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1 November, 2017 - 15:22 By Tony Quested

Cambridge startups chase big bucks via innovation showdown

Anna Perdrix and Zuzanna Brzosko

Three Cambridge startups have made the top 20 in a global accelerator programme and will pitch for thousands of dollars in prizes in an international head-to-head next month.

Applications from more than 200 candidates worldwide were assessed and Cambridge trio CamMat, Immaterial and Sixfold Bioscience have been chosen for the Innovation Forum’s IMAGINE IF! showdown on December 4 and 5.

They will pitch to an international panel of investors and experts in research and commercialisation.

The global winner will secure at least $10,000 non-dilutive cash prize, $10,000 worth of professional services and other benefits from the Innovation Forum network to enable rapid acceleration of their business.

The Cambridge cohort will take on peers from India, Spain, Switzerland, Hong Kong and the UK. Lausanne provides a quarter of the finalists with five contenders. London has four and Barcelona two challengers.

CamMat specialises in graphene sensor platforms; it has developed a technology that enables sensitive and fast sensors, capable of measuring trace amounts of impurities in food processing lines. Such sensors will reduce production line cleaning times and enable the removal of the ‘may contain nuts’ label from packaging.

After entering the food processing market in 2020, the company intends to target areas such as photonic sensors (infrared and THz imaging), hand held allergen sensors for personal use, and further applications in process line contamination detection as required in the pharmaceutical industry. The business is already working already in close collaboration with industrial partners and key customers Unilever and Prognomics.

Immaterial also looks to have strong global potential: Separating, storing, and transporting gas using traditional technologies is costly and uses a great deal of energy. Immaterial develops porous nanomaterials that adsorb and separate gases at the molecular level: they draw in gas, much like a sponge soaks up water. 

Metal-organic frameworks have existed for over two decades and they gathered a great deal of interest when they were discovered. So far, however, they have failed to be applied on an industrial scale as they are unusable in their natural, powdered state, and very difficult to form into larger pellets.

Immaterial says it has discovered a cheap, simple tweak to the manufacturing process that overcomes this, making it possible to grow MOFs as much larger crystals which we call monoliths.

Hundreds of these materials are already extensively researched and well understood; in a single stroke, Immaterial’s discovery makes it possible for them to be commercialised.

Together, they have industrial applications ranging from natural gas transportation to carbon capture, hydrogen storage, and cheap, reusable catalysts.

Sixfold Bioscience is a biotech start-up developing drug delivery nanotools for cancer. Cancers are complex diseases driven by multiple genetic pathways but the currently available therapeutics target only individual pathways. This leads to ineffective treatments and build up of resistance.

Meanwhile, combining therapeutics results in excessive toxicities and serious side effects. Therefore, there is a large unmet clinical need of delivering multimodal therapeutics specifically and effectively to cancer cells while minimising toxicities.

Sixfold’s RNA nanoring provides several distinct advantages, including specific cancer cell targeting and simultaneous delivery of up to six different therapeutics that can address the drug delivery challenge even to the most inaccessible regions in the body such as the brain.

Sixfold was founded by three Postdocs and PhDs from Cambridge University and the Francis Crick Institute in London. With already established strategic collaborations at the NIH (USA) and the Addenbrooke’s Hospital, it aims to mount a sixfold attack on cancer to provide better treatments for patients.

The 20 finalists in alphabetical order are: AlgoSurg (India); ART Research (London); Àvida Biotech, S.L. (Barcelona); CamMat (Cambridge); CortiCare (London); HyperC (Oxford); Immaterial (Cambridge); Komp-ACT (Lausanne);
Milkkit (Manchester); MJN Neuroserveis (Barcelona); Neo-Innovation UK Ltd  (London); NeuroDynamics (Manchester); Nextep (Lausanne); Sixfold Bioscience (Cambridge); Skypull (Lausanne); Spherox Pharmaceuticals (Oxford); SunRegen Healthcare AG (Lausanne); ThinAirWater Ltd (London); Zaphiro Technologies (Lausanne); Zunosaki Limited (Hong Kong).

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Sixfold Bioscience CSO Anna Perdrix (left) with CEO Zuzanna Brzosko

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