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25 October, 2016 - 13:35 By Tony Quested

New Killer50 whipping up a Storm

killer50, storm therapeutics, cambridge

Storm Therapeutics lived up to its name by ‘storming’ into Business Weekly’s Killer50 rankings for the first time.

The Killer50 are the 50 hottest science & technology companies in the European-leading cluster; the golden rules are that they must maintain a decent rate of progress and prove sustainable.

Another 100 or so high flyers sit nestling in our Ones2Watch rankings. Together the lists highlight the best companies to buy from, collaborate with or invest in.

The life science sector provides 20 companies – 40 per cent of the total – of the Killer50.

Storm Therapeutics, a Cambridge University spin-out, raised £12 million to develop novel cancer therapeutics. A host of funders with technology-centric Cambridge operations led the Series A round.

The cash is being used to identify small molecules that target RNA-modifying enzymes as the basis for the development of new cancer therapies.

Babraham-based Imperial Innovations Group led the seed funding round for its portfolio company – formerly called Iceni Therapeutics – in May 2015 and committed a further £3m to the Series A round, alongside existing investors Cambridge Innovation Capital, Merck Ventures BV and Pfizer Venture Investments.

Storm Therapeutics is a spin-out from the University of Cambridge’s Gurdon Institute and was created to commercialise the groundbreaking work of its founders, Professor Tony Kouzarides and Professor Eric Miska, in the field of RNA epigenetics.

RNA (ribonucleic acid) is the template of all protein synthesis and has key regulatory functions in the cell. There is growing understanding of the importance of RNA modification in the development of cancer, opening up novel therapeutic targets in cancer treatment.

Professors Kouzarides and Miska and their research groups have identified certain RNA-modifying enzymes against which Storm Therapeutics intends to develop therapeutics, using intellectual property licensed from Cambridge Enterprise (the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge).

Prof Kouzarides has a strong entrepreneurial track record. He was a co- founder of Abcam plc in Cambridge and co-founder of UK-based cancer drug discovery company Chroma Therapeutics, based in Oxford.

Other ‘Killers’ have been busy raising cash or making acquisitions. Cambridge CMOS Sensors was sold to an Austrian buyer but the new parent said  Cambridge would remain the R & D nervecentre.

Mark down Undo Software and CCS as other potential acquisition targets with their bleeding edge innovation.

Heavyweight Cambridge and global investors backed debugging software business Undo to grab a significant slice of a $312 billion-plus international market after pitching $3.3 million into a series A funding round for the startup.

CEO Greg Law said the funding would fuel the company’s global technology expansion with a strong emphasis on Continuous Integration (CI) and DevOps.

The company supplies next-generation software quality tools for Linux and Android developers. The Series A was led by Cambridge Innovation Capital, a preferred investor for the University of Cambridge and a Cambridge-based investor in technology companies.

Investors also include Rockspring, Martlet, Sir Peter Michael (founder of Quantel, Classic FM and California’s Peter Michael Winery), the Cambridge Angels group and Jaan Tallinn (a founder of Skype and Kazaa).

Owlstone Medical raised $7 million to help further develop its novel disease breathalyser. Cyber security business Darktrace has amassed vast amounts of cash and manpower to develop increasingly sophisticated and effective defences against cyber attackers.

The company has raised $105.5 million in the last 12 calendar months to bolster headcount and technology capability following a new $65m round backed by global big hitters.

Darktrace says its self-learning technology has been deployed over 1,500 times worldwide and that more than 18,000 serious cyber incidents have been uncovered to date by its Enterprise Immune System. Digital payment solutions provider Blackhawk Network, bicyle retailer Trek, and UK conservation charity National Trust, are just a few of Darktrace’s recent customer wins.

Geographical expansion continues apace, with 22 Darktrace offices globally, including new bases in Johannesburg and Reston, Virginia. Global headcount now stands at over 330.

Growth in Asia-Pacific has been particularly strong with a 600 per cent increase in deployments, a partnership with Samsung SDS, and 100 per cent growth in the size of the regional team.

Inkjet printing specialist Xaar plc made a key acquisition in the US that could stack up to $18.5 million. It bought Engineered Printing Solutions in Vermont, a leading provider of product printing equipment in North America – the first acquisition in Xaar’s strategic vision to achieve £220 million of annual sales by 2020.

Business Weekly also likes the look of speech technology business Speechmatics. Cambridge has proved a honeypot for American technology giants looking for the next big thing in the speech and general AI fields. Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Google have already collectively shelled out hundreds of million dollars for Cambridge technology in the sector.

Speechmatics is ramping headcount in a rapid scale-up having launched Universal Time Alignment – a language-independent forced-alignment service to match words in text files to their counterparts in audio files. The technology accurately and automatically delivers improved content discoverability, in any language.

The technology was pioneered by Dr Tony Robinson 30 years ago at the University of Cambridge and is now pushing the boundaries in speaker-independent automatic speech recognition.

From our Ones2Watch pantheon, keep an eye on inhaler startup Alviol and also Atlantic Healthcare, the specialty pharma business scaling fast in the States, as well as a Horizon Discovery-related venture Avvinity. Horizon’s Darrin Disley has the Midas touch – in fast forward, not reverse!

Also in life sciences, therapeutic antibody business Biosceptre is scaling impressively and will benefit hugely from Sir Greg Winter’s decision to join the board.

GeneAdviser, whose founder and CEO Dr Jelena Aleksic won our inaugural Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award in March, has great potential. The startup has developed an online ordering platform for clinical genetic testing and recently raised £350k in its first round of seed funding.

The round was led by Cambridge biotechnology angel Dr Jonathan Milner, who joined the board as chairman. Darrin Disley was another sure-footed backer and ongoing mentor.

Clinicians are already using GeneAdviser to order specialist genetic tests from the NHS Regional Genetics Centre at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. We think Chris Mitchell’s Audio Analytic is on the cusp of greatness with its multi-application sound technology.

Pilgrim Beart has a great track record with novel startups – witness the mega sale of AlertMe to British Gas – and could be on another winner with DevicePilot whose technology could unleash the full potential of the Internet of Things.

The software continuously monitors and manages thousands or millions of connected products over their complete life-cycle as IoT projects move from pilot stage to deployment at scale.

Don Arnone’s TeraView is picking up real international traction with its unique terahertz technology in several fields of endeavour.
We also like the bug-busting technology of Checkit, an Elektron Technologies business, which has massive potential in the global food industry among other vertical markets.

And moving in from left field to a central global leadership position in innovation is Zettlex, whose high-precision sensors are used on land, sea and in space! Recent contracts saw the sensors taken for satellite communications in Australia; CCTV in China; surgical robotics in the US and oil exploration equipment in Canada.

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