Two major investments in research partnerships that will strengthen the links between the UK's research base, industry and business partners have been announced by Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science.
Both investments show the pivotal importance of engineering and the physical sciences to the country's continued development as a global research and innovation leader.
The first investment is a new initiative, a set of Prosperity Partnerships, which will receive £31 million of government funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). This will be matched by a further £36 million from partner organisations in cash or in-kind contributions, and £11 million from universities' funds, resulting in a £78 million investment.
Ten universities, including the University of Warwick and University of Bristol, will lead on 11 projects that range from the future networks for digital infrastructure to offshore wind and they will partner with businesses operating in key areas of the innovation landscape. These include household names such as Siemens, BP and Unilever and also firms like M Squared Lasers that are leading in areas such as advanced photonics.
WMG, at the University of Warwick, WMG at the University of Warwick has been awarded £5.7 million by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). In conjunction with Jaguar Land Rover, Brandauer Holdings, Dynex Semiconductors and ST Microelectronics, WMG will be researching the science of high performance electrified propulsion ( Addressing emergent challenges in vehicle electrification through collaboration to grow scientific understanding).
WMG’s Professor Barbara Shollock said: “This Prosperity Partnership will tackle the emerging challenges for vehicle electrification through a unique collaboration to grow scientific understanding. This integrated approach brings the potential for the UK to lead, both industrially and scientifically, in an area of high growth and relevance in the UK's industrial strategy.”
The University of Bristol, in partnership with Thales Bristol will be designing new processes that guide the engineering of hybrid systems with embedded autonomy.
Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science said: A central part of our Industrial Strategy is boosting the economic impact of our world-class research base by supporting the flow of innovative ideas and techniques from concept to market-place.
This investment will ensure the work of our universities continues to have positive impact around the world and maintain the UK's global leadership in science and innovation.
Professor Nigel Titchener-Hooker, Professor of Biochemical Engineering at UCL, who chaired the panel that approved the Prosperity Partnerships projects, said: “The Partnerships awards are a further demonstration of EPSRC's vision in creating exciting opportunities for industry and academia to work together on strategically significant problems. The quality of the applications we reviewed was outstanding and demonstrated strength of vision, relevance and a determination to pursue long term collaborative research. The breadth of applications too speaks to the diversity of UK industry and to the alignment between the UK's very best academic teams and our industrial base.
The grants promise to create a series of exciting avenues of research leading to industrial implementation. It's a wonderful new example of how, in partnership, we can harness our collective capabilities to strengthen our economy and once again underscores the importance of ongoing investment in the HE research base.
The second EPSRC investment is £60 million for 33 universities to advance their Impact Acceleration Accounts (IAA). These allow institutions the flexibility to operate tailored schemes that help increase the likelihood of impact from their research. The IAAs speed up the contribution that scientists make towards new innovation, successful businesses and the economic returns that benefit the UK.
Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council said: If innovation is an ecosystem then it is dependent on having a fertile soil of research and the fresh air of ideas to nourish its growth. These new EPSRC Prosperity Partnerships and IAAinvestments will provide the right conditions in which new technologies and products can be developed more quickly. In turn, this will return social and economic benefits and ensure the UK continues to be one of the best places in the world to research, innovate and grow business.
The IAAs' aims are to promote movement between universities, businesses and other organisations; to support the very early stage of turning research outputs into a commercial proposition; improve engagement with businesses, government and third sector to sow the seeds of new collaboration and more strategic engagement, and reach out to researchers who do not normally engage in exploitation activities and driving culture change within the university.
The flexibility within each IAA means that different universities support activities in different ways, in line with their own unique needs and opportunities.
Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) has announced a £50 million package of support to its small business customers, as part of a range of emergency measures for those businesses within Carillion’s supply chain which are now in financial difficulty, as a result of Carillion’s liquidation.
The fund will be open from today and existing small business customers can apply through their usual relationship contacts, who are on hand to support businesses in need of assistance.
The fund is designed to support the working capital needs of small businesses within Carillion’s supply chain that may now be experiencing financial difficulty. It will provide them, subject to credit approval, with arrangement fee-free overdrafts and, for the most severely impacted customers, with capital repayment holidays on loans for an initial six month period, to help with cashflow shortages caused by the liquidation.
Customers will also be able use the fund to extend or draw new invoice discounting or factoring products, free of arrangement fees.
The Group’s support will also include guidance on working capital requirements to help firms unlock cash so they can manage their way through the difficulties they currently face.
Gareth Oakley, Managing Director, SME Banking, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, commenting on the support packages launched today said: “We know how critical it will be for businesses within Carillion’s supply chain to receive support with their cashflow, to help them through the temporary challenge to their business. The measures launched today will ensure these small businesses have the financial support they need to get themselves back on track.
Jo Harris, Managing Director, Business Banking, said: “Small businesses don’t normally have the cash reserves that larger businesses do, so any interruption to their cashflow can have a significant impact on their ability to survive. By supporting our small business customers during this difficult time, we hope we can help as many businesses as possible to get back on an even keel as quickly as possible.”
Vaccitech, an Oxford University
spinout company developing a universal flu vaccine, among other vaccine-related
products, has secured £20m ($27.1m) in Series A financing.
The round was co-led by new investors GV, Sequoia China, and existing backer Oxford Sciences Innovation, which manages a £600m fund aimed at Oxford University spinouts. Neptune Ventures joined in participation. In total, Vaccitech has now raised £30m since inception in 2016.
Vaccitech is currently a clinical stage company, with six total products that are based on inducing cellular immune responses using non-replicating viral vectors for treatment or prophylaxis against diseases at various stages. The CD8+ T-cell responses induced by the proprietary platform are among the highest reported in any human trials.
The portfolio of the company includes:
· A universal influenza vaccine in evaluation in a Phase 2b efficacy trial, in which 862 people are enrolled in the first year of a two-year study. At present, there are currently between three to five million new cases of influenza each year, resulting in 250,000 to 500,000 deaths per annum, mostly in the elderly population. Vaccitech’s universal vaccine recognises the conserved proteins of the virus and is active against all influenza A strains, including avian ones.
· Vaccitech’s prostate cancer therapeutic is current at Phase I, and has shown high level immune T cell responses to the self-antigen 5T4, indicating strong potential applicability of the vaccine platform to cancer in general. A Phase 2 study combining the vaccine platform with a checkpoint inhibitor will begin in metastatic prostate disease in early 2018.
· A Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) prophylactic is currently beginning Phase 1 studies at Oxford University.
· A Human Papillomavirus (HPV) therapeutic, a Hepatitis B (HBV) therapeutic, and another infectious disease asset are in late preclinical development
The company, spun out by Oxford University Innovation in 2016, is commercialising the research of vaccine development specialists Adrian Hill and Sarah Gilbert, who developed the underpinning technology at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute. The work of Hill and Gilbert attracted Thomas Evans as its CEO, who relocated from the US to the UK for the role. Evans is a vaccine veteran bringing with him over a 15 years’ experience at Vical, as Global Head of Infectious Diseases Research at Novartis, and as CSO and CEO at the tuberculosis vaccine-focused biotech Aeras. Vaccitech has also added vaccine veteran Pierre Morgon to its Board of Directors.
Currently based at the Oxford Science Park, Vaccitech will use the funding to expand its business, develop its lab structure, and to push its influenza and prostate cancer programmes through Phase II by the end of 2019, and move three other programs into the clinic.
Tom Evans, Chief Executive Officer at Vaccitech, said:
“When you look at the 250 million people chronically infected with hepatitis B globally, or the number of people killed by the flu each year, it becomes clear just how much potential impact Vaccitech’s portfolio of vaccine products could have on the world. You add Oxford into the mix, where you have unprecedented ability to do advance products through outstanding vaccine science and tremendous translational medicine capability, and Vaccitech is clearly well positioned to have an important impact on global health.”
Tom Hulme, General Partner at GV, added:
“Vaccitech's world class team have achieved an incredible amount with relatively little funding to date - the T-cell responses to the company's viral vector platform are among the highest that have been achieved in man - we look forward to it being applied to tackle multiple human diseases.”
Farming and the environment must go hand-in-hand and producing quality, home-grown food is critical to the future of the country, the NFU says
It follows publication of the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan. Theresa May revealed details of the long-awaited and wide-ranging 150-page strategy during a keynote speech in south-west London.
Farmers manage 70% of the nation’s iconic countryside and take their environmental responsibilities seriously. 10,000 football pitches worth of flower habitat, creating homes for wildlife, have been planted while more than 30,000km of hedgerows have been planted or restored by farmers.
The NFU says farming is in a unique position to deliver for the environment as long as there are productive and viable businesses – where food is at the heart.
NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “Over the past four decades, farmers have carried out a huge amount of work to encourage wildlife, as well as benefitting the landscape, soil and water and reducing their impact on the climate.
“Farming also offers innovative solutions to wider environmental challenges. For instance the Government’s current concern with plastics highlighted by the BBC’s brilliant Blue Planet series could be met with substituting synthetic plastics with farm produced biodegradable starch-based packaging.
“But there must be a coherent approach. British farming has a unique role in producing a safe, affordable and high quality supply of food as well as protecting, maintaining and enhancing 70% of the nation's iconic countryside.
“That only remains feasible, however, as long as farmers run sustainable and viable businesses. We provide the raw materials for a domestic food industry that employs 3.8m people and which, as the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, generates £112bn in value for the UK economy. This is why we welcomed the Secretary of State’s commitment last week to create a national food policy and his recognition that food is at the heart of viable farming businesses.
“It’s vital therefore that a holistic approach is taken and the environment plan must go hand-in-hand with a future food policy, where measures for protecting and enhancing the environment are joined up with policies to improve productivity and manage volatility to ensure that we have profitable, productive and progressive farm businesses post-Brexit.”v
The sale of Worcestershire-based Countrywide Farmers, the farming and equestrian retailer, to Mole Valley Farmers Ltd, which was expected to have been completed by the end of January, has been delayed. The sale is subject to review by the Competition and Markets Authority. A new completion date of March 16th has been set.
In the meantime, the company has sold off its Countrywide LPG business to Dublin-based DCC, an international sales, marketing and support services group. It operates in four divisions: LPG, Retail & Oil, Healthcare and Technology.
In a statement Countrywide said this is being progressed to ensure the business maintains sustainable value within its current going concern status.
DCC plc will acquire the trade and assets of the LPG business for £28.75 million, with completion targeted before the end of March 2018.
Countrywide LPG supplies bulk and cylinder LPG to domestic, agricultural and commercial customers in Britain. The business sells approximately 20,000 tonnes of LPG annually.
Countrywide Chief Executive Julie Wirth said: “We are delighted to have reached an agreement with DCC plc to acquire our LPG business. This represents an excellent opportunity for the Countrywide LPG brand to continue to grow and flourish within a leading international sales, marketing and support services group which has a strong LPG division currently operating in nine countries across Europe.”
Share trading of Countrywide remains suspended in light of the ongoing strategic developments taking place within the business.
Countrywide operates around 53 stores and runs a fully operational website. It has over 700 members of staff. The business launched in 1902 when Beckford Farmers merged with Winchcombe, Toddington & Cotswold Farmers Association to form West Midland Farmers Association Limited.
Oxford-based games developer and publisher Rebellion has bought Warwick-based Radiant Worlds, the development studio founded in 2013 by industry veterans Andrew Oliver, Philip Oliver and Richard Smithies, for an undisclosed sum.
Radiant Worlds' 70 employees have decades of experience across hundreds of titles, adding their industry expertise and creative excellence to Rebellion’s award-winning development teams.
Radiant Worlds will become Rebellion Warwick, joining Rebellion Liverpool as a sister studio to the company’s headquarters in Oxford. Rebellion Warwick will immediately transition on to current projects – including the 1930s co-op adventure Strange Brigade revealed last year - and in the future will contribute to projects based on Rebellion’s beloved IP such as Sniper Elite, Evil Genius, Battlezone and more. Founders Philip and Andrew Oliver will remain at Rebellion Warwick.
The acquisition completes a landmark 12 months for Rebellion which recently celebrated its 25th birthday. In 2017 the company successfully self-published Sniper Elite 4, announced its next major new IP in Strange Brigade, and released a remaster of the BAFTA-nominated classic Rogue Trooper. Its stewardship of cutting edge comic 2000 AD (also celebrating its 40th birthday) saw renewed focus, opening up the 2000 AD universe to external game developers and announcing Mega-City One – an ambitious TV series set in world of Judge Dredd.
Now employing over 300 staff, Rebellion says this acquisition cements its reputation as one of the UK’s most exciting multi-media companies.
“To bring such great people to the company, just after our 25th birthday, is quite remarkable,” said Rebellion CEO and co-founder Jason Kingsley OBE. “It’s been a great year for us and we have a lot of plans to help make 2018, 2019 and beyond bigger and even greater years for Rebellion.”
Philip Oliver, one of the founders of Radiant Worlds, said: “We’ve known the Kingsleys for many years and have always had enormous respect for them and the company they’ve built. We know that our core values of creativity, passion, and ambition are mirrored by Rebellion, and we’re excited to be part of their amazing team.”
Richard Smithies, Radiant Worlds’ outgoing Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, is also delighted at the next chapter for the developer: “We’ve managed to build one of the financially strongest and most talented development studios in the UK. I wish everyone now working with Rebellion every success for the future.”
Aston Martin sold 5,117 sports cars last year amid sell-out demand for its DB11 model and special vehicles including the Vanquish Zagato and Aston Martin Vantage GT8.
Retail sales, which saw a 58% year-on-year increase, outpaced wholesale supply (up 38%) and the Group now expects to exceed its previous full-year guidance of adjusted EBITDA of at least £180 million on revenues of more than £840 million.
Dr Andy Palmer, Aston Martin President and Chief Executive Officer, said: “We continue to perform ahead of expectations, in financial performance and in meeting our targets for the DB11 and special vehicles. This strong sales performance shows that our Second Century transformation plan is building momentum. Phase Two of the programme will be largely completed in 2018 with the introduction of the Vanquish replacement and production of the new Vantage, contributing to continued sustainable profitability at Aston Martin.”
In 2017, Warwickshire-headquartered Aston Martin achieved its highest full-year sales volumes in nine years, driven by rising demand in North America, the UK and China. This sales performance comes amidst continued strong orders for the DB11, the Vanquish S and for special models that more than doubled year on year to 250 vehicles.
As part of the Second Century Plan, Aston Martin is expanding its UK manufacturing footprint. The company has resumed output of special vehicles, notably the DB4GT Continuation, at its Newport Pagnell facility for the first time since 2007. And construction work is continuing at the new St Athan facility in Wales, due for completion in 2019, ahead of production of the new DBX SUV.
Aston Martin will report 2017 full-year earnings in March 2018.
The Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF), supported by the European Regional Development Fund, is officially open for business, with the first loans being awarded to growing businesses across the Midlands. The MEIF is delivered by the British Business Bank and the Fund is investing £120 million of debt finance and small business loans to eligible firms. This initial tranche of funding is part of a wider £250 million of resource targeted towards the region’s start-ups, scale-ups and SME community.
Loans have been made across the Midlands with four companies benefitting from finance to date to support their growth aspirations:
Leicester-based BCME, owner of specialist education provider Echo Factory has received finance from MEIF, which will be deployed to market its degree-level music courses, maximising student numbers and empowering the institution to become self-sustaining.
Direct Digital Controls, in Brierley Hill, West Midlands is a business that specialises in the installation and maintenance of energy and environmental control systems. With the MEIF investment, the firm is poised to take on four new employees, train an additional apprentice and expand its growing wired and lighting controls divisions.
Nottingham-based medical devices company Olberon, has produced a cannulation device that is used in the medical industry. The funding will have a significant impact on commercial sales globally, by allowing them to develop existing links with distributors, and by helping them market more effectively.
Milton Keynes’ Renewable ON Ltd, a clean energy specialist supplies and installs quality bespoke solar powered LED outdoor and street lighting solutions to both public and private sector. Primarily the loan funds are required for cash flow including stock, wages and marketing to fulfil initial orders.
Nick Pulley, Chair of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund’s Strategic Oversight Board, said:
“It is heartening to see the first businesses tap into the opportunities presented by the Midlands Engine Investment Fund and having built a strong pipeline of deals, the fund is well set to accelerate this progress. SMEs that are in the market for external finance and have growth aspirations should check the website and seek out fund managers to find out how the MEIF could take their business to the next level.”
Patrick Magee, Chief Commercial Officer at the British Business Bank, commented:
“Our aim is to make finance markets work better for smaller businesses and address regional inequalities in funding. Through our work with the MEIF, we’re poised to support investment, growth and job creation throughout the Midlands.”
Bob Taylor, Director at Direct Digital Controls, said:
“Securing finance from MEIF is a pivotal step in the future of our business growth, giving us the backing we need to expand and reach out to new customers UK-wide. Meaningful expansion requires extra talent and an investment in new business, we’re now ready to take the next step.”
The MEIF will invest in debt finance and small business loans, ranging from £25,000 to £1.5m, through appointed Fund Managers – Enterprise Loans East Midlands, BCRS Business Loans and Maven Capital Partners. For more information on the funding available, please visit www.meif.co.uk
The Midlands Engine Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.