Independent review of university spin-outs published

Street signs on the corner of Downing Street and Whitehall.

The final report of an independent review of university spin-out companies has been published.

The review examines how UK universities spin-out companies and makes recommendations to ensure the right incentives are in place for the UK to lead the world in turning university research into commercial success.

It was independently led by Professor Irene Tracey and Dr Andrew Williamson at the request of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology.

The review puts forward 11 recommendations to accelerate the UK towards better commercialisation outcomes via the creation of more successful and sustainable spin-out companies, where:

  • universities partner with their local spin-out ecosystem to prioritise the rapid creation of spin-outs on market competitive terms
  • academics are encouraged to realise impact from their ideas through spin-outs while universities develop an entrepreneurial culture throughout the entire institution
  • founders can access the right commercial support to create successful spin-outs

Recognising UK strengths

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has long recognised the valuable role that spin-outs play in our society and endeavours to support innovators and entrepreneurs across the UK to bring their world-class ideas to market.

Transforming lives with AI-designed drugs

Using artificial intelligence (AI) to design drugs is one of the ultimate scientific challenges. But as the global frontrunner in pharmatech, Exscientia is meeting the challenge head on with the world’s first AI-designed molecules to reach clinical trials.

The Exscientia journey began at the University of Dundee and UKRI has provided pivotal support along the way:

  • early-stage research funding was key in demonstrating the potential and practicality of AI-led approaches in the discovery, design and development of new drug candidates
  • a pathfinder award supported the experimental proof of concept for drug design
  • follow-on funding helped commercialise multitarget drug design and directly supported the formation of Exscientia

In October 2021, Exscientia was floated on the Nasdaq stock market and raised $510 million. This is the largest ever initial public offering for a European biotech. Today the company’s market value is $0.7 billion.

Headquartered at the Oxford Science Park, Exscientia now employs more than 400 people and has a diverse global team with offices and labs in Scotland, Austria, Japan and the US.

But Exscientia’s relationship with UKRI doesn’t end there. The company is now supporting the next generation of researchers through a UKRI collaborative training partnership scheme and centre for doctoral training in AI.

Driving commercial success in the gaming industry

Beyond science and technology, UKRI helps to maximise the UK’s unique strengths in the humanities, social sciences and creative arts to build a world-leading innovation ecosystem.

Testament to this is InGAME. Led by Abertay University in partnership with the universities of St Andrews and Dundee, InGAME is a cutting-edge research and development centre for the video game industry.

Its ambition to increase the scale and value of the video game industry through product, service and experience innovation was significantly bolstered by UKRI’s creative industries clusters programme.

Recognising that successful commercialisation often requires more than financial investment alone, UKRI’s creative industries clusters programme offered essential wrap around support to InGAME, including:

  • in-depth market insight
  • business development services
  • intellectual property (IP) protection guidance
  • facilitating investor relationships

The return on UKRI’s investment was clear, with InGAME reporting:

  • 40% revenue increase within one year of the programme
  • 30% growth in its IP portfolio through patents and trademarks
  • extended market reach internationally
  • 50% increase in project funding from investors

Building on success

Welcoming the review, UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said:

Every day extraordinary people and teams across the UK are creating economic and societal value by leveraging the UK’s world-class discovery research.

This is illustrated up and down the country in spinout companies like Exscientia and InGAME.

But there is more we can do to shorten the distance between discovery and prosperity, ensuring that problems can rapidly find solutions, and solutions can rapidly find markets.

UKRI’s five-year strategy sets out our clear ambition to strengthen support for the commercialisation of research and this runs through every part of what we do. Encompassing people, places, ideas and innovation, UKRI is ideally placed to capture opportunities, bringing the Government’s Science and Technology Framework to life.

This independent review highlights current strengths and opportunities to go further to deliver our commercialisation ambitions through our support for spinout companies. By working hand in hand with our partners across government, research organisations, businesses, investors and regulators, we have an unprecedented opportunity to amplify research commercialisation, in its many forms, ensuring that it delivers for the UK and competes successfully on the world stage.

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