As is often the case, necessity accelerates transformative change. The detection and identification of COVID-19 has spurred the world into action at a pace never seen before. Lockdowns, travel bans, new hospitals and financial support packages; all implemented at speed in a bid to deal with a quick moving pandemic and abiding by UK government’s mantra of “following the science”.
At the same time, the eyes of the scientific world were focussed on disease surveillance, epidemiologic studies, and real-world data; shifting their focus and assets to confront the emerging outbreak.
Pharmaceutical and biotech enterprises swung into action. From health tech tools that help track the disease and identify new infections faster, to the development of therapies to treat symptoms and the pursuit of a vaccine, we have been overcome by stories of personal perseverance and eureka moments in the lab which have solidified the scientific basis on which important decisions have been made.
Supporting public health
It has given policy makers, investors and the wider population an increased appreciation of the importance of bioscience in tackling not just coronavirus, but many other diseases, neurological disorders, and health conditions, and of the significant contribution bioscience makes to the protection and improvement of human health.
For the Babraham Research Campus, 2020 has been a year of passionately pursuing its mission of helping to create new medicines and maximising the impact of UK science, both in terms of COVID-19 and broader healthcare challenges.
This year has seen some Campus occupiers pivot their enterprises to support efforts to confront the pandemic and some have applied their scientific specialisms, previously intended to tackle other diseases, to this new challenge with great effect. These collaborative and committed efforts reflect the dedication and professionalism of the Campus community.
Increasing COVID-19 diagnostic tests
Very early into the first national lockdown, Censo Biotechnologies, announced that it could complete 15,000 COVID-19 diagnostic tests per month in a bid to help the country combat the virus. It repurposed its laboratories at the Babraham Research Campus in Cambridge and at Roslin near Edinburgh to process a minimum of 500 diagnostic tests every day.
A potential treatment for COVID-19
In July, BenevolentAI’s AI-assisted discovery of baricitinib as a therapy for COVID-19 showed positive results. Hospitalised COVID-19 patients showed improvements in cough, fever, and a reduction in inflammatory markers when treated with baricitinib, representing a rapid repurposing from AI to the laboratory to a potential bedside therapeutic.
Rapid COVID-19 detection kits
Also in July, Stemnovate, known for its organ-on-chip technology, created a rapid detection kit for COVID-19 offering an economical solution suitable for businesses, care homes, airports and other key locations. It also overcomes the drawbacks with current PCR-based testing as the same biochip could be used downstream to identify the exact viral strain infecting a patient, which could be important in monitoring and managing outbreaks.
UK BIA Antibody Taskforce
Campus companies were once again in the spotlight at the beginning of November as part of the BIA consortium developing antibodies to treat COVID-19. Alchemab and Kymab joined forces with LifeArc, IONTAS and Abcam to develop an accelerated and rigorous multifaceted approach, which resulted in the identification of a group of over 600 novel candidates, from which a set of antibodies with the greatest potential was identified. These will now be taken forward for further development as an antibody cocktail.
2021 and beyond
Looking to the bioscience enterprises of the future, the Babraham Research Campus’ Accelerate@Babraham programme continues to help breathe new life into the sector.
The second programme cohort wound up in February 2020 with a final presentation in front of an audience of mentors, investors and strategic partners. MicrofluidX, Shift Bioscience, TropoFour Therapeutics, CC Bio and Reflection Therapeutics revealed their future plans and the latter two start-ups won an additional financial award from LifeArc for the most progress made.
These companies have seen continued success, securing additional funding this year for their science. Reflection Therapeutics received an Innovate UK grant for a major research programme to fight motor neurone disease through cell therapy, and CC Bio was awarded further continuity funding of £29,800 for its work on preventative solutions for microbiome dysbiosis.
The third cohort, ArkVax, Paediatric HealthTech, ConcR and Stroma Biosciences, got underway in September this year having pitched by Zoom in July to secure their places. Last month they took part in a pitching competition in conjunction with AstraZeneca at which Paediatric HealthTech came out victorious securing an additional £10,000 to support its research into helping children with glue ear.
It’s also fantastic to hear that the very first Accelerate@Babraham ventures continue to progress their science this year with Kalium Health receiving a £950K boost, VisusNano securing £225K, and Qkine announcing the successful closure of a spectacular £1.5M series A investment round to scale up the development and manufacturer of proteins for stem cell, organoid and regenerative medicine.
A vibrant and growing ecosystem
2020 has been a year of significant achievement for many of the bioscience organisations located on Campus, and for the sector as a whole. We have all seen first-hand the innovative capacity of the bioscience industry to address global health challenges, which has placed a spotlight on the importance of nurturing bioscience R&D and innovation ecosystems, like the Babraham Research Campus.
We approach 2021 with a positive outlook and look forward to continuing to support and nurture not only those on our Campus but the wider UK life science ecosystem too.
(+44) 1223 496 000
Babraham Bioscience Technologies Ltd
Babraham Research Campus
CB22 3AT, United Kingdom
01223 813 557