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26 May, 2006 - 17:30 By Staff Reporter

Owlstone hit sparks local expansion

Owlstone Nanotech, one of the region’s brightest new hi-techs, is examining expansion options in Cambridge with a view to a potential move within the next 12 months following the successful launch of the company’s first product.

 

Working from St John’s Innovation Centre in Cambridge, the firm has already sold three units of its freshly launched test evaluation platform, Owlstone Tourist™, with more deals expected to be complete before the year’s end.

Co-founder and president, Operations, Billy Boyle, said: "As the company grows we will need to accommodate expansion and head count in Cambridge. We are currently looking at the options of a relocation or expansion on the current site."

Owlstone spun-out of the University of Cambridge in 2003 to commercialise a dime-sized chemical sensor technology with a host of possible applications and is now majority owned by US firm, Advance Nanotech (AVNA).

Chief among them is for use in chemical warfare. AVNA cites a report published by In-Stat MDR and Frost and Sullivan, which estimates that the market for next generation chemical and biological sensors, including non-defence applications, will rise from $2.3 billion (£1.2bn) in 2002 to nearly $4bn (£2.1bn) in 2007.

The Owlstone Tourist – named as such because it makes offsite visits to customers and client – is the first production model sensor offered by Owlstone, and reflects the company’s rapid progress in developing leading-edge micro- and nano-fabrication techniques.

Boyle said: "It is a test evaluation platform to enable potential partners to quickly and efficiently evaluate the suitability of Owlstone technology for their application.

"We envisage rapid roll out of follow-on products. Improvements in the evaluation systems and product customised for specific applications and customers."

Owlstone and AVNA will not name the clients or the structure or nature of the deals, but they do expect further contracts to be announced within the next six months.

Boyle said: "We are talking to a number of potential partners across a broad application base to asses how our technology can be use to solve their detection problems. We envisage new sales in the near future, definitely by the end of the year."

Owlstone employs 12 staff at its research and development centre in Cambridge, a number it will need to increase as it takes its technology forward.

The company’s next goal is to work with its partners to integrate next generation Owlstone detection technology to address their needs while increasing sales of Owlstone products.

Marlene Bourne, MEMS analyst and founder of Bourne Research, said: "Owl-stone’s sensing technology represents a major step forward in portable analytical instrumentation. Their ability to cost-effectively detect a range of volatile organic compounds, which is difficult to do with existing technology and is what the market has been looking for, takes chemical sensing to a whole new level."

Landing the deals so soon after launch of the product fits in with the pace of Owlstone’s emergence to date and the firm has certainly managed to get its product to market very quickly.

Owlstone spun-out of the University of Cambridge in 2003. It soon followed the £5,000 runners-up prize at the 2004 Cambridge University Entrepreneurs £50K business plan competition with $2m funding from US-firm, Advance Nanotech.

Advance provided another $1m in the second half of 2005, taking its stake in Owlstone to 63.6 per cent with the other 36.4 per cent held by the three co-founders, Boyle, Andrew Koehl and David Ruiz-Alonso.

Boyle said: "AVNA have provided invaluable support from the start and have provided not only the funding to get us where we are today but also strategy and business development expertise."

Owlstone has filed 13 patent applications in the US and UK, with approximately eight more in the pipeline. In the fourth quarter of 2005, it announced Owlstone’s beta testing program with Kidde, the global fire and safety group.

The Owlstone sensor, a nano-fabricated chemical detection system, will be tested for suitability in the next generation of Kidde’s safety detection, prevention and protection systems. Kidde is part of UTC Fire & Security, a business unit of United Technologies Corporation.

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