking for the pathogen directly, HealthTell looks for the immunosignature (the body’s response to a pathogen’s presence), which reduces costs and the time it takes to identify cancer.

The company secured $4m in series A funding last year to help commercialise tests which can identify lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancer, which collectively killed 270,000 Americans in 2012. The technology has also been demonstrated to identify over 30 conditions, including both cancers and infectious diseases.

The firm is also supplying tests to two other ASU projects funded by the Department of Defence and its Defence Threat Reduction Centre to monitor health of soldiers in the field.

In 2014, GUV expects that the $4m will be put to work in bringing HealthTell’s products to market.

 

Phononic

Refrigeration, a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide, was one of the most impactful technologies of the 20th century. It allows for supermarkets to provide food to keep cities going, has been behind creating cities in previously unsustainable areas such as Las Vegas or Dubai, and has continued to add to those cities by being one of the main contributing factors of the population explosion over the past hundred years.

The problem with refrigeration, however, is that it isn’t very clean. Compressors in the technology use a lot of power and also use toxins in the process, making refrigeration a prime candidate for contributing to global warming. It’s estimated that 40% of energy used in American homes goes directly into ozone-depleting systems such as home fridges and air conditioning units.

Phononic, a spin-out from North Carolina State University and named one of the 2013 Global Cleantech 2013, is at the forefront of providing a cleantech alternative. Its solid state refrigeration technology removes toxins and moving parts from the process, making refrigeration quieter, more energy efficient, and much cleaner.

It has recently attracted $21m in series C backing, bringing its total to $31m, for the development of its refrigeration and air conditioning units. The additional backing, as well as the impressive technology, means that it is ready to launch its first product this year, bumping it onto our watch list for 2014 as it looks to provide the next generation in refrigeration.

 

XO1

Described as the “holy grail” of anticoagulants and capable of saving millions of lives from heart attacks and strokes, Cambridge University’s XO1 launched last year in virtual mode with $11m in backing from Index Ventures, its largest investment to date, out of its $200m GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson backed venture fund.

XO1 is developing and commercialising ichorcumab, an antibody created by researchers at the University of Cambridge and affiliated hospital Addenbrooke and named after Ichor, which in Greek mythology was the ethereal fluid in the blood of the gods that conveyed their immortality.

Like another UK discovery, that of Pencillin by Alexander Fleming, it was a chance discovery. The antibody was originally discovered naturally occurring in a patient who arrived at Addenbrooke’s accident and emergency department with a head injury and anticoagulation consistent with severe haemophilia. Doctors initially thought the wound combined with high anticoagulation would prove lethal, but were surprised to find that the bleeding stopped normally.

Anticoagulants are currently used to treat thrombosis, a major cause of heart attacks and strokes, but are inhibited by bleeding side-effects they cause. However, as XO1’s ichorcumab nullifies the risk of hæmorrhaging, it could prove a major turning point in the treatment of the condition.

GUV expects to hear more from XO1 during 2014 as ichorcumab is further developed.

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