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.”

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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:

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.

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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.

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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.

Funding boost for brain imaging in children with epilepsy

Researchers have been awarded almost £1m to use a wearable brain scanner to help pinpoint the source of epileptic seizures in children.

Professor Matthew Brookes and his team at the University of Nottingham will work alongside partners at UCL, Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Young Epilepsy. This team are already working to develop a system for young adults and older children. The new funding will support further development of this helmet-like brain imaging device, to measure electrical brain activity non-invasively in children as young as one year old. Having developed the system for healthy children, they will deploy it in infants with epilepsy.

This new type of brain scanner, which employs quantum enabled sensors to measure magnetic fields above the scalp (a process termed magnetoencepaholography (MEG)) could help to pinpoint the source of epileptic seizures in the brain, offering new information which will be extremely useful to neurosurgeons.

The project is supported through a £900,000 Healthcare Impact Partnership grant and is among 20 innovative projects announced to revolutionise healthcare and improve treatments for millions of people with a wide range of conditions, and save the NHS money.

The projects are supported by £30.8 million of funding by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Four projects were co-funded by UKRI’s Medical Research Council (MRC).

“There is excellent evidence that a MEG scan can help improve outcomes, post surgery, for adults with epilepsy, but the current generation of MEG instrumentation has limited spatial precision and is very difficult to deploy in infants. We believe our new quantum enabled device will offer significantly better spatial precision, and will be adaptable to infants as young as 1 year old. This could prove hugely valuable for assessment of patients suffering with this debilitating disorder.” Professor Matthew Brookes who leads the MEG research at the University of Nottingham.

EPSRC Executive Chair Professor Dame Lynn Gladden said: “Technologies and approaches pioneered by UK researchers have the potential to revolutionise treatment for a wide range of conditions, from bowel cancer to diabetes. The projects announced exemplify this potential and may play a key role in improving the lives of millions of people.”

The funded projects include:

  • Two EPSRC programme grants – Terabotics and Beyond Antibiotics – funded with a £14.5 million investment
  • Four projects funded by EPSRC and MRC through sandpit grants for novel digital technologies for improved self-monitoring and health management, with an investment of £1.6 million
  • Seven Healthcare Impact Partnerships funded with a £7 million EPSRC investment. This call supports novel mathematical, engineering, ICT and physical sciences research that is aligned to the Healthcare Technologies theme strategy and contributes to at least one of the Healthcare Technologies Grand Challenges
  • Seven NetworkPlus grants funded with a £5.7 million investment. The grants aim to support research communities that address our priorities for transforming healthcare including: 
    • technologies to improve healthcare treatment;
    • affordable and inclusive healthcare solutions
    • healthier environments
    • new digital healthcare systems.

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First patient dosed with a new eye drop to treat one of the leading causes of blindness

Exonate Ltd, a spin-out company of the University of Nottingham, has begun a major clinical trial in its quest to develop a revolutionary new treatment for retinal vascular disease.

Exonate have announced today, that in collaboration with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. – one of companies of Johnson & Johnson, the first patient has been dosed with Exonate’s lead compound, EXN 407, in a Phase Ib/II clinical trial of patient volunteers with centre-involved diabetic macular oedema (CI-DMO).

Exonate Ltd was ‘spun out’ of the University of Nottingham in 2013 by University of Nottingham academics, Professors David Bates and Lucy Donaldson, with Professor Steven Harper from the University of Bristol and Professor Jonathan Morris from the University of New South Wales.

Dr Catherine Beech, Chief Executive Officer of Exonate, said: “The initiation of our first clinical trial is an important step in the validation of our eye drop approach. This is a unique opportunity to create a drug that may have the potential to improve the treatment of patients with retinal vascular diseases, and transform the lives of those suffering from vision loss. The collaboration with Janssen has been incredibly positive and together, we have designed a study that we believe will deliver meaningful results.”

It is a credit to many people that this complex and potentially game-changing therapy has reached first-in-human studies. This has been an immense team-effort from the original lab discovery work at the Universities of Bristol, New South Wales and Nottingham to the development of the pre-clinical and clinical programmes by the Exonate team, our contractors and collaborators. We look forward to learning the study results in due course.”Professor David Bates, Scientific Founder and CSO, from the University of Nottingham

By exploiting the alternative splicing of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF), Exonate has developed small-molecules for the treatment of retinal neovascular diseases. EXN 407 inhibits serine/arginine-protein kinase 1 (SRPK1), which enables production of the form of VEGF that stimulates blood vessel formation. CI-DMO is caused by growth of blood vessels into the retina and current treatment options for CI-DMO and other retinal diseases require regular injections into the eyeball. EXN 407 has been designed to reach the retina when given as eye drops and represents a shift in the potential treatment of retinal vascular eye disease away from injections. Pre-clinical studies have demonstrated an effect on neovascularisation and retinal vascular permeability induced by diabetes, without any significant tolerability or safety issues.

The double-blind, randomised multicentre trial of 48 patients is being conducted at retinal centres across Australia. The trial consists of a dose escalation phase during which three doses of EXN 407 and a placebo are tested, followed by an expansion phase with a larger cohort of patient volunteers and a longer drug dosing period. The study aims to demonstrate safety and tolerability and an exploratory end point of efficacy through reduction in retinal thickness in a proportion of patients.

To date, Australia has managed the COVID-19 pandemic such that no major delays are expected in patient recruitment and we anticipate topline results in early 2022.

DMO is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetic retinopathy and affects approximately 21 million people worldwide. DMO is a build-up of fluid in a region of the retina called the macula and is associated with an increase in retinal thickness due to leakage of fluid and plasma proteins from retinal vessels, which leads to central vision loss. Although DMO is more likely to occur as diabetic retinopathy worsens, it can happen at any stage of the disease.

New spin-out company signals quantum leap for brain imaging

A new type of wearable brain scanner, designed to allow people to move freely whilst being scanned, is a step closer to being used in hospitals with the launch of a new partnership.

The University of Nottingham has partnered with Kent based company Magnetic Shields Limited (MSL) to launch a new spin-out company, Cerca Magnetics Limited (Cerca) to bring the world’s most advanced functional brain scanner to market. The Cerca Scanner will offer an unprecedented window on brain function and give new hope to people suffering with severe neurological illnesses, like epilepsy.

Researchers in the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre and School of Physics and Astronomy, have been developing the technology for the wearable brain scanner for the past 5 years, in collaboration with neuroscientists at University College London. Their research, funded by the UK Quantum Technologies Programme, Innovate UK, and Wellcome, has demonstrated the ability to create images of the brain with millimetre accuracy, even when the person being scanned is moving. This opens up new possibilities for imaging babies and children.

This new wearable scanner is based on a technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG), in which the tiny magnetic fields generated by electrical current flow in brain cells are measured. Mathematical reconstruction of those fields generates images showing moment-to-moment changes in brain activity. These unique pictures can tell us how our brains respond when we perform a mental task, and more importantly, how things begin to go wrong in neurological or mental health problems.

Whilst other MEG scanners exist, the Cerca System is unique since it is the only “wearable” MEG system allowing patients to move freely during the scan. It also uniquely adapts to different head sizes, making it possible to scan adults, or babies, using the same system. It offers considerably higher sensitivity and spatial specificity compared to the best existing systems and all of this can be achieved at lower cost.

Dr. Elena Boto, University of Nottingham scientist and chief technology officer for Cerca, said: “5 years ago, we started with a few equations on the back of an envelope, and a few lines of computer code to simulate a system. To have seen this mature into a commercialisable imaging system, which can outperform anything available currently, has been remarkable. There are many advantages to our system but for me the biggest is the ability to scan 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 perfect partnership

Because the magnetic fields from the brain are so small, the scanner needs to sit in a well-controlled magnetic field environment. MSL are the world leaders in magnetic shielding and had already been working with University of Nottingham scientists to develop magnetically-shielded enclosures into which the scanner (and other magnetically-sensitive devices) can be installed. The new partnership now takes this one step further, with Cerca selling the complete integrated brain imaging system.

David Woolger, CEO of Cerca said: “The commercial opportunity is extremely exciting. The system that has been developed in Nottingham is remarkable, but its real impact will only be realised if the technology can be spread around the world. Cerca are already working with some of the world’s best research laboratories to deliver our first generation of system for deployment in the field. We hope and believe that within 3-5 years, we can see the technology becoming commonplace in hospitals.”

Quantum technology

Conventional MEG scanners are based on magnetic field detectors that must be cooled to -269 degrees celsius in order to operate. Consequently they are extremely large and cumbersome; the need for thermal insulation means it is hard to get ‘supercooled’ sensors close to the head (reducing sensitivity and spatial accuracy), and because the sensors must be static, the system cant adapt to different head shapes and sizes and patients must remain still for very long periods. These systems are also extremely expensive. 

The new 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 in size 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 insensitive to motion. In addition, because no thermally insulating gap between scalp and sensor is required, the sensors get closer to the head and therefore capture a higher amplitude signal, consequently gaining better data.

Professor Matt Brookes, who leads MEG research in Nottingham, said: “The combination of quantum technology and novel magnetic shielding has offered something completely unique – a wearable brain scanner that lifts the restrictions surrounding conventional imaging systems of this type. The Cerca System will provide an extremely advanced device for neuroscientific experimentation. More importantly it will enable a new way to investigate myriad brain health conditions. Understanding the human brain and the many severe and debilitating conditions that affect it is one of the biggest challenges for 21st century science. This new technology will provide one of the platforms from which scientists and clinicians can begin to meet that challenge.”

Support for the creation of Cerca has been provided by Nottingham Technology Ventures with seed funding from the University of Nottingham alongside MSL. The underlying research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council through the Quantum Technology Hub for Sensing and Timing; part of the £1bn UK National Quantum Technologies Programme. Research has also been funded by Innovate UK and by a Wellcome Trust Collaboration in Science grant awarded jointly to the University of Nottingham and partners at University College London.

University spin-out to cut hospital waiting lists with new products

Nottingham experts who designed new eyesight-saving technology are to launch more products which could speed up treatment while reducing the impact on hospital waiting lists and patient visits following COVID-19 restrictions.

NuVision which is based at MediCity, Nottingham, has developed the designs from human amniotic membrane donated from caesarean sections. One membrane can potentially save up to 200 peoples’ eyesight and the products can also be used to save animals’ eyesight.

In September, NuVision will launch Omnigen C, for use together with OmniLenz, a bespoke contact lens for the in-clinic application of amnion. This procedure takes just five minutes and will help medics treat ocular surface diseases immediately.

Ophthalmology consultant Mayank Nanavaty from Sussex Eye Hospital, Brighton, said: “Omnigen can be used to protect and help restore peoples’ eyesight, it can help with any inflammation and it’s as quick as a contact lens fittings. Omnigen can be used in ‘walk-in’ or ambulatory patients and its use can avoid the need for surgery for certain conditions”

In a post-COVID world, NuVision wanted to create something to speed up health procedures, as well as reduce the need for consultation, visits or scheduled surgery time, while improving outcomes for patients.

It can be used for chemical or thermal burns, new or long-term ocular defects, dry eye disease and ocular inflammation.

Omnigen helps NHS and veterinary ophthalmologists who treat damaged corneas with an immediately accessible, consistent high quality and reliable product.

NuVision is one of 23 spin-out companies supported by Nottingham Technology Ventures, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Nottingham and is based in the Ingenuity Centre at the University’s Innovation Park.

Dr Andy Naylor, the CEO of NTV, said: “NuVision is driving innovation in the field of biotherapies and is a superb example of the of the University’s spin-out portfolio.

“Health research remains an important priority for the University and it is very exciting to see NuVision deliver technology to market underpinned by University intellectual property.

“The amnion products can be life changing for many people, and transformational for clinicians and lessen the burden on patient waiting lists.”