‘I would encourage every researcher to get to know their commercialisation office’

We catch-up with Anne Lane, CEO of UCL Business and multiple spinout projects, about all-things research commercialisation

Anne Lane is the CEO of UCL Business (UCLB), UCL’s technology transfer company that brings some of the university’s best ideas to market. A UCL graduate herself, Anne has a PhD in medicine from the institution and an executive MBA from Molson Business School in Montreal.

After time at UCL and Harvard Medical School, Anne worked for Montreal-based RTP Pharma Inc. in out-licensing and preparing valuations for public listing. Anne is the director and interim CEO for multiple UCLB spinout companies and oversees all of UCLB’s licensing for biotech and technology innovations. In conversation with us, Anne expands on the process of developing ideas into ventures, universities successfully commercialising their research, and how all of this has been affected by the pandemic.

What is UCLB and why are the services you offer so important for researchers?

UCLB is the commercialisation company for UCL, one of the world’s leading research-intensive universities. We make sure the outstanding ideas that are generated by researchers at UCL have a real-world impact. In the process, we unlock societal benefits and create revenue for the university.

Our services enable researchers to navigate the complexities of bringing new ideas to market for the first time. Due to the complexity of world-leading research, this can take years of funding and bespoke support to achieve.

The difference this makes is huge. Our track record of success includes over £1.5 billion raised in investment for UCL spinouts, bringing pioneering technologies from the laboratory to market.

What is the process in decision making when choosing which ventures, or ideas, to take on board?

It isn’t simply a case of an idea going from 0 to 100 overnight and becoming a fully-fledged venture. We work very closely with researchers to explore the commercial market for their idea, the right organisational set-up, and ensure that if there is unique and vital IP, it is patented and can be defended. Those processes are supported by expert teams of business managers and other professionals who apply their own experience and talents to guide the researcher through that process.

How important is university collaboration in the development of new technologies and therapies?

Universities have an incredibly important role to play in the development of new therapies and technologies. A great example is our work with Apollo Therapeutics. To set up Apollo Therapeutics, we worked closely with two universities – Imperial College and the University of Cambridge – as well as three leading industry partners, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson.

We brought together leading university-generated IP with the potential to establish new therapies for patients with relevant expert commercial and development knowledge, creating a portfolio vehicle that could efficiently advance breakthrough discoveries.

We incubated it together, and in July 2021, we were incredibly proud to see Apollo Therapeutics raise $145m from investors, who saw the potential and will support those therapies to continue to advance. The opportunity is to eventually deliver transformative treatments that improve the lives of patients.

How has the pandemic affected the way you take a project to commercialisation? How do you think the relationship between universities, businesses and the government has altered as a result of the pandemic?

We have all been reminded of the important, strategic role that universities, their research and the commercialisation of their ideas can play in our society.

In March 2020, the UK and other nations faced a sudden shortage of breathing aids, which could reduce the need for intensive care. UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering’s researchers came together with clinicians at partner hospital UCLH and Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains. Within 100 hours, they had delivered the UCL-Ventura Breathing Aid, which was designed to be rapidly manufactured and deployed.

Thanks to the UCLH partnership, it was rapidly trialled and approved for use, and HM Government rapidly ordered up to 10,000 at cost. With UCLB’s support, its designs and manufacturing instructions were made freely digitally licensable, so it rapidly reached more patients globally where it was needed. I think Covid-19 made clear that when those strategic innovations are required, if we foster the right relationships, universities can deliver.

Have new funding models emerged as a result of the pandemic?

While we haven’t seen new funding models as a result of the pandemic directly, it has accelerated some of the trends we’ve seen. There is growing support and backing for early-stage university spinouts. We were ahead of the curve with the UCL Technology Fund, which is co-managed with AlbionVC, and provides our outstanding but often capital-intensive spinouts and licensable technologies with the support they need to thrive. Other funds are doing this now too, like the Northern Gritstone Fund, which is doing this for excellent universities across the North of England.

It means more universities will have the confidence to commercialise research, knowing they have the support to mature, deliver on their societal potential and return the investment to the university.

What do you think is the defining feature of the ideas you take to commercialisation?

The research that we bring to fruition changes lives, and we are motivated by knowing the difference that outstanding research commercialisation can make.

UCLB has established a distinctive track record for generating outstanding gene therapies spinouts that have gone on to achieve public listing. Those therapies, for rare and chronic diseases like haemophilia B and Fabry disease, have the potential to transform how their patients live and enjoy their lives, by creating more effective, longer-lasting, less invasive treatments.

We can help change lives less directly, too. For example, the ideas we commercialise can help tackle climate change. Like Bramble Energy, a spinout that is delivering innovative solutions for hydrogen fuel cells and electrolysers, which can help decarbonise some of the most challenging sectors ahead of 2050.

Or, for the right IP, we can establish a social venture, where profit is reinvested into the mission. For example, TrimTots is a community interest company (CIC) set up to commercialise and deliver IP to tackle obesity in pre-school children.

What is the significance of being an extension of UCL?

We are incredibly fortunate to work with our colleagues at UCL. UCL is a world-leading university, home to outstanding researchers from across the globe, using great facilities and labs, and working with our partner hospitals. The result is that we are fortunate enough to be working with ideas with amazing potential.

What key bit of advice would you give to readers wanting to boost the commercialisation of their research?

I would encourage every researcher to get to know their commercialisation office. By talking often, and talking early, organisations like UCLB can be incredibly helpful in getting more from research, and spotting opportunities early.

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