LONDON — The world's biggest medical charity, the Wellcome Trust, said it will set up a £20 million (US$33.9 million) fund to encourage the commercialization of its research. Wellcome has formed Catalyst Biomedica Ltd., based in London, which will invest money to help researchers bring projects with commercial potential to the point where venture capitalists would be prepared to invest in them.
Wellcome Trust's goal in setting up Catalyst Biomedica is not to make money from the research it funds, but to "translate the useful results of trust-funded research into practical benefits for the improvement of human health."
Wellcome said the "cutting-edge academic research environment supported by the trust is more rapidly than ever uncovering new discoveries and inventions that will transform our lives." But, it said, turning those discoveries into products "is a long, complex and costly process."
The skills and experience required to do this exist in the pharmaceutical industry, and Catalyst Biomedica's aim is to transfer trust-funded technologies to this sector.
Up to £500,000 will be invested to shape up university-based research projects for commercialization. The trust is not aiming to compete with universities' technology transfer arms, or with venture capitalist companies, but will pick up projects when they are too immature to attract traditional sources of funding. The fund, to be formally launched next year, is already negotiating five possible projects.
Wellcome Trust, which spends about £250 million a year on research, has been criticized for failing to ensure that the research translates into improvements in health care, as envisaged by its founder, Sir Henry Wellcome. At the same time, the trust said, it believes there is now more interest on the part of university researchers to commercialize its work.
The pressure to translate research into products has spurred medical research charities and other agencies, including the government-funded Medical Research Council (MRC), to establish channels for commercialization. In February, the MRC launched a £30 million seed fund to finance start-ups based on its in-house research program. Called the U.K. Medical Ventures Fund, it is sponsored by Hoare Govett Corporate Finance, with investors including international pharmaceutical companies with bases in the U.K., and U.K. financial institutions. Although it has yet to announce the formation of the first company, the £30 million is expected to fund between 10 and 12 start-ups. Unlike Catalyst Biomedica, the MRC fund expects to put money into subsequent rounds to protect its position. *