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22 October 2014

Technology Transfer Unit of the Year: Isis Innovation

Oxford University's Isis Innovation wins our TTO award after a stellar year.

Author: Gregg Bayes-Brown, editor

Founded in 1987 as Oxford University Research and Development, the institution’s technology transfer unit Isis Innovation is one that has gone from strength to strength, with the most recent being another solid year of building on its successes.

One of the key news stories coming from Isis over the past year has been the sale of gaming company and Oxford spin-out NaturalMotion to fellow gaming firm Zynga for $527m – a deal which returned £30m ($50m) to the institution. The exit was larger than nearly any other we’ve seen since launching Global University Venturing, and is another award winner in this year’s lineup (see Exit of the Year).

NaturalMotion wasn’t the only high point of the year for the tech transfer office. In February, Isis raised the $2m University of Oxford Isis Fund, established with the assistance of Parkwalk Advisors which also helped to get similar funds off the ground at Cambridge University. Isis will now be using to invest in technology startups and spin-outs coming from Oxford, the highest university patent filer in the UK, as well as into Oxford-based software companies such as those coming through the Isis Software Incubator.

“The Isis Software Incubator is a relatively new adventure over the past couple of years, and is massively successful in helping software startups,” explained Tom Hockaday, managing director of Isis Innovation. Pointing to examples such as Brainomix and Colwiz, Tom said that Isis are “not only doing technology transfer, but entrepreneurship as well. We also helped some of these companies set up, not with the expectation that they’d raise finance, but they have raised finance regardless.”

Another headline for Isis recently has been Adaptimmune, an immunocology spin-out in the same league as Deal of the Year winner Juno Therapeutics. The spin-out raised $104m in series A backing from several US-based life sciences funds for the development of its T-Cell Receptor (TCR) technology, which retrains the body’s immune system to be able to identify, target, and destroy cancer.

Isis has also been developing its international bridges. “Since 2009, we’ve established a network of international platforms to help transfer technologies from Oxford,” said Tom. “Particularly strong is our network of joint platforms in China where we’re using our international networks into Chinese companies. We have an office in Hong Kong, as well as three ventures in China.” Isis is also now operating in Japan, Australia, Latin America, and Oman.

From the standpoint of Global University Venturing, Isis was also the most active technology transfer office in 2014 according to our half year analysis conducted in July, and it has continued to rank as the most visible on the pages of GUV over the third quarter this year. Isis was also the top non-US TTO in GUV’s inaugural rankings (based on metrics such as spin-outs, licenses, revenues, and technologies disclosed), and was ranked joint ninth alongside University of California, San Diego.

Looking forward, Isis has broad plans for the year ahead. “Picking up on all the activity and uplift in the investment sector, there’s a great opportunity for starting new businesses as well as seeing existing ones grow, so we’re going to be launching new companies and launching new startups from the software incubator,” said Tom. “It’s also worth reminding ourselves that it’s not always about spin-outs, there’s plenty of licensing acitivity going on. So we’ll be continuing to license technologies from Oxford to existing companies to help them build their innovation pipelines.”

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