Committee exploring the valley of death

Posted on January 15, 2012 by

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The commons science and technology committee are looking at the commercialisation of research. If life sciences is going to be a growth area for the UK economy, we have to be good not just at doing the research but translating what we’ve found out into commercial applications, i.e. things we can make and sell and can help patients, new drugs and treatments etc. At the moment this translation process is a big hurdle, with a lack of funding to drive ideas through it’s often referred to as “the valley of death”

David Cameron referred to the “valley of death” and government measures to tackle this when he launched the life sciences strategy on 5 December:

…And as you look to work more and more with smaller companies it is crucial that we do more to deal with the funding gap that so many people face – the so-called Valley of Death.  So we’ve got a whole package of measures to bridge that gap – tax relief on angel investment up from 20% to 30%.  The amount that can be invested in a single company in a year up from two million to 10 million and together these mean that if you build a business worth up to £25 million and then sell it, you’re going to be better off in the UK than you would be in the US.

What are the committee looking at?

The committee are planning to explore how the Government and other organisations can improve the commercialisation of research.

They are after written submissions on the following:

1. What are the difficulties of funding the commercialisation of research, and how can they be overcome?
2. Are there specific science and engineering sectors where it is particularly difficult to commercialise research? Are there common difficulties and common solutions across sectors?
3. What, if any, examples are there of UK-based research having to be transferred outside the UK for commercialisation? Why did this occur?
4. What evidence is there that Government and Technology Strategy Board initiatives to date have improved the commercialisation of research?
5. What impact will the Government’s innovation, research and growth strategies have on bridging the valley of death?
6. Should the UK seek to encourage more private equity investment (including venture capital and angel investment) into science and engineering sectors and if so, how can this be achieved?
7. What other types of investment or support should the Government develop?

And will then hold a series of evidence sessions, calling in experts to find out more.

The deadline to write in is 8 February. Details here.

How are medical research charities involved?

The priority for medical research charities is to improve the care and treatments for patients. Commercialisation of research is important to drive discoveries made in the lab into drugs and treatments which can help patients.

Charities are tackling this in lots of different ways, looking for opportunities to help drive the translation of ideas forward to improve healthcare for patients:

Cancer Research UK has a development and commercialisation company called Cancer Research Technology Limited. Together they have established clinical development partnerships which ensure oncology agents that might not be worth industry investing in can come to market. These take molecules which have been shelved for strategic reasons by industry. Cancer Research UK develops them, allowing the company to look at the data and, if they like what they see it, they take it back. If not, Cancer Research UK takes it forward.

Yorkshire Cancer Research has developed a commercial development awards scheme providing programme-related investment (i.e. funding spin-outs). This has enabled them to fund a spin-out company founded between one of the charity’s programme award holders and his university. Read more about this in AMRC’s recent report looking at how charity’s can benefit from innovation Benefiting from innovation: intellectual property advice for medical research charities.

Action on Hearing Loss have established a Translational Research Initiative for Hearing (TRIH) which aims to support translational research to advance medicines to protect and restore hearing, and silence tinnitus. They are doing this by offering a new funding scheme, facilitating partnerships between industry, academics, investors, philanthropists and others and engaging patients to support, and to demand, new treatments and cures for their hearing loss                                                                         and tinnitus.

Asthma UK is co-funding a translational research unit – the MRC and Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma (the partnership involved MRC, Asthma UK, Imperial, KCL and Queen Mary’s University). This link provides a wealth of experience in researching asthma in the primary care community and access to a network of General Practices and their patients in the East End of London. This is critical for research involving patients as most asthmatic patients in the UK are looked after by their GPs.

With their clear priority to drive discoveries towards practical improvements for patients and many having direct links with people with medical conditions, charities become hubs. They bring together in one place invaluable expertise in research and patient experience – so they have a lot to offer the commercialisation process.

What next?

The deadline to get back to the committee is 8 Febuary, after which the committee will call experts in to ask more questions before pulling together their report.

It’s going to be an interesting inquiry. The Government’s recent innovation, research and growth strategies make a series of proposals aimed at improving commercialisation. This inquiry will be an interesting opportunity to pull together thoughts from across the sector and unpick how these plans may work in practice.

Posted in: Policy