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Babraham Investor Conference concludes with opening of new on-site lab





The 17th annual Babraham Investor Conference hosted on Babraham Research Campus (BRC) last Thursday (September 21) coincided with the opening of a new lab facility on the site.

The conference considers the success of scientific discovery taking place on the campus and within the wider life science ecosystem.

The Babraham Investor Conference, the panel Kathryn Chapman, Louise Jopling, Jason Mellad, Barbara Domayne-Hayman and Andy Roberts. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Babraham Investor Conference, the panel Kathryn Chapman, Louise Jopling, Jason Mellad, Barbara Domayne-Hayman and Andy Roberts. Picture: Keith Heppell

The opening session saw Dr Dan Mahony, chair of the UK Bioindustry Association (BIA), address the question ‘The Mansion House Pact – is pension fund money really going to boost scale-up capital for the sector?’ Presentations followed, including from Jane Osbourn, chief scientific officer, Alchemab, and Sir Steve Jackson, chief research officer, Insmed.

The post-lunch schedule began with the BIA’s Nicky Edwards, director, external affairs, assessing the wider state of the sector.

“Venture funding for the UK biotech sector is looking like it’s keeping pace with last year,” he said. “Investment levels are quite good, and it’s just about possible to see signs of recovery.”

The Babraham Investor Conference, the panel Kathryn Chapman, Louise Jopling, Jason Mellad, Barbara Domayne-Hayman and Andy Roberts. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Babraham Investor Conference, the panel Kathryn Chapman, Louise Jopling, Jason Mellad, Barbara Domayne-Hayman and Andy Roberts. Picture: Keith Heppell

The biggest reported problem was investors not investing.

“Venture capitalists are sitting on an absolute keg of dry powder,” Nicky noted. “There’s around £7bn available to the UK biotech sector. It’s very tough out there for smaller companies pushing for access and finance. There is an investment gap that needs to be bridged.”

Mike Booth, head of external affairs at bit.bio, which is based on the campus, followed.

“The cell landscape in front of us is vast,” he told the audience in the Cambridge Building, and explained how bit.bio is addressing the market’s growing needs.

“The bit.bio portfolio is growing fast. We’re currently introducing three new cells and 10 disease models a year. We’re scaling up to produce five new cell types and 30 disease models per year. The more cells we can create, and the more disease models we develop, is certainly going to help us.

“In investment terms, the more money we invest now the more we can do later, but we’re lucky that we're not short of lab space. With a focus on automation we’re aiming to do the things we do in a smaller amount of lab space.”

Mike was followed by Bruce Goldsmith, CEO of campus-based Xap Therapeutics, which is developing multi-modal therapies to treat the most complex of diseases including cancer and autoimmunity.

The Babraham Investor Conference. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Babraham Investor Conference. Picture: Keith Heppell

A brief panel session followed – time was tight and BRC’s CEO Derek Jones runs a tight ship.

BRC’s director, science and innovation, Kathryn Chapman chaired, while Jason Mellad of Start Codon, Barbara Domayne-Hayman of the Crick Institute, Louise Jopling of Enhanc3D Genomics, and Andy Roberts, innovation manager at Alderley Park, fielded questions.

Dr Jopling said: “We have a lot of solutions trying to find a problem, not enough solutions that address a particular problem.”

Are there too many accelerators, asked an audience member?

Dr Mellad said there’s a “quantity versus quality issue” and there are some “crappy accelerators”. He advised prospective accelerator joinees to “not just sign up for something that sounds nice”.

Andy Roberts added that “some of the crappy accelerators are often university-led” which wasn’t even slightly awkward. Dr Mellad noted that issues around gender diversity and people of colour are changing for the better.

“That’s really exciting because we want to see more of the brains trust in the UK step forward and become entrepreneurs,” Dr Mellad said.

Andy noted that “one of the positive aspects of increasing diversity is that “many entrepreneurs coming forward are not native English speakers”.

The Babraham Investor Conference, the panel Kathryn Chapman, Louise Jopling, Jason Mellad, Barbara Domayne-Hayman and Andy Roberts. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Babraham Investor Conference, the panel Kathryn Chapman, Louise Jopling, Jason Mellad, Barbara Domayne-Hayman and Andy Roberts. Picture: Keith Heppell

The final segment involved new start-ups on the Accelerate@Babraham course summarising their business models.

This section featured Alicia Showering of Bug Biome, Rachael Walker of CytoCalx, Chris Mosedale of Matrix Bio – all on the campus – and Dominic James of Nodus (Alderley Park).

The focus then moved to the LiveL@bs building. The latest addition to the campus is a 600 sq ft lab which sits alongside three other similar-sized labs, and brings capacity up to 2,400 sq ft, available for both campus residents and external organisations.

The tour of the new lab was conducted by Kathryn Chapman, who said of the occasion: “We were delighted to be able to launch LiveL@bs at the Babraham Investor Conference. It’s a fantastic addition to the Cambridge ecosystem, providing the operational and laboratory support for companies that are moving out of an academic lab and into a commercial environment for the first time.

“Whether it’s just bench space to do a few experiments, with flexible leases from as little as three months, up to company of four to eight people, I would encourage ventures to come and talk to us to discover how they can access our molecular biology, cell culture and chemistry facilities.

“I’m really excited that through LiveL@bs we now have the ability to welcome yet more start-up ventures to our thriving Babraham Research Campus.”



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