University of Reading and SMEs collaborating in the area of health and food

17 February 2016

University of Reading and SMEs collaborating in the area of health and food

Forum highlights how the University of Reading and SMEs are collaborating in the area of health and food to take research through to commercialisation.


 Supported and sponsored by the Thames Valley Berkshire Business Growth hub, the University of Reading's Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship, and Oxford Academic Health Sciences Network hosted 'From research to commercialisation - Health & Food' SME Forum at Henley Business School on Wednesday 17 February 2016.

Opening the event Prof Richard Ellis, Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences, explained the event was being helpd to highlight the world-class resources available at the University of Reading and demonstrate how collaborating with industry is contributing to the local and national economy.

Prof Ellis went on to identify and describe the many ways in which SMEs are working with the University including contracting services, staff training and development, plus student and graduate recruitment. Prof Ellis also introduced the different Centres of the University attending and the services they offer to SMEs, including the Chemical Analysis Facility, Food Processing Centre, Knowledge Transfer Centre, the Statistical Services Centre and the University's Thames Valley Science Park opening in 2017.

The presentations were opened with Dominic Bevan, Executive VP and Chief Scientific Officer at Arena Pharma, a biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, developing and commercializing novel drugs that target G protein-coupled receptors to address a wide range of medical needs.

Dr Behan. highlighted the value of SME collaboration with academia and picked out the specific collaboration with Prof John Gibbins at the University of Reading that enabled Arena to build it's understanding of the molecular mechanisms that regulate the function of platelets in haemostasis and thrombosis and development of new strategies for the prevention of thrombosis.

Dr. Behan described two new 'best in class' molecules in development - an oral prostacyclin receptor agonist for vascular disease and a serotonin 5HT2A receptor inverse agonist for thrombotic diseases - that have resulted from the collaboration with Prof. Gibbins.

The verdict from Dr. Behan was collaboration with the University of Reading was 'invaluable and pivotal' in driving progress in R&D.

Second to present was Prof Glenn Gibson who was standing in for Graham Waters, CEO Clasado Biosciences, a company pioneering the development of prebiotics - substrates for promoting growth of good bacteria in the gut - and the management of gut-related health disorders.

Prof Gibson highlighted that Bimuno was the result of intensive research and development dating back to 2000, conducted in collaboration with the University of Reading's Food Microbial Sciences Unit and other globally-recognised research institutes. The product has featured as an impact case study as an example of how the collaboration has delivered economic as well as health benefits to society.

Bimuno has earned global accolades and publicity including being endorsed as an official travel industry partner of ABTA, the travel association, and used by British Global Travel Health Association, Trialfinders, and travel clinics through the UK. Oxfam has also given Bimuno to volunteers on humanitarian missions to help prevent travellers' diarrhoea and is recommended by nutritionists for England Rugby Squad, England Cricket and the Chelsea Football Club team.

The impact continues to grow and this year Bimuno will be launched in China. What a great outcome from the collaboration between Clasado and the University of Reading.

Speaking next was Dr Ajay Luthra, CEO BioInteractions, a company that develops advanced and specialised coatings for devices used in medical treatments and procedures such as instruments and implants.


Dr Luthra spoke about how his company which is based at the University of Reading's Science & Technology Centre has also engaged with the University through the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) scheme.

Dr Luthra highlighted the company's first KTP that enabled BioInteractions to develop new and innovative technologies working with, among other, Dr John McKendrick, which have enhanced BioInteractions product portfolio and enabled the company to file patent applications and in the process increase the potential for new licensing opportunities.

'KTP is a fantastic way to build collaborations and value for both the company and the University' said Dr Luthra. The advice he would give an SME is 'the University is well positioned to help develop products and give advice'.

Bringing something completely different to the forum was Colin Hill, Managing Director of Valley Produce, a grower of herbs and speciality Chinese vegetable crops in the UK and overseas.

Colin shared the experience of working with food scientists at the University through a KTP developing innovative new herb products that taste better, had longer shelf life and improved colour that would help Valley Produce become more sustainable in the future. He went to say that being granted a KTP was 'too exciting, too good and too much of an opportunity to miss'. Commenting further, Colin said 'the experience has been amazing', 'we are very fortunate to have the University on hand, very friendly and helpful.

Colin highlighted that having a strategy for what you want to achieve from a partnership with the University is key.

In closing, Colin said his advice would be 'I recommend that you (SME) get involved with the University'.

The final speaker was Dr Al Edwards, Associate Professor of Biomedical Technology and Director and Co-Founder of Capillary Film Technology (CFT), a company developing the next generation of lateral flow technology that allows rapid, fully quantitative multiplex immunoassays for point-of-care use in health.

Based at the University of Reading's School of Pharmacy, Dr Edwards spoke of the close collaboration with the University. The recipient of a £1m SBRI grant in 2015, Dr Edwards described how with the help of the University CFT is developing a rapid acute coronary syndrome (heart attack) test of A&E.

Dr Edwards picked out several areas where he has collaborated and worked closely with the University. Expanding beyond the obvious area of R&D, Dr Edwards said 'the one area which might suprise you is Business Development where we have received help in a number of ways from the University, especially in identifying and obtaining a deep understanding of needs and to do this is to have access to a wide range of experts, including clinicians'. Dr Edwards also identified assistance with market research saying 'we used a pharmacy student during his internship to carry out basic market research and of course here in the business school we can also use MBA students to do more sophisticated studies including prepare a business case'.

The presentations were followed by a buoyant and engaging Q&A.

In the opening of the Q&A, Jurek Sikorski picked out three highlights from the presentations;

First, these collaborations are evidence of how SMEs are benefitting from working with a University and how collaborations are making a positive impact on the economy, as was highlighted by Sir Andrew Witty in his October 2013 review of Universities and Business 

Importantly, the recommendations of that review focused on positioning economic development as the 'third mission' for Universities, alongside teaching and research, and for many delivering the third mission by drawing on our research and teaching strengths and collaboration is the way to go.

Second, 'Health & Food' is a key area for collaboration where on one hand the University of Reading affords world class research and on the other, the area represents both a growing worldwide challenge and a massive opportunity which can only be effectively addressed by collaboration... between academia, industry and government.

Third, the future is extremely exciting with the prospect of many more collaborations with SMEs.

The University is well placed to aid the transformation of the Thames Valley's economy driven by the very same philosophy underpinning the findings of the Witty Review... our investment in life sciences (that includes everything from chemistry to food & nutritional sciences to pharmaceuticals), knowledge and expertise combined with our 'working with business' agenda the University is confident in delivering the transformation.

The economic development is poised to grow with the University's considerable investment in the Thames Valley Science Park which will see more collaboration and enhance the Thames Valley's reputation as a centre for excellence in health and food and drive economic growth across the region.

During the Q&A, Dr Susan Matos, Head of the University's Knowledge Transfer Centre spoke about the role the KTC plays by providing the 'front door' for SMEs interested in engaging with the University and how the University is being proactive in angaging with companies under the umbrella of the 'Working with Business' initiative. The aim is to make it far easier for SMEs to engage with the University by providing a clear point of contact plus ongoing support in developing relationships with academics and other teams across the University.

Further information about how the KTC works to support SMEs can be found here

Susan also described how the Knowledge Transfer Partnership Programme has been at the centre of the University's engagement with Industry. The KTP Programme is funded by the UK government and has helped hundreds of SMEs benefit directly by working with an academic team and engaging a graduate to work on projects of strategic importance to business.

Richard Ellis summarised the SME Forum by stressing the importance of collaborative academic-industry research and development in health and food for a wide range of human benefits, such as wellbeing, rather than just patient benefits alone.

Richard noted that weight control, reducing waste, developing new products, as well as drug development are key areas for collaboration and praised the high value of partnerships, particularly the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships supported by the Knowledge Transfer Centre at the University.

He also highlighted the tremendous human capital available within the University with high calibre graduates as a source of high-quality staff for local employers' future workshops.

In concluding, Richard reinforced the fact that University of Reading staff conduct world-class research, from basic research to applied development, with some great experts who are people who enjoy talking, sharing their wisdom, and lateral thinking. He reminded the audience that research doesn't always have positive results, but that negative results can lead to a better, successful, idea with lots of unexpected benefits. Moreover, the University of Reading can play a dual role as both a landlord for laboratory and/or office facilities and also a collaborator in research and the development of new products. Closing, Richard recognised the University must remember the importance of the 'front door' for SMEs because the first point of call is very important in enabling the University to qualify the problem and refer SMEs to the right group of staff.

The audience provided positive feedback from the evening:

Tim Mustill, Astrocyte 'Learnt a huge amount about how UoR can help local SMEs..'

Emma Ladley, Osbourne Clarke 'Very interesting to hear about the different insights into collaboration'

Marc Charron, Traxeus 'Learnt a great deal more about how the UoR works with industry'

We thank all those delegates who attended the SME Forum and shared their insights and views.

Follow on events are planned so keep an eye out for future announcement, or get in contact.


Jurek Sikorski
Business Development Lead & Executive in Residence, Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship

Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship
Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship is part of Henley Business School at the University of Reading which provides a hub for teaching and research in the subject, inspiring students from across the University to embrace, develop and apply their entrepreneurial abilities.
W: /research/research-centres/henley-centre-for-entrepreneurship/

 The University has established the Knowledge Transfer Centre at the University as the single point of contact to make it straight forward for SMEs to get in touch with the University.

Owen Lloyd
Business Relationships Manager

Knowledge Transfer Centre
The Knowledge Transfer Centre at the University of Reading has been responsible for promoting and managing transfer activities between industry (including charities and not for profit organisations) and academics since 1994, and to date has supported over 200 partnerships



Professor Richard Ellis
Dean, Life Sciences
Acting Dean, Science


Ed CooperDirector, Thames Valley Berkshire Business Growth Hub

Thames Valley Berkshire Business Growth Hub
The Growth Hub offers a new way of working to Berkshire's high growth businesses. Backed by Government it provides a single gateway for ambitious businesses who are seeking the information, guidance, support, expertise, finance, knowledge and experience they need to scale up and grow, boost performance and find new ways of working.


Dr Paul Durrands
Chef Operating Officer

Oxford Academic Science Network
The Oxford Academic Science Health Science Network brings together Universities, industry and the NHS to improve health and prosperity in the region through rapid clinical innovation adoption