LONDON - MMI Group plc, a bioscience technology management company, will list on London's Alternative Investment Market and separately has raised #3.5 million (US$5 million) to fund its international expansion.

The expansion will include the formation of a joint venture with Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) in the U.S., and the development of a strategic alliance with the drug development services company Covance plc.

Chairman David Best told BioWorld International, "As we grow the business internationally, the listing will increase our profile, and give us tradable paper."

MMI owns and operates one of the few privately owned biotech incubators in the UK, the Bioscience Innovation Centre in Cambridge. Best said the commercial discipline MMI has imposed on companies starting out in the center has attracted attention worldwide.

"There are around 900 incubators in the U.S., of which only around half a dozen are private," Best said. "Research we commissioned showed that many, in particular those that are extensions of universities, are not working well.

"The aim in incubators should not be creating a featherbed for academics to spin out companies. It should be an exposed and rigorous commercial setting."

The staff of MMI has extensive experience within the pharmaceutical industry. "We bring all the commercial skills from pharma, which we provide to the companies in the incubator." Best said this gives start-ups access to business development skills that usually are available only in more mature companies.

The joint venture with OHSU, to manage technologies emerging from the university, will include the setting up of an incubator based on MMI's model and the management of 1,700 active projects in the areas of cancer, genomics, infection and immunology. The joint venture, to be based in Portland, Ore., will be 50-50 owned by MMI and OHSU, and is due to become a legal entity on Dec. 31.

MMI, based in Cambridge, England, said it is in discussions with several other universities, which may lead to the formation of similar ventures. It also has established an electronic trading platform to market and license technologies through the Internet. "People are saying to us, please manage all our technologies, not just the cherries. We will put the best into [development] vehicles, and make the rest available over the Internet," Best said.

MMI's previous business model was to charge fees for its technology management services, but it is now moving to taking equity stakes instead. It currently holds a 30 percent stake in one of the companies in the Bioscience Innovation Centre, Cellfactors plc, and has set up three shell companies - Endozyme Ltd. in antimicrobials, Viratis Ltd. in viral infections and Oncosense Ltd. in anticancer therapies - for which it intends to source technologies.

"With the skills we have we can pick winning technologies and bundle them together to add value," said Best. The most developed of the companies is Oncosense, which has acquired rights to technology from OHSU in return for an equity stake. MMI will fund the early stage development of these companies and then bring in other investors. It is planning to launch an international biotechnology investment fund to draw in money.

Best said MMI is "recruiting like mad," to draw in skills it needs to back its expansion plans.

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