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.

Visit for more information about this project.

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.”

Locate Bio raises £2.25m for new spinal treatments

Locate Bio, who are developing new treatments for patients with serious spinal conditions, has completed a £2.25m funding round led by Mercia Asset Management to help to continue its ground-breaking research and bring its first products to market.

Locate Bio has secured the investment from Mercia’s own balance sheet, its EIS fund and the MEIF Proof of Concept & Early Stage Fund, which is managed by Mercia and part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund, and the Future Fund.  Together with earlier funding rounds from Mercia and MEIF, it brings the total raised by the company to over £8m.

Locate Bio’s first product, which is at the pre-clinical development stage, will help patients who require spinal fusion surgery, where bones are permanently joined together to overcome low back pain. It uses a type of bone protein to remove the need for a bone graft. Its second therapy will be for the biological renewal of the intervertebral discs and will help those suffering from degenerative disc disease, a painful condition affecting 33 million people in the US and EU.

Locate Bio is a spin-out from the University of Nottingham and based on the research of Professor Kevin Shakesheff, a world-leading expert in regenerative medicine. The company, which initially started out as a contract research organisation, first received investment from Mercia in 2018.

John von Benecke, CEO of Locate, said: “I am delighted by the continued support of our lead investor. This investment will allow us to maintain the excellent progress with our lead product and further the development of a pipeline of synergistic products.”

Dr Ian Wilding, Chairman of Locate said: “This investment comes at an important time for the Company as it enters an exciting phase. Despite the uncertainty and disruption that COVID-19 has brought to so many industries, the Locate team have relentlessly executed against its aggressive timelines and the additional funding announced today is a welcome validation of the progress that has been made.”

Peter Dines, Chief Operating Officer of Mercia, said: “We are very pleased to continue to support John and the team at Locate. Their lead product has the potential to disrupt a $3bn market, and we remain excited by the prospect of helping to build a world-leading business.”

Ken Cooper Managing Director, British Business Bank, added: “We are pleased that the MEIF Proof of Concept fund has been able to support further investment into Locate Bio.  Along with the bank’s other programmes the MEIF funds are investing to support SMEs in the region and are still very much open for business. This second round of funding recognises a business which has continued to make good progress despite the difficulties caused by Covid 19.”

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.

University of Nottingham generates £1.5m from the sale of Oncimmune shares


Spin-out company continues to develop world-leading expertise in early cancer detection

The University has realised more than £1.5m from the sale of shares in Oncimmune Holdings plc, which was founded in 2002 as a spin-out to commercialise a blood test for the early detection of cancer.

The sale of shares by the University – in line with its policy to release investment in spin-outs to fund education and further world-class innovation at Nottingham – brings the total realised from Oncimmune to more than £7m.

Dr Andrew Naylor, CEO of Nottingham Technology Ventures, which manages the University’s spin-out portfolio, said: “It is immensely gratifying to see a spin-out company continue to develop and commercialise technology to save lives, benefit society and generate real impact.

“Oncimmune has delivered a significant return on investment for the University and is an excellent example of how spin-out companies can flourish with good financial and commercial support.”

Dynamic life sciences companies and research institutions have a vital role in securing a high-skill economy, as well helping power recovery and growth after the coronavirus.Dr Andrew Naylor, CEO of Nottingham Technology Ventures

Oncimmune launched its platform diagnostic technology in 2009, followed by its first commercial tests of EarlyCDT Lung and EarlyCDT Liver. The key to improving cancer survival is early detection and better selection for therapy and Oncimmune’s immunodiagnostic tests can detect and help identify cancer on average four years earlier than standard clinical diagnosis.

To date, over 200,000 tests have been performed for patients worldwide. EarlyCDT Lung, pioneered by a team from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, is also used in what is believed to be the largest randomised controlled trial for the early detection of lung cancer using biomarkers, the successful NHS Early detection of Cancer of the Lung Scotland (ECLS) trial of 12,209 high-risk smokers. This trial demonstrated that EarlyCDT Lung reduced the incidence of patients with late-stage lung cancer or unclassified presentation at diagnosis, compared to standard clinical practice.

The University’s equity in Oncimmune was acquired through an initial shareholding at formation of the spin-out. The University continued to support the company with further investment prior to a listing on the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange in May 2016.

“Our ties with the University, from the pioneering work in the early detection of cancer in research labs, through initial and subsequent investment in Oncimmune has supported our continuing development. We’re proud that the application of world-leading research here in Nottingham will be the cornerstone of advances in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.” Dr Adam Hill, CEO of Oncimmune

The University retains an interest in Oncimmune, which is part of a 22-strong portfolio of spin-outs.

Nottingham Technology Ventures has helped generated multi-million pound exits from the University’s spin-out portfolio in three of the last four financial years.  In 2018, Nottingham was ranked second among UK research institutions for the amount generated from the sale of

shares in spin-outs, delivering more than £11.5m, and the University is regarded as among the best in the UK for sharing knowledge.

Exonate Announces Collaboration with Janssen to develop a new eye drop for the treatment of retinal vascular diseases including wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic macular oedema (DMO)

Exonate Ltd announces collaboration with Janssen to develop a new eye drop for the treatment of retinal vascular diseases including wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic macular oedema (DMO)

The program, facilitated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation, has the potential to improve the treatment of patients with retinal vascular diseases and transform the lives of those suffering from vision loss.

Cambridge, UK, 13 January, 2020 –  Exonate, an early stage biotechnology company, announced today that it has entered into a strategic collaboration agreement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. Through the collaboration, Exonate will work with Janssen Research & Development, LLC scientists to develop an eye drop treatment for retinal vascular diseases such as wet AMD and DMO by using mRNA targeted therapies. Exonate has developed small molecules that inhibit the production of pro-angiogenic vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) through the selective inhibition of serine/threonine-protein kinase (SRPK1)-mediated VEGF splicing. The agreement was facilitated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation.

Commenting on the announcement, Dr. Catherine Beech CEO of Exonate, said: “I am absolutely delighted to enter this strategic collaboration with Janssen, we are looking forward to successfully developing a novel treatment for retinal neovascular diseases”.

University of Nottingham experts use mobile tech to help diagnose mental health conditions

One in four people suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives at a £94 billion a year cost to the economy.

But a quicker route to diagnosing mental health problems could soon be available on your mobile phone.

Experts at the University of Nottingham have developed technology which uses cameras to spot the changes in physical behaviour caused by conditions ranging from stress through to depression.

Dr Michel Valstar, Dr Anthony Brown and Dr Timur Almaev have developed technology which picks out changes in people’s facial expressions which are caused by mental health conditions.

Now, they have turned that technology into a business, BlueSkeye AI, which is being supported by the University through Nottingham Technology Ventures, which manages the University’s portfolio of spin-out businesses.

BlueSkeye AI blends advanced research into mental health with specialist expertise in computer vision, machine learning and AI. Its team has worked with psychiatrists, specialist nurses and primary care trusts to analyse the common signs of mental health problems and devise monitoring systems which are capable of picking them up.

Michel said: “The idea stems from work that we have been involved with to try to identify and recognise depressive illnesses. One of the physical changes which takes place if people have a mental health issue is motor control, and that can manifest itself in changes in facial expression and tone of voice.

“What we have developed is technology which senses changes from which we can identify all the cues of medical conditions which change your behaviour – a field we call behaviomedics.”

Working with Nottingham Technology Ventures (NTV), BlueSkeye has already identified a number of potential uses for its technology, which is likely to be licensed to partners able to integrate it with their digital healthcare platforms.

It could then be used by sectors like pharmaceuticals to monitor the impact of treatments, and by large employers to help people manage their mental wellbeing.

Michel added: “BlueSkeye AI will put the ability to monitor mental health into the hands of individuals and medical professionals by building an affordable and accessible tool on mobile.”

Dr Andy Naylor, the CEO of NTV, said: “BlueSkeye AI is one of the latest additions to the University’s spin-out portfolio and we believe it has developed an original solution for what is likely to be a very significant market opportunity.

“We are helping the team to identify routes to market and also secure further financial backing. This is a very promising opportunity that has appeal across a number of sectors.”

“Many people will be familiar with the work of Sir Peter Mansfield and his team in developing the technology behind the MRI scanner, and health research remains an important priority for the University.

“Our decision to support BlueSkeye reflects not only a belief that this represents an important opportunity but also the fact that it could help to identify, treat and manage conditions which affect very many people.”

Background Notes

Photo Credit: Bianca Castillo, Unsplash.

For more information contact Stuart Baird [email protected] 07799 678009


1] Affects 25% of population: MIND –

2] £94bn cost to UK economy: OECD (as reported by The Guardian) –

Nottingham Technology Ventures manages the University of Nottingham’s spin-out portfolio and the Nottingham invention Fund It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University and is based in the Ingenuity Centre at the University of Nottingham Innovation Park.  

The University has helped its spin-out companies to secure millions of pounds in funding to develop technologies in fields which range from manufacturing to mental health. It has invested nearly £900,000 during the past year in nine businesses which began life as university research projects.

The investments have helped the University’s spin-out portfolio secure further funding worth £14 million – money which will help them to either commercialise their ideas and bring them to market as viable products or build on an existing market presence.

The financial backing also forms a key part of the University’s wider long-term strategy of supporting the development of technologies that have the capacity to improve the world around us.

They include support for businesses active in fields such as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose mental health conditions, and the manufacture of nanoparticles – which change the way surfaces behave.

The investments have been led by Nottingham Technology Ventures, which manages the University’s portfolio of 20 spin-out companies, working in partnership with specialist investment funds such as Mercia Technologies and Foresight Group.

University of Nottingham investments spur growth in spin-out companies

THE UNIVERSITY of Nottingham has helped its spin-out companies to secure millions of pounds in funding to develop technologies in fields which range from manufacturing to mental health.

It has invested nearly £900,000 during the past year in nine businesses which began life as university research projects.

The investments have helped the University’s spin-out portfolio secure further funding packages totalling around £14 million – money which will help them to either commercialise their ideas and bring them to market as viable products, or build on an existing market presence.

The financial backing also forms a key part of the University’s wider long-term strategy of supporting the development of technologies that have the capacity to improve the world around us.

They include support for businesses active in fields such as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose mental health conditions, and the manufacture of nanoparticles – which change the way surfaces behave.

The investments have been led by Nottingham Technology Ventures, which manages the University’s portfolio of 20 spin-out companies, working in partnership with specialist investment funds such as Mercia Technologies and Foresight Group. They include:

  • Promethean Particles, which has received £250,000 from the University as part of a £1.24m funding round led by Foresight Group, which manages the government-backed Midlands Engine Investment Fund. Promethean has set up the world’s largest nanoparticle manufacturing plant in Nottingham, able to produce materials at a microscopic scale which can then be used to improve the performance of products which range from printed electronic circuits to medical implants. Its success stems from specialist expertise in nanoparticle manufacturing, where it has developed a patented reactor which enables continuous production of particles.
  • Blueskeye AI, which is developing technology that uses cameras with embedded AI software to spot the changes in physical behaviour caused by conditions ranging from stress to depression. It receives £100,000 from the University as it continues work on a process which could speed up the diagnosis, treatment and management of a range of mental health conditions affecting a quarter of the UK population.
  • TextureJet, which receives £60,00 from the University alongside £250,000 from Innovate UK, to develop a new manufacturing technology which leads to more efficient and environmentally-friendly surface treatments.

Early-stage technology companies can find it difficult to secure funding, but the University uses its long-established expertise in research commercialisation to identify strong teams whose inventions have clear market potential based on broad societal benefit.

Dr Andy Naylor, CEO of NTV, says that the University’s support for spin-out businesses also helps give other funders the confidence to come on board.

He explained: “Technology companies can find it extremely difficult to access the funding needed to develop their products when they are at an early stage in their life. Their technology can be seen as unproven and it may take time for them to develop it to the point where it’s commercially viable.

“The University’s investment not only comes with the support of an experienced team to help companies achieve their goals, it can also reassure other potential investors that the ideas are have serious commercial potential.

“Supporting technologies that can have an impact at scale is central to the University’s core mission and doing so in partnership with other funding organisations demonstrates real strength in the numbers of opportunities for investment in innovation across the Midlands.”

NTV has channelled the University’s financial support through two specific funds – the Pathfinder Fund, which helps spin-outs with their initial set-up costs, and the Invention Fund, which provides more substantial backing as these spin-outs seek to develop and grow.

Between them, the two funds invested a total of £881,000 during the year. Besides these current investments, the University has a pipeline of new spin-out businesses which it is also likely to support.

Dr Naylor added: “The last year has been extremely successful, with a series of new investments in spin-outs which are developing some incredibly exciting new technologies.

“This builds on the University of Nottingham’s long track record of research commercialisation and it’s one of the key reasons why we have such a strong pipeline of new opportunities for investment.”

University of Nottingham spin-outs open up new horizons in energy and health

Business investment can often seem like a story of nothing but the financial proposition: Where’s the opportunity, when will we see a return?

At Nottingham Technology Ventures (NTV), we’re certainly focused on supporting ideas which have clear visibility of strong market opportunities.

But our perspective on those opportunities also takes into account a much broader context. What are the emerging technologies and markets, what new opportunities might emerge and – perhaps most importantly of all for us – what benefits could new technologies and the companies developing them bring to the world around us?

This horizon scanning is a key part of our responsibilities in managing the University of Nottingham’s portfolio of spin-out businesses. The University has a long and distinguished track record of commercialising research and doing so in ways which help bring to market new technologies and products that deliver genuine societal benefit.

So where is the future taking us, and how is that manifesting itself in the investments that the University makes? The physical sciences and life sciences are always a useful guide and some of the broad themes around energy, climate, sustainability and health will be familiar.

But the research related to these challenges is perhaps less well publicised, so it may be helpful to take a look at some of the commercial opportunities that research is opening up – and how NTV, as the steward of the University’s interest and its wider mission in relation to spin-outs, is helping those opportunities come into sharper focus.

In the field of energy, we currently have two companies in the formation phase.

Cheesecake Energy addresses the challenge of energy storage, one of the keys to enabling the wider adoption of renewable sources like wind and solar, where we’re ultimately not in control of the natural ‘on-off’ switch. The company is developing a highly cost-effective solution which uses compressed air and rock-gravel beds to store the energy, then allows it to be discharged into the electricity system over a period of hours.

Huge opportunity

This kind of medium-term energy storage presents a huge opportunity. The annual global market size for these solutions has been estimated at $46bn by 2025. Medium-term storage could be a key enabler of more widespread electric vehicle charging and for managing peak flows from renewable sources into the grid. Cheesecake already has some notable industrial partners, a strong endorsement of the company’s approach and its technology.

Whilst Cheesecake addresses a fundamental issue with renewable energy, another of our new potential spin-outs delves into a specific technical aspect of electrical generation systems – power electronics. TTPi (short for The Thinking Pod Innovations) is developing technology to enable widespread use of new kinds of semiconductor for AC/DC conversion and conditioning of electrical power.

Based on the use of gallium nitride rather than traditional silicon, TTPI’s technology will enable industry to more easily use these wide-band semiconductors to deliver significant efficiency gains and reduced costs.

The potential applications here are vast – these power converters are used in everything from wind turbines and solar cells to electric vehicles, and all relate to more efficient use of energy.

Our Vice-Chancellor, Shearer West, made clear only a few days ago just how important the drive for sustainability and addressing climate change is at the University of Nottingham. It’s a priority in our global research programme and visible in everything from the Carbon Neutral Laboratory on the University of Nottingham Innovation Park to the investments we’re talking about here.

Health research

Alongside sustainability, another important focus in our drive to find viable commercial solutions to societal challenges is health. This reflects the research activity at the University’s teaching hospital – the Queen’s Medical Centre – and our strong Faculty of Engineering.

We have already seen some significant successes – Exonate, with its pioneering work on eye drops to treat age-related macular degeneration, and Monica Healthcare, which developed a lifesaving foetal heart monitor. They are part of a tradition of health-related research at the University whose aim is to impact positively on the quality of people’s lives.

Recently, we have entered a new field with BlueSkeye AI, one of our most recent spin-out companies. It is using mobile technologies and artificial intelligence to develop solutions which identify the physical manifestation of mental health conditions – changes in facial expression, for example – to aid the diagnosis of everything from stress and anxiety to depression.

We believe BlueSkeye AI’s work could deliver profound societal benefits.

These are some of the research-to-commercialisation journeys we are supporting at the moment. They all begin in the same place: collaborating with academics to examine the real-world potential of their research, and supporting the development of business plans and teams which help bring these opportunities to market.

There is no silver bullet. All of these journeys stem from the University’s investment in an environment which enables fundamental research but connects it to commercialisation expertise. We may look a long way ahead but we never lose sight of that starting point.