Alta Innovations and Abingdon Health: expanding the commercial potential of university intellectual property

Alta Innovations and Abingdon Health: expanding the commercial potential of university intellectual property

A joint venture between the University of Birmingham’s technology company and Abingdon Health has successfully developed an alternative model for bringing university IP to market.

This case study orginally appeared on page 53 of the State of the Relationship 2014 Report. The report outlines the state of university-business collaboration in the UK, featuring expert views and over forty case studies. Read the full report.

Alta Innovations Ltd is the University of Birmingham’s 100 per cent owned subsidiary technology transfer company. It recently sought to commercialise a number of new intellectual property patent opportunities in the area of medical diagnostics.

Following an initial approach from the management team of Abingdon Health, a specialist medical diagnostics company operating in London and Oxford, Alta Innovations facilitated the establishment of Bioscience Ventures Limited (BSVL) - a joint venture between the university and Abingdon Health that aimed to develop new diagnostic tools for markets where there are currently unmet needs.

The management team at Abingdon Health has extensive experience of the healthcare diagnostics markets and a profound understanding of healthcare customer base, making them ideal partners to support the development and commercialisation of medical diagnostics intellectual property originating from the university.

The Alta Innovations team played a key role in establishing the BSVL joint venture, working externally with Abingdon Health to develop the market case for the various elements of the business, and internally within the university to gain joint venture buy-in from university management. The team also facilitated the necessary co-investment and the establishment of an appropriate governance structure.

One challenge to address was the high cost of experienced management. Another was that university intellectual property (IP) is often patented early in order to allow publication. This often makes it too immature to realise significant value, while the time needed for further development means the university’s commercial stake is diluted.

The BSVL joint venture approach has provided an efficient alternative to the normal models of commercialising university intellectual property. It has allowed high management costs to be shared across more than one medical diagnostics opportunity, and has ensured that individuals with sector-specific commercial experience could facilitate rapid product development. By developing a project which was managed by commercially experienced industry professionals and partnered with the world class IP and technology developed at the university, the collaboration creates maximum value for the inventors, the university and the joint company.

Since its formation in 2010, BSVL has received investment from both partners of £2m to accelerate development. Today, BSVL is a centre of excellence for the commercialisation of medical diagnostics and services. Its creation has enhanced and expanded the commercial applications of IP created by the university, focussing on diagnostic areas such as oncology, infectious diseases and genetic diseases.

In the two years following the launch of the venture, the chemical analysis and speciality chemicals manufacturing entity based on campus has become a profitable focal point, employing 16 staff. Two further subsidiary companies have been created too – Serascience, a specialist cancer diagnostic company, and Linear Diagnostics, which recently secured a £392,000 award from the Technology Strategy Board to fund a project diagnosing pathogens in harvested crops.

The skills and experience of Alta Innovations staff have been instrumental throughout, collaborating on and developing commercial opportunities with Abingdon Health, while managing the necessary relationships within and outside the university. The success of this venture was recognised with the prestigious Open Collaboration Award in 2012.

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