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21 May, 2019 - 10:18 By Tony Quested

Babraham Accelerator fast-tracks five new BioMedTech innovators

Babraham accelerator startup competition

The long-term health of Cambridge’s world-class BioMedTech cluster was paraded as a new cohort of exciting newcomers were unveiled at the 2019 Accelerate@Babraham Start-up Competition.

Five life science startups were each awarded £10k, access to the Babraham Research Campus bio-incubator facilities, Accelerate@Babraham, and an extended programme of mentoring and support.

Winning technology embraced synthetic biology, root causes of ageing, a potential treatment for motor neurone disease, microfluidics for large-scale therapy manufacturing and small molecule therapeutics to address areas such as cardiovascular disease.

Eight finalists pitched to judges following the Babraham Investor Conference (BIC), a one-day event for investors showcasing start-up ventures looking for investment as well as presentations from more established companies sharing their experiences to date and the future milestones they are working towards.  

This year’s line-up also included guest speakers from Cambridge Enterprise (Anne Dobrée), Apollo Therapeutics (Ian Tomlinson) and the Government’s Office for Life Sciences (Tamsin Berry).

Judges for the pitch event were Olivia Cavlan, SV Health Investors; Vishal Gulati, Draper Esprit; Jane Osbourn, BioIndustry Association; David Grainger, Medicxi; John Trainer, AstraZeneca and Derek Jones, Babraham Bioscience Technologies.

The five successful startups were CCBio, Reflection Therapeutics, MicrofluidX, Shift Bioscience and TroMega Therapeutics.

CCBio is harnessing the power of synthetic biology to develop exquisitely specific antimicrobials for the treatment of urogenital/vaginal pathogens, transforming the treatment of infections which affect millions of women worldwide.

Reflection Therapeutics is creating a first in class treatment for motor neurone disease. It aims to protect motor neurons from an overactive immune system, prolonging their function and delaying disease progression.

MicrofluidX develops a closed, fully scalable automated bioprocessing platform, based on microfluidics, targeted at large-scale advanced therapy manufacturing, in partnership with the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and Centre for Process Innovation.

Shift Bioscience is a pre-clinical drug discovery and development company extending healthy lifespan by targeting root causes of ageing.

TroMega Therapeutics develops small molecules that change the activity of Tropomyosin4. They change the number of blood platelets and are novel drugs for diseases like Essential Thrombocythaemia and Cardiovascular disease.

Vishal Gulati, Venture Partner, Draper Esprit said: “When it comes to accelerator programmes and these types of competitions we need to lower the hurdle for people to try new ideas and start new companies. The only way we can have successful, great companies is if we dare to start more and risk failing.”

The 10th Babraham Investor Conference drew a record 170 delegates to the campus’ conference to hear from startups and scale-ups in the sector. Derek Jones, chief executive of Babraham Bioscience Technologies, which manages and develops the Babraham Research Campus, opened proceedings with an overview of the Campus and its vision – to be the best place in Europe to start and scale a life science business. With over £300 million investment raised by commercial companies on the campus in the last year and a total of around £1.2 billion invested over the last 10 years the figures certainly support this ambition. 

Jones said: “Providing appropriate space for ventures to start, develop and grow is just part of what we do. More important is the role of the campus in bringing together a community and network which provides mentoring, expertise and a level of support that you don’t easily get anywhere else, and an ability to access space from a bench to a building – develop a concept to company - on this single site.” 

Anne Dobrée, head of Seed Funds for Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s commercialisation arm,  also stressed the importance of impact as a measure of success.

She said: “Our primary goal has been impact – to ensure that great ideas are put to use, for everyone’s benefit. Our aim is to support and nurture university spin-out companies.

“Cambridge research is world leading, Cambridge technology is world leading and our role, in addition to providing finance, is to work together with founders to build great companies.

“Cambridge is a world leading ecosystem for life sciences and the Babraham Research Campus is the heart of that ecosystem. The campus’ facilities, the support offered and the community that Babraham has built around it provides the perfect environment for success.”

Delegates received a glimpse of what the future holds for BioMedTech with elevator pitches from early-stage companies, Amiri Health, ConcR, Spirea and Pentail Enzymes. All are looking to make their mark on the world whether by changing the way we detect cancer, developing software to predict treatment resistance in specific patients, sending drug payloads direct to a tumour or using multi-ethnic genome data to determine which populations would benefit from which medication.

The audience also had presentations from the 2018 inaugural winners of the Accelerate@Babraham competition – Antiverse, Kalium Diagnostics, Qkine, Oppilotech and VisusNano, demonstrating the progress they have made in defining their business and developing their science. 

Catherine Elton, chief executive of Qkine which has just moved onto Cambridge Science Park, said her company was very appreciative of the support of the programme: “It’s been a fantastic experience, allowing us to take a step back and look at our business model, including our growth strategy. It has been a fantastic journey so far and mentors have been generous with their time and advice.”

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