Spin-out company launched to deliver gene therapy during bone repair surgery

image of DNA strands and a paid of tweezers being held in a gloved hand

A gene therapy system that can repair and regenerate human tissue is being developed for use in orthopaedic surgery with the launch of a new spin-out company.

TherageniX is a University of Nottingham spin out that’s been launched in collaboration with NLC, a healthtech venture builder, to develop technology that uses gene therapy to provide biological cues to boost the body’s response to regenerating skin, bone, muscle and cartilage. TherageniX will initially focus on orthopaedic application, with the aim of improving the outcomes for patients with bone loss, infection and disease.

This technology has been developed by Dr James Dixon in the School of Pharmacy who has created a platform technology to deliver a variety of therapeutic molecules into different cells and tissues as disease treatments. The platform uses peptides and DNA or RNA to form nanoparticles that when uptaken by cells can drive a diseased or injured tissue to generate its own therapeutic molecules

Bone repair usually uses grafts from the patient’s own body (autologous), but this has drawbacks when there is not enough bone available for large defects or when there is risk of infection, or further trauma at the harvesting site. Many bone implants fail due to poor integration, infection or do not function well when healed.

TherageniX’s solution will be added to autologous bone grafts during operations by delivering genes directly as a powdered medicine while the patient is undergoing surgery. This will improve the regenerative capacity of the graft and is expected to lead to better outcomes, while reducing trauma at the graft donor site. This new therapy will also reduce waiting times for patients and manufacturing costs.

“Adapting our technology for a rapid application directly to grafted tissue within the operating theatre has been a vision for our gene delivery platform for several years, we have the opportunity here to bring regenerative medicine and gene therapy forward with innovative applications and apply it in ways we could not have envisaged only a few years ago. We hope that our system will generate a platform of transformative, economically viable and impactful approaches to clinical problems that remain poorly addressed in modern medicine.” Dr James Dixon, School of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham

Anandkumar Nandakumar is the CEO of TherageniX, he said: “I am very excited about the technology and we have a unique approach to help patients with bone defects. We are only at the first step with the possibilities of this technology. In the future we can envision treating several types of defects and tissues and move towards personalized medicine.”

TherageniX is an early stage venture with the first proof of concept in pre-clinical studies and has been supported by Nottingham Technology Ventures who manage the University of Nottingham’s spin-out portfolio.

“We’re incredibly pleased to announce the launch of TherageniX and are looking forward to seeing the potential of this platform realised for orthopaedic applications. Delivery of gene therapies to the site of action is a critical challenge, which this innovation has the ability to solve. It is incredibly rewarding to see the work of Dr. Dixon and colleagues at the University of Nottingham recognised by this external investment” Dr Alice MacGowan, Nottingham Technology Ventures

Nottingham trio share award for brain imaging innovation

A trio of young Nottingham scientists have been recognised for their work to transform brain imaging with the development of a new kind of wearable brain scanner.

Elena Boto, Ryan Hill and Niall Holmes from the University of Nottingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy have been awarded the Clifford Paterson Medal from the Institute of Physics (IOP). It has been awarded for their work on the development of wearable, lightweight brain imaging technology that can provide images of human brain function with unprecedented accuracy, even whilst the patient is moving.

The team have been working on this project since 2015. Together they have pioneered the rapid development of this new scanner, which employs quantum enabled sensors to measure magnetic fields above the scalp (a process termed magnetoencephalography (MEG).

They used small, lightweight optically pumped magnetometers (OPMs), which employ the fundamental quantum physics of atoms to measure the neuromagnetic field. The team were able to incorporate these sensors into a novel scanner design that can be worn as a helmet allowing people to move freely The system can be adapted to anyone, from newborns to adults, and sensors can be placed much closer to the head, dramatically enhancing data quality. OPM-MEG is also cheaper than conventional scanners.

“The work that Elena, Ryan and Niall have done is genuinely ground-breaking, with far reaching implications for healthcare. Individually, they are exceptional scientists, but working together they have achieved something that is truly and uniquely special. The Clifford Patterson Medal from the IOP is richly deserved, and a wonderful recognition of Elena, Ryan and Niall’s achievements.” Professor Matt Brookes, MEG research lead at the University of Nottingham

The combined efforts of the team has made the commercialisation of OPM-MEG viable. Cerca Magnetics Limited was launched in July 2020, with Boto, Holmes and Hill as co-founders. In its first year, Cerca was profitable with over £1 million of sales; sales of greater than £3 million are predicted in 2022. Customers include major children’s hospitals and leading academic institutions worldwide. This new technology has potential to significantly enhance 21st Century healthcare.

The IOP awards celebrate physicists at every stage of their career; from those just starting out through to physicists at the peak of their careers, and those with a distinguished career behind them.

They also recognise and celebrate companies which are successful in the application of physics and innovation, as well as employers who demonstrate their commitment and contribution to scientific and engineering apprenticeship schemes.

Congratulating this year’s Award winners, Institute of Physics President, Professor Sheila Rowan, said: “On behalf of the Institute of Physics, I warmly congratulate all of this year’s Award winners.

“Each and every one of them has made a significant and positive impact in their profession, whether as a researcher, teacher, industrialist, technician or apprentice.

“Recent events have underlined the absolute necessity to encourage and reward our scientists and those who teach and encourage future generations. We rely on their dedication and innovation to improve many aspects of the lives of individuals and of our wider society.”

More information is available from Elena Boto on [email protected]

Face and voice recognition technology set to transform diagnosis of perinatal depression

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology developed to use face and voice recognition to help recognise and predict depression in pregnant women and new mums has received funding to develop it as a clinical tool.

University of Nottingham Spin out company BlueSkyeye AI Ltd has secured £3.4 million to pursue its mission to improve people’s quality of life through the use of its proprietary face and voice analysis technology with the development of a tool to help diagnose peri and post-natal depression.

Perinatal mental health (PMH) problems are those which occur during pregnancy or in the first year following the birth of a child and affect up to 27% of new and expectant mums and covers a wide range of conditions. However, research has shown that negative attitudes and stigma towards diagnosis and treatment can result in women avoiding seeking help.

The research team have developed the Avacado app that can use face and voice recognition to predict the indicators of depression in women from 3 months pregnant to 6 months post-partum. The app can detect facial muscle actions,speech rate, and tone of voice, which is fed into the artificial intelligence technology alongside questionnaire data to analyse emotional state and provide an indication of the risk of depression.

At present the app is used as an indicator of persistent low mood, the next stage is to develop it into a clinical device that can be used to aid the diagnosis of depression and signposting for help and treatment. The team have worked with the Institute of Mental Health to develop the Avacado app and over the next year will work with them and Nottingham University Hospitals to conduct a clinical trial with volunteers early next year.

This emerging technology has multiple applications and the funding will also be used to serve the rapidly growing needs of the Digital Health & Wellbeing and Automotive sectors. From 2024 all new cars sold in the EU must have camera-based driver safety monitoring systems installed. The team will research how these cameras can be used to detect inattention or health events to enhance safety and wellbeing for the drivers and passengers of vehicles.

Founded in 2019, BlueSkeye AI is an Award winning, early stage Healthtech spin-out from the University of Nottingham’s School of Computer Science. It was established by Professor Michel Valstar (CEO) and Dr Anthony Brown (CTO), and Chief Machine Learning and Software Engineer Dr Timur Almaev. The funding was led by XTX Ventures, which invested alongside Foresight Group, the University of Nottingham and a consortium of other VCs and high-net-worth individuals.

“The demand for alternative pathways to access mental healthcare is enormous, and continues to grow by the day. We’re committed to disrupting traditional approaches to healthcare to help improve the quality of people’s lives, and we’re particularly focused on the perinatal mental health sector. With the support of XTX Ventures, Foresight Group and other investors, we’ll strengthen the rollout of new clinical trials and product development, and champion the benefits of technology for reinforcing healthcare provision on a national, regional and global basis.” Professor Michel Valstar, Co-Founder and CEO at BlueSkeye AI and Honorary Professor at the University of Nottingham

For more information please visit Blueskeye AI

New University of Nottingham Spin-out receives funding boost

New treatments for lung fibrosis being developed by researchers at the University of Nottingham, are being advanced further with investment in a new spin-out company.

o2h Ventures has announced SEIS and EIS investment, alongside co-investment from the University of Nottingham’s Invention Fund, into spin-out company Alevin Therapeutics to develop a platform of novel small molecule RGD integrin inhibitors with superior drug-like qualities.

The discovery-stage compounds have broad therapeutic applications in areas that currently have limited or ineffective treatments – including lung fibrosis, kidney disease and cancer – with the most advanced being an inhaled drug for the treatment of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). The investment provides the company with funding of close to £1M to progress and de-risk its pipeline assets

Alevin Therapeutics has arisen from research driven by the Business Partnership Unit and School of Chemistry at the University of Nottingham. Originally the subject of a long-standing collaboration between academia and big pharma, scientists developed the platform of novel compounds with the aim of treating life-threatening conditions by limiting the activity of a key signalling pathway that is targeted by the integrin inhibitors.

The founders of Alevin Therapeutics (Prof. Chris Moody, Thomas McInally and Dr. Alison John) are leading scientists in the RGD integrin field, with substantial industry experience and a proven track record of clinical candidate delivery.

o2h Ventures led the investment with earlier rounds being exclusive to o2h Ventures and the University of Nottingham. o2h Ventures worked with Nottingham Technology Ventures (NTV) Ltd to place management and develop the business plan. This is o2h Ventures’ fourth investment from the o2h human health SEIS fund which aims to invest in companies covering novel drug discovery along with enabling services, tools and AI technologies that can impact human health.

Sunil Shah, CEO of o2h Ventures, said: “We are very excited to be leading the investment on our second spin-out from the University of Nottingham. The team at Nottingham from both the academic and tech transfer group are both smart and very easy to work with. There has been a huge amount of prior work done on these integrin targets prior to our investment and we seek to advance these assets quickly into the clinic.”

Professor Trevor Farren, Director of the Business Partnership Unit at the University of Nottingham said: “Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis is currently very difficult to treat and 

the symptoms without affecting the underlying cause i.e. build-up of fibrotic tissue in the lung. To address this significant unmet medical need, we created an innovative knowledge exchange programme that saw teams of undergraduate students working closely with researchers from the pharmaceutical industry to develop novel small molecule integrin inhibitors that showed great promise as new treatment for lung fibrosis.

“Building on these findings, further research carried out in the School of Chemistry has allowed us to improve the drug like properties of these molecules and develop a portfolio of compounds that could revolutionise the treatment of the condition. To ensure that our research can be rapidly translated into new treatments for lung fibrosis, we have formed a new spin out company, Alevin Therapeutics, and we are delighted that the extra investment we have secured will support the process of turning this important research into a commercial product accessible to patients.”

Alice MacGowan, Life Sciences Executive at NTV Ltd, said: “We are delighted to add Alevin Therapeutics to the University portfolio, and to have received further investment from o2h into one of our spin-outs. This is a fantastic and experienced team, seeking to address an area of significant clinical need. In addition to the University’s current investment, the underpinning research was supported through its translational phase by the University’s internal impact funding, demonstrating the potential benefit that can be brought about by Nottingham’s commitment to investing in highly impactful opportunities.”

Thomas Mcinally, founder of Alevin Therapeutics added: “The formation of Alevin Therapeutics is a testament to the vision of the School of Chemistry to work with industry to enable undergraduates to carry out a drug discovery project in a professional manner. Given significant investment from the UoN and external sources, the company will develop these new medicines to have a positive impact on the quality of life of patients with life-limiting fibrotic diseases.”

Please visit alevintherapeutics.com for more information.

University spin-out named best medtech start-up

University of Nottingham spin-out company Cerca Magnetics was named best start-up medtech company at the annual OBN awards.

Cerca Magnetics received the award in recognition of their achievements developing and bringing to market the first commercial, wearable brain MEG device.

The wearable brain imaging system was developed by researchers at the University of Nottingham and since the formation of Cerca Magnetics 14 months ago has already been installed at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto for ground-breaking research into autism, and Young Epilepsy’s diagnostic suite where it is being used to improve how the condition is diagnosed and treated.

The prestigious awards, now in their 13th year, shine a light on companies at all stages of development, recognising inspirational leadership, exciting innovation, novel and exciting approaches to unmet clinical need, outstanding company progression and the delivery of real-life tangible results.

David Woolger CEO of Cerca said: “We’re delighted to have been awarded best start-up. Since we formed the company, we have had so much interest in this system and are delighted to already be working with Sick Kids and Young Epilepsy to improve the lives of children with brain disorders.”

This wearable brain imaging system is the result of years of research by scientists at the University of Nottingham who recognised the need for an alternative to the conventional MEG scanners that are very expensive, cumbersome, and rely on cryogenic sensors which are not viable for use in infants, and require patients to stay extremely still.

The new wearable system is based upon recently developed “quantum” sensors which use the fundamental properties of atoms to sense local magnetic fields. These new sensors, called optically pumped magnetometers or OPMs, do not require cryogenic cooling. They are also extremely small and lightweight (similar to a Lego brick). This means they can be mounted in a helmet which the patient wears. The helmet can adapt to any head shape or size, and because it is lightweight and moves with the head, it is completely motion robust, making this ideal for children and young people.

“It’s incredible to see how far the technology has come since our initial experiments in the lab five years ago. Seeing the system commercialised and installed to help children with neurological problems like autism and epilepsy is amazing and we are looking forward to developing and rolling the system out even further in 2022.” Dr Elena Boto, Chief Scientist at Cerca Magnetics

More information is available from Professor Matthew Brookes on [email protected]

The full University of Nottingham press release is available here: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/news/university-spin-out-named-best-medtech-start-up

Steve Cliffe joins BlueSkeye AI as it scales the development of its technology and customer portfolio

BlueSkeye AI appoints Steve Cliffe to its board of directors.

BlueSkeye has deepened the deep tech expertise on its board by appointing former CEO of Ultraleap, Steve Cliffe as a Non-Executive Director and special advisor.  Steve Cliffe joins BlueSkeye as the company scales and advances its ethical AI technology, partnerships and customer portfolio.

Rebecca Ganz, Chair of BlueSkeye board and Non-Executive Director at Bolton NHS trust, said “we are really looking forward to having Steve join us. BlueSkeye has ambitious plans to apply its proprietary technology within clinical and industry contexts in pursuit of transforming lives and improving global mental health. We anticipate benefitting significantly from Steve’s broad experiences and knowledge.”

Steve brings more than two decades of executive leadership experience to BlueSkeye. In September 2021, Steve won the TechSpark LifeTime Achievement Award in recognition of his contribution to  leadership of Ultraleap, the global leader in hand tracking and haptics technology. Steve was founding CEO of Ultraleap, during this time his achievements included growing the company to a global team of 170, overseeing several successful funding rounds, leading international expansion and managing acquisitions.

“It is wonderful to welcome Steve to our Board and have him support our growth and ambition”, said CEO of BlueSkeye, Professor Michel Valstar.  “Steve will bring a wealth of industry experience to BlueSkeye as we focus on our long -term goal of becoming one of the most impactful companies in the social robotics and health and wellbeing sectors”.

“I am delighted to join the BlueSkeye Board and look forward to working with Michel and the BlueSkeye leadership team, and the entire board as BlueSkeye moves to an exciting new phase of growth”, Steve Cliffe said.  “There has never been a more exciting or appropriate time for ethical AI and machine learning to inform the developing Social Robotics and Virtual Assistants sector and to contribute to the evolution of the delivery of healthcare.  I am excited to bring my experience to transform these markets with BlueSkeye”.

As leader of Ultraleap, Steve Cliffe has overseen a number of strategic investments and  acquisitions including San Francisco’s Leap Motion which significantly enhanced Ultraleap’s IP portfolio and product offering. Steve’s leadership of Ultraleap saw the company recognised as one of the 50 most innovative in the West of England and he was instrumental in securing major deals that have seen Ultraleap’s technology installed in virtual reality, augmented reality, automotive markets amongst others.

An alumnus of Nottingham University, Steve studied Electronic and Electrical Engineering and is delighted to be supporting BlueSkeye, an SME spin-out from Nottingham University. “It is good to be back in Nottingham after many years and to the commercialisation of innovative world-leading technology based on Michel’s rigorous evidence-base”.

Steve Cliffe’s appointment to BlueSkeye follows several other recent hires that have joined to support the rapid expansion and extension of the company.

More about Blueskeye

Locate Bio Closes £10 million Funding Round

Investors include Mercia Asset Management and BGF

Funding to further advance Locate Bio’s regenerative medicine pipeline of orthobiologics

Locate Bio, an orthobiologics focused regenerative medicine company, is pleased to announce that it has raised an oversubscribed £10 million of equity investment in a funding round co-led by existing shareholder Mercia Asset Management and new investor BGF. The funding will be used to further advance Locate Bio’s proprietary pipeline of regenerative orthobiologics products towards patients, with key clinical and regulatory milestones expected to catalyse growth over the next two years.

The investment brings the total funds raised by Locate Bio to over £18 million. The company’s lead product in development is called LDGraft, and is a low dose, controlled release rhBMP-2 for the treatment of degenerative disc disease. In September 2020, Locate Bio in-licensed multiple late-stage orthobiologics assets from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland’s (RCSI) University of Medicine and Health Sciences. The acquisition of these products significantly accelerated Locate Bio’s ambitions of building a world-leading, diversified orthobiologics company.

Locate Bio aims to develop a suite of best-in-class technologies that address the performance limitations of existing products and enable orthopaedic surgeons to improve the lives of people suffering from debilitating conditions. The company is making good progress against this objective and received two breakthrough device designations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at the start of 2021 for CognitOss and Chondro3, a biomimetic graft for osteochondral lesions. CognitOss is a single-stage therapy that combines the local delivery of therapeutically appropriate levels of antibiotics from a ‘smart material’ that is designed to be responsive to the presence of infection and promote the regeneration of bone. It is designed to treat osteomyelitis, a debilitating inflammatory bone infection.

John von Benecke, CEO of Locate Bio, said:

“This investment round is truly transformational for Locate Bio and I would like to thank Mercia for their continued support and collaboration and to welcome BGF. We are developing a suite of promising next-generation orthobiologics products that have the potential to disrupt the market and bring significant benefits to patients with debilitating conditions. Following our spin out from The University of Nottingham’s internationally recognised School of Pharmacy, we bring the strength of controlled drug delivery, to the principally medical device field of orthopaedics. We have continued to make good progress in our strategy of building a world leading, diversified orthobiologics business, which has resulted in this oversubscribed funding round. This financing will allow us to further develop our exciting portfolio of differentiated products as we embark on our next phase of growth.”

 Peter Dines, COO of Mercia Asset Management, said:

“As Mercia’s representative on the Locate Bio board, this latest investment is testament to the significant potential market value and global reach of the products Locate Bio’s is currently developing. This investment, alongside our continuing active approach to supporting the business and its management team, is another example of how our complete connected capital can help accelerate growth, with businesses supported not only by our balance sheet but also across our managed funds and syndication partners.”

 Jonathan Earl, investor at BGF, said

“Locate Bio represents a fantastic opportunity to invest in an innovative medical technology business, with multiple products in development, a large addressable market and a very experienced senior team with a proven track record in the sector. We look forward to helping the company reach its growth potential and supporting the management team as they move through the clinical and regulatory pathways required to take its technology to market and deliver improved patient outcomes.”

Locate Bio is a spin-out from the University of Nottingham.

To learn more visit: https://www.locatebio.com/

Spin-out company launched to deliver wrist device to control Tourette’s

A revolutionary new stimulation treatment for Tourette’s, proven to reduce tics, has moved closer to being available to people as a wearable wrist device with the launch of a new spin-out company.

Neurotherapeutics Solutions  Ltd is a new University of Nottingham spin-out that’s been launched to bring to market a wearable neuromodulation device (rhythmic peripheral nerve stimulation), worn like a wristwatch, for use in Tourette syndrome and associated co-occurring brain health conditions.

The spin-out company will use research from scientists from the University of Nottingham’s School of Psychology and School of Medicine published last year that used repetitive trains of stimulation to the median nerve (MNS) at the wrist to entrain rhythmic electrical brain activity – known as brain-oscillations – that are associated with the suppression of movements. They found that rhythmic MNS is sufficient to substantially reduce tic frequency and tic intensity, and the urge-to-tic, in individuals with TS.

Funding for Neurotherapeutics Solutions Ltd has been coordinated by Nottingham Technology Ventures with investment by the University of Nottingham along side a number of external investors. This will enable the design and build of 85 programmable wrist-worn peripheral nerve stimulation devices.  These devices will be used in a placebo-controlled trial planned for autumn 2021.

TS is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is usually diagnosed between the ages of eight and 12. It causes involuntary sounds and movements called tics. Tics are involuntary, repetitive, stereotyped movements and vocalisations that occur in bouts, typically many times in a single day, and are often preceded by a strong urge-to-tic, referred to as a premonitory urge (PU).

Nineteen people with TS took part in the initial study, which was funded by the charity Tourettes Action and the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre. Participants were observed for random periods, during which they were given MNS delivered to their right wrist, and periods during which they received no stimulation. In all cases the stimulation reduced the frequency of tics, and also the urge-to-tic, and had the most significant effect on those individuals with the most severe tics.  Prototype development funding was obtained from the Midlands Innovation Commercialisation of Research Accelerator, Tourettes Action, and the MRC Confidence in Concept scheme.

Professor Stephen Jackson has led this research and said: “Since the research was published last year we have seen a huge amount of interest in our results from people with Tourette syndrome across the world, who are often desperate to find a way to control their tics, which is why we are delighted to be taking the research to the next stage via the formation of the spin-out and the clinical trial. With the additional funding and expertise of the team we hope to have a finished product available within 2 years.”

The new Director of Operations of Neurotherapeutics Solutions Ltd is Paul Cable who brings over 30 years’ experience developing and launching medical devices. Paul said: “This is an exciting time for the new company, over the next 2 years the company will develop 2 products: an app to allow individuals with tics to track their symptoms and a wearable wrist device that will on request suppress an individual’s urge to tic. The wearable wrist device will help individuals gain control of their tics and in turn will help them fulfill their ambitions and dreams in life. This is an exciting opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives.”

More information is available from Professor Stephen Jackson on [email protected] or Jane Icke, Media Relations Manager for the Faculty of Science at the University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 951 5751 or [email protected]

New Spin-out case study – Cerca Magnetics Limited

The University of Nottingham spin-out company Cerca Magnetics Limited (Cerca) was formed in partnership with UK company Magnetic Shields Limited (MSL) to bring the world’s most advanced functional brain scanner to market.

The Cerca Scanner is the world’s first “wearable” magnetoencephalography (MEG) system, allowing patients to move freely during the scan and offering unprecedented insights on brain development and function and severe neurological illnesses, such as epilepsy.

Conventional MEG scanners are static and cumbersome in order to accommodate super-cooled magnetic field detectors, which are hard to operate close to the head. It cannot adapt to different head shapes and sizes and patients must remain still for long periods.

The Cerca system uses quantum sensors called optically pumped magnetometers or OPMs that do not require cryogenic cooling. These sensors are also lightweight and similar in size to a Lego brick, which means they can be mounted in a helmet which the patient wears. The helmet can ostensibly adapt to any head shape or size, and because it is lightweight and moves with the head, it is largely insensitive to motion. No thermally insulating gap between scalp and sensor is required, allowing the sensors closer to the head to capture higher amplitude signal and better data.

The scanner opens up exciting possibilities for imaging babies and children. Neurological disorders, like epilepsy, often strike in young children and this new system will provide new information to medical professionals which they can use in treatment planning.

The University of Nottingham research team is led by Professor Matt Brookes and Professor Richard Bowtell of the School of Physics and Astronomy and is based in the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre.

The company

The company predicts it will employ 30 – 50 full time staff by 2025, with at least 85% being highly skilled and/or professionally qualified. The company is forecasting three full-time and four part-time staff by the end of 2021, all highly skilled physicists, engineers or other qualified professionals. 

The Cerca leadership team is CEO David Woolger, Chief Technical Officer Dr Elena Boto and Chairman, Professor Matt Brookes. Both Matt and Elena are from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nottingham.


The Cerca system’s very low field magnetic environment is produced for Cerca by Magnetic Shield Limited (MSL). All of MSL’s manufacturing is within the UK. As a direct result of Cerca’s demand, MSL estimate an additional 20+ skilled manufacturing and engineering roles will be required.  A specialised helmet required for the Cerca system is produced by another University of Nottingham spin-out, Added Scientific Limited. The final key element of the system is the sensors; these are produced in the USA by QuSpin Inc. – a world leader in quantum sensing.

Economic activity

Cerca currently has eight orders for research equipment from five institutions, based in Canada, USA and UK.  The orders amount to £1.5m of sales, the majority of this is to be delivered in 2021. Cerca also has a pipeline of £92m of open quotations to some of the leading neurological research centres in the world.

Future strategy

Whilst Cerca’s initial focus is on brain imaging, the overall strategy is to develop a bio-magnetic imaging company.  As the use of the sensors is developed in other fields, such as foetal, heart and muscular, Cerca will look to work with clinical experts across the world to validate and translate the technology to the clinical market. As Cerca develops the technology, the company will support centres of excellence, hospitals and NHS Trusts within the region.

The research and funding journey

In 2015, The UK National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP) funded a single research assistant at the university’s Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre to investigate what would happen if, by eliminating cryogenics, MEG sensors moved closer to the scalp.

By 2016, results showed that scalp mounted sensors would afford a five-fold increase in sensitivity, and a dramatic improvement in spatial resolution.

Following these early theoretical insights, using internal funding to encourage interdisciplinary research into quantum technology, the Nottingham team purchased the world’s first miniaturised commercial OPM from the newly formed USA spin-out company QuSpin Inc. This was used to measure magnetic fields from a human brain.

In 2017, the pilot data generated by the Nottingham team using the single sensor was sufficient to secure a £1.6m Wellcome collaboration grant that allowed Nottingham to share expertise with neuroscientists at University College London , building a prototype wearable OPM-based MEG system – the world’s first wearable MEG system.

Critical to building a wearable and motion robust MEG system is accurate control of background field. To enable this, NQTP (EPSRC) funding supported the building of a new type of hybrid shielded room and Nottingham researchers went on to work with established partner Magnetic Shields Limited to develop lighter enclosures for the scanner with unprecedented shielding.

This project was supported by a £900,000 grant from Innovate UK in 2019, and resulted in a novel magnetically controlled environment, installed at the Neville Childhood Epilepsy Centre operated by Young Epilepsy.

In December 2019, further NQTP funding of £2.3m for work on shielding and MEG sensor arrays moved the system towards commercialisation, and recently (May 2021) secured funding from EPSRC and Innovate UK funding (£1.1m and £50K respectively) will further develop the system for infants.

Spin-out company, Cerca Magnetics Limited (Cerca) was launched in December 2020.

The first OPM-MEG clinical trials, funded by the Wolfson Institute, will be conducted in autumn 2021 by Young Epilepsy, in collaboration with clinicians at Great Ormond Street Hospital.