Accelerator@Babraham launched in life sciences era
Galaxy of Cambridge investors and healthcare firms stimulate radical advances
The ninth Babraham Investor Conference which took place yesterday (May 23) at Babraham Research Campus was of major significance for two major life sciences developments.
The first is the launch of the inaugural Accelerate@Babraham start-up competition, which is now inducted one of very few life sciences accelerators in Europe.
The second is that speaker after speaker stated that the life sciences sector is on the cusp of a huge tsunami of change as disruptive models break asunder the conventional logic of drug development.
“Accelerate@Babraham is an incubator space,” Derek Jones, CEO of Babraham Bioscience Technologies, told the Cambridge Independent.
“By providing facilities, access to people and equipment, and with five start-ups being granted £20,000 for the three months they are based here, Babraham Research Campus will be able to support them at the earliest stage of opportunity before they become fully-fledged companies.”
Applications for one of the five available spaces close on June 17. The pitching will take place in mid-July, and the office space will become available on September 20.
Dr Karolina Zapadka, who was appointed business acceleration manager for the Babraham Research Campus’ bio-incubator and life science accelerator, Accelerate@Babraham, was upbeat prior to the launch of the project. The opportunity is open to candidates across the life sciences sector.
“There is now huge interest in digital health and machine learning,” said Dr Zapadka, “along with epigenetics, cancer, diagnostics – we’re taking into account the whole science of the field, which incudes synthetic biology and AI as well.
“The companies in this sector are very strong on the science basis, and the business skills are perhaps those in need of development.
“What we’re doing is to get back to the roots of the industry, support the local ecosystem and develop ideas, so we created a programme to help scientists so they can participate and we can help with mentoring and the business side, along with office space and introductions to our network and investors.”
The first speaker at this year’s conference was Hermann Hauser, director of global technology investor Amadeus Capital Partners.
“The most spectacular disruption in business today is in the car industry,” he told the conference. “We’ll see a similar thing in the pharmaceutical industry as we see a shift from treating people who are ill to keeping them healthy. That’s why it’s a trillion dollar opportunity.”
Dr Hauser showed a slide which showed a coffin emblazoned with the legend: “RIP Natural Selection”. In a break for coffee I asked him about this.
“As life sciences moves into the AI age there’s three technologies changing our lives,” he said. “One is generic technology across different sectors, which is happening in cars but also in health.
“The second is blockchain and smart contracts, which will make businesses more efficient. The third third is synthetic biology.”
Prof Jackie Hunter, CEO of BenevolentBio, told the audience: “As a company we’re out to disrupt the pharmaceutical industry and it’s the right time because the industry is not financially sustainable – a 97 per cent failure rate for drug testing is not financially sustainable.”
“We are expanding the knowledge universe, democratising the process and putting it in the hands of the people who know what to ask,” said Prof Hunter. After the talk, she added: “I’d hope within the next two years we’ll put our first molecule into the clinic using our AI technology. Over the next five years we’re looking to have a number of clinical successes and the changes will go right through the pipeline.”
Speaking to the Cambridge Independent before his talk at the Babraham Investor Conference, David Grainger, co-founder and chief scientific advisor at London/Geneva-based Medicxi, went further.
Medicxi, he said, will “separate the infrastructure of life sciences from the assets”.
“If you are going to develop a drug why do you need to own the drug development infrastructure?” he asked. “The infrastructure is entirely separate – it’s different people who do the drug development. If you buy a car you don’t build your own road to drive it on.”
The stakes are high, accepts Andy Richards. He is chairman of Arecor, Congenica, Abcodia and Novacta Biosystems as well as being a director of Silence Therapeutics plc, Ieso Digital Health and Sensiia.
“The Cambridge life sciences sector has seen more than £600million raised in equity since 2015,” he said. “Most people don’t realise that.
“The shift is from activity-based healthcare to value-based healthcare,” he said, adding that the US healthcare market is currently worth $4trillion, of which 10 per cent is based around drug development.
Mental health care is also included in this new era where AI and machine learning will impact on society’s attitudes to treatments.
The outcome, said speaker Andy Blackwell, CSO at Ieso Digital Health, will be “a step change in the quality and affordability of mental health care”.
Among the delegates was Gonçalo de Vasconcelos, co-founder and CEO of online early-stage investor SyndicateRoom.
“We’re very active in this space,” he said. “We’re looking for great people, great technology – anything that changes the world to make it a better place. A lot of this technology is helping billions of people. There’s not anything much more exciting than that.”