Evotec, Oxford ally to speed academia-industry transition

Evotec (FRA:EVT) and the University of Oxford have teamed up to bridge the gap between academic research and industry. The initiative will offer funding and access to Evotec’s drug discovery platform to projects that are an experiment or two away from being ready to be spun out into biotech startups or outlicensed.

Oxford Sciences Innovation, the university’s £300 million ($373 million) spinout fund, is putting up £13 million to bankroll the experiments. A committee featuring Evotec’s Thomas Hanke, who will be the CRO’s man on the ground in Oxford, will hand out the cash in £250,000 tranches to researchers who need a final funding boost to prepare programs for life outside academia. Researchers will use the cash to run experiments for six to 12 months to learn if their projects have a commercial future.

The model is designed to cut the time and energy researchers expend to secure grants or persuade VCs to take a punt on an early-stage project. If successful, the Evotec-Oxford initiative, called Lab282, will make the transition of projects from academia to industry more efficient and, in doing so, lessen a long-standing frustration for Evotec CEO Werner Lanthaler.

“I’ve been walking around with this idea for years now,” he said. “When you are Evotec and you have these drug discovery platforms and you see how many great scientists just do not make it to the first 100,000, 200,000 or 500,000 of venture money because the ideas are too early, then it's almost painful to see that science doesn't get the experiments done.”

Through Lab282, Hanke, a former Novo Nordisk ($NVO) drug hunter, will scout and assess projects in Oxford. Successful applicants will receive both funding and access to support from Evotec. The use of Evotec platforms is intended to ensure researchers have industry-standard data packages when pitching VCs and biopharma companies. Evotec will also give researchers access to its VC and biopharma contacts to help them once the Lab282 funding runs dry. And it is incentivized to help them secure deals, in part because it will co-own the projects.

Evotec has another, longer-term incentive. Lanthaler sees Lab282 not as a one-off initiative, but as a blueprint for similar programs at academic hot spots around the world. The three largest of Evotec’s 33 academic collaborations--which are with Harvard, Yale and a network of German groups--are an obvious place to start. But Lanthaler thinks the academia-industry bridge provided by Lab282-style programs will be at least as valuable to organizations such as the University of Ohio and the U.K.’s University of Manchester.

“For a place which is not in Boston and not in San Francisco, it's much more difficult to be part of the buzz of the venture capital industry and of the pharma industry,” Lanthaler said. Similar dynamics affect U.K. researchers working outside of Cambridge, London and Oxford. Evotec thinks it can help good science advance and get funded, wherever it happens.

If Evotec is to replicate the program outside of Oxford, it must first make a success of Lab282. With a ready-made source of capital, world-renowned researchers and an Evotec site in the vicinity, Oxford is a favorable proving ground.

The project has clear, hard metrics to gauge its performance such as spinoffs created, external VC money raised and outlicensing deals struck. Succeeding against those metrics would open the door to other universities, many, if not all, of which face similar issues to those behind the creation of Lab282 at Oxford.

“There has, for a long time, been a missing ingredient in terms of dedicated funding mechanisms to translate basic research into early-stage drug discovery programs,” Adam Stoten, head of technology transfer, life sciences, at Oxford University Innovation, said. "That is exactly what we're seeking to address with Lab282."