The University of Oxford has been awarded more than £7 million, the highest amount of funding given to organisations across the UK, by UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) to help fuel the best, brightest and most disruptive ideas from Uk research institutions.
The award follows Oxford’s recent top ranking in the UK for generating spin-out companies and its success in the Research Excellence Framework (the national research assessment exercise), which showed Oxford’s submission had the highest volume of world-leading research.
The news means the University has been awarded the largest amount of IAA funding in the UK, to jumpstart knowledge exchange, translation and commercialisation of research across all disciplines.
Professor Patrick Grant, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Oxford said: “We are delighted to receive this funding from across the UKRI research councils. Many thanks to the researchers and professional services staff involved in supporting the applications that have led to this award.
“This vital, flexible support across a wide range of disciplines enables our talented people and teams to explore ideas related to pressing societal challenges and exciting technological opportunities. I look forward to following progress as we use these funds to connect research discoveries to prosperity, social and cultural benefits, public policy and public good.”
The Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) supports critical early-stage translation of UK research to real impacts, transforming public services, creating new jobs, attracting private investment and forging new partnerships with business and charities.
This funding will allow Oxford researchers to unlock the value of their work, including early-stage commercialisation of new technologies and advancing changes to public policy and services such as NHS clinical practice.
Professor Chas Bountra, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Innovation at Oxford said: “IAA funds have enabled several hundred of my academic colleagues to build new partnerships, exchange ideas and knowledge, and create new social and commercial enterprises. The university is now filing more new patents and creating more new spin-outs than any other university in the UK.
“In recent months, the world has seen how Oxford produced a new vaccine, identified new treatments for COVID, developed new diagnostics and recommended mask wearing. We continue to work with industry, government organisations, charities, schools, hospitals, and citizens to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing all of us, and our planet.”
The programme, now in its tenth year, has provided crucial early-stage support to Oxford start-ups that are now established global businesses.
Autonomous vehicle software
At the Oxford Robotics Institute within the Department of Engineering Science, the IAA has supported partnerships and trials of new technologies with industrial partners. The IAA was vital in developing prototypes and utilising key technologies which led to the commercial success of the spinout Oxbotica. It now employs 250 staff and has a turnover of £20 million. The IAA enabled the team to explore diverse uses for its technology and facilitated its engagement with the UK Space Agency, which resulted in its code being licensed for the EXOMARS project.
Rapid response to COVID-19
In March 2020, the Government announced the Ventilator Challenge, a call-to-arms to meet the upsurge in demand for ventilators caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the flexibility of IAA funding, a cross-disciplinary team from King’s College London and University of Oxford were able to prototype, test, and up-scale a design for a simple, safe, and low-cost ventilator in rapid time. By June, the new ventilator, the OxVent, was selected as one of 16 out of 5,000 bids to join the challenge.
From there, the team worked closely with Smith & Nephew Plc who shared their expertise on medical device manufacture to help bring the OxVent to regulatory and production readiness. This team has now founded OxVent Ltd., a social enterprise to help developing countries meet ventilator demands during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Improved diagnosis of blood diseases
SEREN is a Social Enterprise Based at the Muhimbili University for Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania that is delivering DNA-based diagnostics improving outcomes of children and young adults with blood diseases in sub-Saharan Africa.
Thanks to IAA funding, the team in close collaboration with the Muhimbili National Hospital and the patient charity Tumaina la Maisha, have put in place the required infrastructure to facilitate national patient referrals, local sequencing, joint cloud-based data analysis and clinical data collection for the WHO Cancer Registry. Together with their African collaborators, they have put in place frameworks to consent parents/patients for DNA analysis and to provide diagnostic-grade DNA testing for as low as $10/test.
Treatments for patients with blood cancer
A spin-out from the University of Oxford, the company is based on world-leading discoveries in clinical haematology and single-cell multi-omics.
IAA funding has enabled the company’s founding professors to further development of targeted and curative therapies for MPNs – a group of chronic blood cancers that begin with mutations occurring in cancer stem cells in the bone marrow.
Alethiomics’ founders have pioneered the use of single-cell multi-omic approaches to better understand the biology of mutant-positive stem cells in MPNs and to discover novel molecular targets as the basis for drug discovery. They have also developed bespoke platforms for target validation to accelerate successful translation to the clinic.