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Micra team at the FAE

Newsletter #1 2020

Programme news, investor news and events

Newsletter #2 2020

Special COVID-19 news update

UK businesses driving innovation and development will be helped through the coronavirus outbreak with a £1.25 billion government support package, the Chancellor announced today.

The Chancellor has announced a new £1.25 billion coronavirus package to protect firms driving innovation in UK. The package includes a £500 million investment fund for high-growth companies impacted by the crisis, made up of funding from government and the private sector SMEs focusing on research and development will also benefit from £750 million of grants and loans. 

Rishi Sunak said the targeted and tailored help would ensure firms in some of the most dynamic sectors of the UK economy – ranging from tech to life sciences – are protected through the crisis so they can continue to develop innovative new products and help power UK growth.

The comprehensive package includes a new £500 million loan scheme for high-growth firms, called the Future Fund, and £750 million of targeted support for small and medium sized businesses focusing on research and development.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, said:

“Britain is a global leader when it comes to innovation. Our start-ups and businesses driving research and development are one of our great economic strengths, and will help power our growth out of the coronavirus crisis.

This new, world-leading fund will mean they can access the capital they need at this difficult time, ensuring dynamic, fast-growing firms across all sectors will be able to continue to create new ideas and spread prosperity.”

Alok Sharma, Business Secretary, said:

“The UK is a world leader in innovation and at this hugely challenging time, we know that young, fast-growing firms require tailored support to see them through.

This wide-ranging package delivers important help that will protect some of the most dynamic sectors of our economy.”

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, said:

“We are the tech and creative capital of Europe, and it’s crucial to maintain our place. This funding will protect high growth businesses and enable the unicorns of tomorrow to thrive so that tech is in pole position to drive our post COVID recovery.”

Overview

The £500 million Future Fund has been designed to ensure high-growth companies across the UK receive the investment they need to continue during the crisis.

Delivered in partnership with the British Business Bank and launching in May, the fund will provide UK-based companies with between £125,000 and £5 million from the government, with private investors at least matching the government commitment. These loans will automatically convert into equity on the company’s next qualifying funding round, or at the end of the loan if they are not repaid. To be eligible, a business must be an unlisted UK registered company that has previously raised at least £250,000 in equity investment from third party investors in the last five years.

The government is committing an initial £250 million in funding towards the scheme, which will initially be open until the end of September. The scale of the fund will be kept under review.

The £750 million of targeted support for the most R&D intensive small and medium size firms will be available through Innovate UK’s grants and loan scheme.

Innovate UK, the national innovation agency, will accelerate up to £200 million of grant and loan payments for its 2,500 existing Innovate UK customers on an opt-in basis. An extra £550 million will also be made available to increase support for existing customers and £175,000 of support will be offered to around 1,200 firms not currently in receipt of Innovate UK funding. The first payments will be made by mid-May.

This package builds on the government’s existing support for innovative, high-growth firms including the £2.5 billion British Patient Capital fund, the upcoming £200 million Life Sciences Investment Programme, internationally competitive R&D tax reliefs and major commitments to increase public R&D spending to £22 billion by 2024-25.

Further information

The £500 million Future Fund is comprised of £250 million from government combined with equal match funding from private investors. Further detail on eligibility criteria and fund operation will be published in due course. MICRA will advertise these once they become available.

A simple, low-cost Bag Valve Mask (BVM) ventilator to help critically-ill COVID-19 patients has been rapidly designed by experts at MICRA partner institution Cranfield University (UK), and built in Georgia Tech (USA) in a matter of days.

The makeshift ventilator can serve two patients simultaneously and due to its flat-pack design can be quickly manufactured at scale, costing less than £75 ($100) per unit. The ventilator can be adjusted easily and updated as needed, and can be linked to an oxygen generator, positive end expiratory pressure (PEEP) valves and filters. Power comes from standard wall adapters or 12-volt vehicle batteries. The research team intends to make plans for the device to be available to manufacturers as quickly as possible.

Design serves two patients at once

The BVMs are designed to be used by people with training to use these devices such as medical staff, first aiders, nurses, doctors and carers, as a temporary or emergency breathing aid for those suffering with COVID-19.

The ventilator device works with ‘positive displacement’, forcing air into the patient’s lungs. This process must be controlled to ensure the right amount of air goes in, at the right rhythmic pace – something called the ‘tidal volume’. Though each emergency ventilator can serve two patients simultaneously, their air flow is separate to avoid cross-contamination and flow volumes can be controlled independently.

Easy to manufacture and assemble flat-pack design

Professor Leon Williams is head of the Centre for Competitive Creative Design (C4D) at Cranfield University and joined forces with Associate Professor Shannon Yee from Georgia Tech to rapidly design and build the low-cost and robust makeshift ventilator.

Professor Williams says: “We focused on creating something that can be mass-produced using water-jet or laser cutting, and modular in design to make it easy to assemble and switch out parts. Within five days of getting the brief, an initial design from the Cranfield team was sent to Georgia Tech to test.”

Shannon Yee said: “Our goal was to provide the bare essentials for a ventilator to help with patients who have COVID-19 or acute respiratory distress syndrome. What’s unique about our design is that we have two BVMs per ventilator, which allows two people to breathe with each device that is built. We designed the ventilator to be simple to make, cut from sheets of steel. Kits can be assembled and packaged flat for shipping, then reassembled where needed. The manufacturing requires skills that are readily available, and hand tools could even be used.”

Professor Williams continues: “We have paid special attention to the requirements of medical specialists to ensure the system is fit for purpose. For example, ensuring that the operator can manually adjust the tidal volume to safeguard the patient, maintaining the lowest pressure possible in the airway to avoid trauma.”

A small batch of the devices has already been assembled for testing.

With the Covid-19 public health emergency creating a challenging operating environment for many smaller and emerging businesses, MICRA partner institution Cranfield; are stepping in to provide advice and training online.

 Cranfield University’s Business Growth Programme (BGP) is offering free virtual workshops and drop-in clinics with business counsellors to help SMEs triage and stabilise their organisations. The programme has been reshaped and launched online as the BGP Response Programme to support SMEs, offering structure and guidance during this critical time.

Triage, Stabilise and Bounce Back

Underpinned by academic expertise and tried-and-tested business development resources, the BGP Response Programme has three stages. SMEs are able to take any elements of the course:

Triage – immediate support and advice to help SMEs survive (free)

Delivered via virtual workshops from early April, with mentoring and networking. Gain an understanding of how long your business can survive, and carefully evaluate your options. With support and structure, learn how to prioritise what to do first.

Stabilise – regaining control of the business direction (free and paid for)

Online informal drop-in clinics with business counsellors, many of whom are programme alumni and a series of masterclasses helping to gain vital skills to stabilise the business. Start to get back control and implement a routine and structure to help you lead your team out of this crisis.

Bounce Back – embracing the new normal and learning to adapt the business strategy. How to bounce back and develop the business in the new environment (paid for).

Masterclasses include advice on how to access government support, HR and staffing issues, group work, business plan development and reviews, with mentoring from experts and experienced business owners. Embrace the new normal and learn how to improve performance again.

All phases are supported by free, timely webinars about relevant topics, and discussions with experts and fellow SMEs.

Responsive programme will help businesses recover

The Business Growth Programme is focused on turning new knowledge into actions for businesses. Stephanie Hussels, Director of the Business Growth Programme at Cranfield University, says, “In these uncertain and turbulent times, we want to help SME owners to regain focus and structure, make informed decisions and give them confidence that they can rebuild their business. Our programme is responsive and will evolve as the current climate changes, giving businesses the practical tools and support they need to recover from this crisis. For the BGP Team it is important to let SMEs know: We are in this together.”

The LinkedIn support group “BGP Response Team” has been established allowing past participants of the BGP Programme and other SMEs to tap into the Cranfield BGP community. The aim is to become the hub for critical information every business owner needs to know, and to enable peer-to-peer interactions.

About the Business Growth Programme

Cranfield’s Business Growth Programme is the UK’s longest running programme for owner-managers, and in over 30 years has helped more than 2,500 businesses. Hotel Chocolat, Cobra Beer, Go Ape and Thatchers Cider are the companies of some of the alumni from the programme.

The programme is aimed at owner-managers of businesses that have been in operation for three or more years, with a staff of 5 to 50, and a turnover between £1 million and £30 million.

Scheduled sessions can be seen here.

Interest can be registered here.

06-04-2020
Verdel Instruments Limited (Verdel) has recently announced the close of its £1 million equity funding round from Longwall Ventures.

Verdel is a UK-based company pushing the boundaries of complex sample analysis using innovative Two-Dimensional Mass Spectrometry (2DMS) technology. The approach was originally developed for large, complex FT-ICR instruments, but Verdel has developed technology that transfers the technique onto commonly used, high throughput linear ion trap instruments. Verdel’s technology is based on research by Professor Peter O’Connor at the University of Warwick.

The technology is platform agnostic meaning it can be applied across a wide range of linear ion trap, Q-ToF, and Quadrupole-containing instruments from all leading suppliers. The company is also developing its own instrument tailor made for high speed and high performance 2DMS analysis.

The funds raised in this round will enable Verdel to provide an analytical service lab for validation of the technology and begin sales of modified 2DMS capable instruments.

Robert Burch, CEO of Verdel said: “2DMS is a key enabling technology that will bring true Data Independent Acquisition (DIA) into routine use in the lab. The key differentiator of the technology is its ability to unambiguously correlate each precursor ion with its fragments, which enables rapid and accurate molecule characterisation for complex samples. Data sets which currently take hours to days to analyse can now be processed in a few minutes. We expect this to be a game changer across the multitude of applications that routinely use Mass Spectrometry for analysing complex samples.”
Within the linear ion trap, the position of the analyte ions are modulated in and out of a ‘fragmentation zone’ created by a laser or electron beam. Fourier transform of the 2DMS data then relates each fragment ion to its respective precursor analyte ion, providing users with structural information on all the analytes present in the sample, without missing lower abundance analytes. The inherent correlation of precursor ions and their fragments enables rapid and accurate characterisation.
A key benefit of 2DMS is that because the fragmentation of all ions is conducted simultaneously; all molecules are studied in parallel, not one by one like conventional tandem MS. This means truly data independent acquisition is achievable which is not limited by quadrupole isolation performance and overcomes contaminated tandem MS spectra.

David Denny, Partner at Longwall Ventures added: “We are delighted to be backing a strong team with such a novel, disruptive approach. Access to the technology will be made available through a service laboratory and sales of modified instrument.”

Dr Shum Prakash, Business Development Manager at Warwick Ventures commented: “The combination of Warwick’s intellectual property, Verdel’s expertise and Longwall Ventures’ track record in scaling high-growth instrumentation businesses will enable 2DMS to deliver significant benefits for users in industry.”

ENDS

About Verdel Instruments Limited
Verdel Instruments Limited is a UK-based company pushing the boundaries of Data Independent Acquisition (DIA) through the application of Two-Dimensional Mass Spectrometry (2DMS) techniques. Verdel’s goal is to develop, manufacture and sell optimised 2DMS instruments to end-users such as major players in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and environmental industries. www.verdelinstruments.co.uk

About Longwall Ventures
Longwall Venture Partners LLP is a venture capital firm investing in innovative, UK-based, early stage companies in the healthcare, science and engineering sectors. Based on the Harwell Campus, located just south of Oxford, Longwall manages three funds: the £30m Oxford Technology ECF, the £40m Longwall Ventures ECF and the £75m Longwall Ventures 3 ECF, which it is currently investing. The Longwall portfolio comprises companies in a range of sectors including scientific instrumentation, next generation sequencing, next generation PV, cancer diagnostics and drug delivery systems, digital health, satellite robotics, IoT security, radar and organ perfusion. Longwall Venture Partners LLP is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. www.longwallventures.com

About Warwick Ventures
Warwick Ventures commercialises innovations produced from world-leading research at the University of Warwick. They offer advice and services to the University’s innovators, to support them throughout the process of generating impact and a commercial return from their research, whilst they maintain their academic focus.
Warwick Ventures works closely with industry. Their specialist commercialisation managers provide businesses and investors access to the best of the University’s Intellectual Property. They support technology development, license IP and create spin-out companies that retain close ties to the University’s expertise.

MICRA is pleased to hear that the Government and the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser have backed the UK’s leading clinicians and scientists, including teams from our partners the Universities of Nottingham and Birmingham, to map how COVID-19 spreads and behaves by using whole genome sequencing.

Through a £20 million investment, the consortium will look for breakthroughs that help the UK respond to this and future pandemics, and save lives.

COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium – comprised of the NHS, Public Health Agencies, Wellcome Sanger Institute, and numerous academic institutions, will deliver large scale, rapid sequencing of the cause of the disease and share intelligence with hospitals, regional NHS centres and the Government.

Birmingham and Nottingham join the £20million consortium because of their substantial world leading strengths in fields relevant to the success of the project. These strengths have been recognised previously with funding provided to grow and enhance Nottingham’s DeepSeq facility, and grants to Birmingham to support the CLIMB project (which will run until at least 2024) and the Wellcome funded ARCTIC project which aims to put “genetics at the heart of outbreak response”. Enabling the region’s bio and medical science prowess to stand at the forefront of finding a lasting response to the pandemic.

Samples from patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be sent to a network of sequencing centres including Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford and Sheffield.

Professor Matthew Loose, Academic Lead for DeepSeq, School of Life Sciences, the University of Nottingham: “At DeepSeq we have access to rapid turnaround sequencing technology and a dedicated, experienced and committed team. We are grateful for the opportunity to contribute our time, experience, equipment and knowledge to support global efforts to better understand and track SARS-CoV-2. I am particularly grateful to the team in DeepSeq who are facilitating this work and the support we have received from our University community.”

Whilst the University of Birmingham’s Nick Loman, Professor of Microbial Genomics and Bioinformatics at the Institute of Microbiology and Infection says: “This is a remarkable collaboration which brings together Birmingham and the UK’s incredible depth of expertise and knowledge in viral sequencing and genomics. An open and distributed model of sequencing involving both academia, the NHS and our public health bodies is the right way to ensure results are delivered quickly to decision-makers. We are now well positioned to return deep insights into understanding the rapidly-accelerating pandemic of COVID-19, easily the most pressing infectious disease emergency we have faced in two generations in the UK.

“The government’s investment is well-timed to accelerate the pace of viral genome sequence production and ensure this information is openly available to epidemiologists and virologists worldwide. This will provide an unprecedented real-time view of COVID-19 virus evolution.”

Loman’s team has deployed a real-time genome sequencing facility established at the University capable of sequencing genomes of the virus causing COVID-19 from patients in the West Midlands in less than 24 hours.

Professor Richard Emes Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, said: “We are proud to join this national partnership to track how the SARS-CoV-2 virus has affected the UK. The University of Nottingham has built an international reputation for genome sequencing at the DeepSeq facility at University of Nottingham and we are pleased to be able to support this initiative to generate and disseminate genomic information essential to better understand and combat this pandemic”.

Whilst at Birmingham Dr Josh Quick, a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow in the Institute of Microbiology says: “Based on previous experiences with Ebola and Zika virus we were able to rapidly develop an approach to sequencing the COVID-19 virus rapidly using a targeted method. The importance of this method is that it works well even when only miniscule amounts of virus are present in the sample, something we commonly see. It has been used to generate the first genomes from countries including Brazil, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with nanopore sequencing and we have helped over 50 groups in over 20 countries establish genome sequencing capabilities in their own labs.”

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “At a critical moment in history, this new consortium will bring together the UK’s brightest and best scientists to build our understanding of this pandemic, tackle the disease and ultimately, save lives.

“As a Government we are working tirelessly to do all we can to fight COVID-19 to protect as many lives and save as many jobs as possible.”

Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said:“ Genomic sequencing will help us understand COVID-19 and its spread. It can also help guide treatments in the future and see the impact of interventions.

“The UK is one of the world’s leading destinations for genomics research and development, and I am confident that our best minds, working as part of this consortium, will make vital breakthroughs to help us tackle this disease.”

The UK Consortium, supported by the Government, including the NHS, Public Health England, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and Wellcome, will enable clinicians and public health teams to rapidly investigate clusters of cases in hospitals, care homes and the community, to understand how the virus is spread and implement appropriate infection control measures.

This investment and the findings from the consortium will help prepare the UK and the world for future pandemics

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