How a revolutionary spinout rewards its university founders

The University of Southampton is an equity partner in groundbreaking regenerative medicine company Renovos – and one of the SETsquared tech companies in the UK who, between them, raised a record £616m level of investment from private and public sources in 2020

Imagine being able to heal tissue and bone damaged by illness, trauma or injury with an injection that stimulates regeneration.

Renovite is a nanoclay gel promising exactly that. It’s made by Renovos, a University of Southampton spin-off in the thick of raising £10m in Series A investment to prepare its revolutionary regenerative biomaterial for human trials.

This ground-breaking technology has been pioneered by Dr Jonathan Dawson and Professor Richard Oreffo of the University of Southampton’s bone and joint research group.

They launched Renovos in 2017 following market research led by the now CEO Dr Agnieszka Janeczek and funded through the SETsquared Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) Programme.

SETsquared is the global number 1 university business incubator and enterprise partnership run by the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. Its ICURe programme is designed to move ideas and innovation out of universities and into the marketplace.

“That was the trigger,” explains Dr Janeczek. “I was always interested in translating the research group’s work to clinical potential. SETsquared’s market research funding allowed us to interview clinicians, key opinion leaders and industry professionals around the world to see whether any of the group’s technologies were of interest.

“The nanoclay really stood out as something that wasn’t already on the market and that could be used with a narrow-gauge needle to deliver biologics precisely and at a low dose level.”

Any further discoveries are good news for both sides

This novel approach presents an important breakthrough in regenerative medicine because biologic drugs are very potent. Accurate delivery and retention are extremely important.

Once the team had identified the market potential, they secured Innovate UK funding to launch Renovos. This was followed by equity funding from business angels and other grants suggested by SETsquared.

In 2020, Renovos was one of dozens of SETsquared member companies to receive a share of £616m in investment – 40% more than in 2019. It is now working towards pre-clinical trials at the university’s Southampton Science Park.

This location puts Renovos close to its university founders and gives it access to high-tech equipment to help bring its product closer to market. The company also co-finances researchers with the university and is recruiting a PhD student. The university benefits from access to industry labs and shared research, as well as being able to apply for joint grants that require a commercial partner and a clear path to commercialisation.

This collaboration has identified further Renovite applications, including spray formulations so it can be used to coat implants. Once the nanoclay is clinical grade, Renovos will make it available to the bone and joint research group so it can continue to investigate its potential.

The company is now being supported by SETsquared’s Scale-Up Programme to raise this current round of investment.

Any further discoveries are good news for both sides: Renovos as a marketplace leader and the university as an equity partner.

Dr Janeczek says: “Every success that we have in the future is a joint success for the university”.

Rosie Bennett is investment manager at SETsquared

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