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Inaugural BBSRC Innovator of the Year named
25 March 2009
The inaugural BBSRC Innovator of the Year title has been awarded to Professor Stephen Jackson from the University of Cambridge. The award, organised by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), honours the UK bioscientist who has been best at turning world-class research into a product, company, service or advice to have an impact on our lives.
Prof Stephen Jackson was named as the first Innovator of the Year at an awards ceremony and gala dinner at Banqueting House in London last night (24 March) and was presented with the trophy and prize cheque for £10,000 by the well-known finance and television personality Alvin Hall. An independent judging panel had earlier selected Prof Stephen Jackson as the 2009 Innovator of the Year for his work to turn research on DNA damage and repair into cancer therapies that are now saving the lives of breast and ovarian cancer sufferers.
Two runners-up, Dr Luke Alphey and Prof Jeff Errington, were recognised for their work on spin out companies that have developed new ways to defeat disease carrying mosquitoes and crop pests, and new approaches to tackling superbugs like MRSA respectively. They each received £5,000.
Prof Stephen Jackson, said: "It's a tremendous honour to receive this prestigious award. It really reflects that science, like that funded by BBSRC in my group over the years can yield both exciting science and commercial and social applications.
"I think this award is a showcase for how funding of science by BBSRC is able to provide major tangible benefits not only the UK science base but also the biotech and pharmaceutical industries."
Alvin Hall, highlighting the importance of innovation in a downturn, said: "It was a total pleasure to attend the Innovator of Year ceremony, to meet the inspiring finalists and to present the prizes. I work with companies on both sides of the Atlantic to help them to develop and grow - and at the moment how to get through the downturn. One thing all organisations need is bright people prepared to take a great idea and run with it. In the finalists of Innovator of the Year the UK has seven individuals who have already done this."
The Innovator of the Year Award is an annual competition designed to recognise and reward those bioscientists who are taking steps to transfer the UK’s world beating bioscience research base into impacts that positively affect quality of life for UK citizens. The award aims to build a culture amongst the research base where all scientists consider the potential of their research and the steps that could be taken to maximise its social and economic impact.
Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: "The group of finalists the judges had to select the winner from was absolutely fantastic and everyone at BBSRC congratulates Professor Stephen Jackson on being named 2009 Innovator of Year.
"The finalists represent both the pinnacle of bioscientists who are turning their research into impact and, at the same time, just the tip of the iceberg. UK bioscience is world beating and BBSRC is striving to help translate this into economic and social benefits to create world beating companies and products. From tackling superbugs and developing new drugs to higher yielding crops and new animal vaccines, bioscience research generates millions of pounds for the UK economy and saves billions of pounds through policy advice every year. When the world emerges from recession it will be these high-tech, knowledge intensive areas that will help to power the UK economy."
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Notes to editors
Professor Stephen Jackson also currently holds a grant with Cancer Research UK.
There were six finalists (including one team of two) for the Innovator of Year Award 2009. They were:
- Dr Andrew Almond, Conformetrix
Almond’s unique technology, to determine the dynamic 3D shapes of drug molecules, is the culmination of a large body of work produced during a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship. Within the space of three years, Almond’s research has gone from laboratory concept to the edge of commercial reality, which promises to have a substantial contribution to drug discovery and, ultimately, patient health.
His research group’s discovery of the flexible 3D molecular shape of hyaluronan quickly led to a UK patent and the all-important ‘proof of concept’ that their new methodology could be generalised to any small flexible molecules, such as antibiotics and hormones. In 2007, Almond and his colleague Dr Charles Blundell formed the spin-out company Conformetrix to exploit their technology. With a recent BBSRC/RSE Enterprise Fellowship and two BBSRC Follow-on Fund awards, Almond and Conformetrix have made rapid progress towards commercialisation: raising seed fund investment from Aquarius Equity Partners, recruiting key employees, and winning the Bionow Biomedical start-up of the year award for 2008.
- Dr Luke Alphey, Oxitec
Founded by Alphey in 2002, Oxitec has developed an innovative technology to control insect pests that carry human disease and damage crops. Alphey and his team developed a technique to make male insects infertile in the absence of a specific dietary component. Once released into the wild, these males act as a pest control agent: mating with wild female insects, which lay eggs that are unable to develop into adults. BBSRC supported the team, including funding through the Small Business Research Initiative, both at Alphey’s lab at Oxford University and after he founded and transferred to Oxitec,
Alphey has taken his species-specific, environmentally-friendly method from concept, through academic proof of-principle, to commercialisation and multi-country trials.
In 2006 Oxitec became the first company to achieve open field releases of a GM insect for pest control: a destructive cotton pest, the pink bollworm. More recently, with support from the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges for Global Health Program, the company has evaluated their technology as a control tool for Aedes mosquitoes – the carrier of dengue fever.
- Professor Jeff Errington FRS, Prolysis
Prolysis was founded in 1998 on the strength of Errington’s world-class bacterial cell biology. The company has exploited his insight into the process of bacterial cell division to produce efficient screening technologies for antibiotic drug discovery and development. Prolysis has created several new classes of antibiotics, including one that can kill MRSA. This research was supported by the Wellcome Trust through its Seeding Drug Discovery programme, and by a LINK grant in applied genomics from BBSRC and the former Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), now DIUS, as well as investors in Prolysis.
A new company Demuris Ltd has recently taken over the drug screening opportunities emerging from Errington’s research, as Prolysis evolves into a drug development company.
- Professors Eileen Ingham and John Fisher, Tissue Regenix
Tissue Regenix Ltd is developing cell-free biological scaffolds that should function like native tissue in transplantation therapies. The company’s platform technology derives from longstanding research funded by BBSRC, EPSRC and CHSF, led by Professors John Fisher (bioengineering and biomaterials) and Eileen Ingham (immunology and biocompatibility). The company was formed on the back of a BBSRC Follow-on Fund Award in 2004, which led to over £4m investment funding.
Several of Tissue Regenix’s surgical patches and grafts are in pre-clinical stages, with one just about to enter the clinical testing stage.
- Professor Stephen Jackson FRS, KuDOS Pharmaceuticals
Jackson’ research into DNA damage and repair at the University of Cambridge led to the formation of KuDOS Pharmaceuticals in 1997, following his discovery that it was possible, in principle, to develop drugs that specifically prevented certain DNA repair proteins from working in cancer cells, leaving normal cells unaffected.
With a LINK grant in applied genomics, KuDOS identified a number of biomarkers for different DNA damage response pathways and candidate proteins for cancer therapy. Their inhibitor of the DNA repair enzyme PARP has since progressed into Phase II clinical trials. The one great advantage that this drug has over most others is that it kills BRCA-defective cancer cells very effectively but is much less toxic to normal cells. In 2005, with a series of other drug candidates against other DNA repair proteins, and several large pharmaceutical companies interested in taking their development forward, KuDOS was purchased by AstraZeneca for £120m.
- Dr Martin Wickham, Dynamic Gastric Model
Wickham’s ‘model gut’ is a new research tool that will shed light on the fate of nutrients and medicines taken orally and interactions between foods and medicines. It will also provide an alternative to some animal experiments and human studies. The model builds on fundamental science at BBSRC’s Institute of Food Research.
Support from BBSRC’s Follow-on Fund enabled validation of the prototype and, with a BBSRC/RSE Enterprise Fellowship and support from technology management company Plant Bioscence Limited, Wickham was then able to translate his model into a service business. The team has been working with major players in the food industry on a number of products, and has recently started to work with pharma companies. The next step is to develop and sell a limited number of models for companies that want their own in-house kit.
BBSRC Impact Awards
The prize money for the Innovator of the Year Award is given to the winners to use as they wish.
Innovator of the Year is one of two Impact Awards being organised by BBSRC. The Excellence with Impact Award will award top prizes worth a total of £300,000 to the bioscience departments that are embedding a culture that recognises the importance of deriving economic and social impact from excellent research. One award will go to the department that initiates the biggest culture change towards recognising the importance of embedding impact, hand-in-hand with excellent research. The other will go to the department that can best demonstrate the social and economic impact of its research. A further £50,000 worth of prizes will be available for runners-up. The competition began in December 2008 and will run over two years with awards being made in spring 2011.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.
The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.
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