14 Oct 2007   |   News

7 commercialisation opportunities from Oxford University

7 Commercialisation opportunities

ISIS Innovation, the University of Oxford’s technology transfer office has announced seven new opportunities for investment into commercialising new technologies. 

  1. Improved Heating Control in Buildings
  2. Molecular Shape Recognition
  3. Acquisition of images of moving organs
  4. Molecular imaging agents for diagnosis of cancer and other diseases
  5. Secure financial transactions
  6. Targeted Drug Delivery
  7. Optimising resource allocation in portfolio management

1. Improved Heating Control in Buildings

A joint initiative between Oxford University and BRE

A new model-based algorithm for building heating control automation has been developed which delivers energy efficiency while maintaining internal comfort.

Market Opportunity

Reducing energy consumption is one of the most obvious ways of saving money and reducing the impact on the environment. However there are many existing, medium sized heating installations that are only part way through their life but are relatively poorly controlled. As a result, many buildings managers struggle to satisfy the challenges of cutting heating costs and at the same time maintaining a comfortable environment for the occupants. This problem is made far more difficult in buildings with multiple zones that have complex heat inputs and outputs.

The Oxford and Buildings Research Establishment (BRE) Invention

A new model-based predictive boiler controller has been successfully commissioned and tested by BRE and Oxford University. The controller uses an advanced mathematical model to predict the average temperature inside the building and find the optimal supply water temperature.  It uses a novel dual-loop control strategy that is currently the subject of a patent application. It requires no permanent measurement of the air (room) temperatures inside the building and reduces the energy consumed by the boiler without any associated loss in thermal comfort. The improved heating control is easily retrofitted to existing heating systems and can be commissioned over a short period of time.

  • Saves Energy (initial results show between 10% to 30%)
  • Simple ‘boiler room’ solution that delivers greatest savings on poorly controlled systems
  • Relatively simple to install and easily commissioned
  • Provides for a comfortable building environment
  • Approach could be adapted to control chillers/air-conditioning systems

Patent Status

This work is the subject of a patent application, and isis and BRE would like to talk to companies interested in commercialising this technology.

2. Molecular Shape Recognition

Molecular Shape Recognition is a new method for searching a molecular database for compounds that most closely resemble the shape of a molecule of known activity.

Marketing Opportunity

Identifying drug candidates is expensive, slow and ineffective.  Increasingly, virtual screening is used to identify molecules likely to have beneficial biological properties.  Indeed, it is widely believed that molecular shape is one of the best indicators of biological activity, which has been already demonstrated by recent studies. Hence, the ability to efficiently search a molecular database for compounds that most closely resemble the shape of a molecule of known activity is highly advantageous. Most methods calculate shape similarity by superposing the molecules to quantify their overlap. This requires an optimal alignment of the molecules, which is computationally expensive and may lead to sub-optimal molecular overlap.  Furthermore, the increasing size of molecular databases poses a serious limitation to the use of shape comparison methods.

The Oxford Invention

Ultrafast Shape Recognition (USR) has been developed by scientists at Oxford University. Molecular shape is characterised by a set of 1D distributions of inter-atom distances, which retains 3D shape information.  This eliminates any need for alignment or translation, as these distributions are independent of orientation or position.  Such innovation also improves efficiency, making USR around 2000x faster than commercially available methods.

Commercialisation Status

USR software is ready to be implemented as a molecular shape comparison product. The underlying technology is the subject of a US Patent Application.

3. Acquisition of images of moving organs

Isis Innovation, the technology transfer company of the University of Oxford, releases a new method for the acquisition of medical images of moving organs.

Marketing Opportunity

Worldwide over 1 million people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer annually, with a great proportion developing metastatic liver disease requiring follow up with abdominal Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).  Radiographers and Radiologists have raised breathing artefacts as a major issue in accurate diagnosis and estimation of tumour volumes.  With current methods, in 19% of cases at least 5% of the liver is missed.  Indeed, for lesions between 6 and 30mm in diameter, 3% are missed completely with a further 21% being incorrectly staged, leading to false diagnosis of disease progression or regression.

The Oxford Invention

Working closely with clinical staff, Oxford scientists have used their expertise to find a robust solution. When analysing an image that is reconstructed from a series of slices, for example the liver, the liver boundary is not smooth and the tumour seems to consist of multiple parts.  After application of the Oxford technology, the liver outline is much smoother and the tumour well represented by a spherical shape.  The technology significantly improves patient comfort by reducing scan duration and avoiding recalls. The improved quality and accuracy of the dataset provides meaningful estimation of tumour volumes for more precise chemotherapy dose calculation.  It is estimated that 25% of the annual 2 million abdominal MRI scans worldwide would benefit from this innovation.  The invention reached the Finals of the 2007 Medical Futures Innovation Awards and was also the subject of a recent paper in the European Journal of Radiology. 

It is planned to extend the technology to other organs and modalities.

Commercialisation Status

The underlying method is the subject of an International Patent Application and could be implemented on existing and new MRI systems.  Isis would like to talk to companies interested in developing the commercial opportunity.

4. Cancer diagnosis and therapy

New molecular imaging agents for diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases.

Marketing Opportunity

Medical imaging techniques are important diagnostic tools in the fight against cancer. State of the art imaging equipment is used to track the bio-distribution and uptake of chemical imaging agents. At present, these agents must incorporate radioactive atoms, making them costly to prepare and requiring expensive diagnostic equipment. In the future, cancer diagnosis and therapy will be achieved using ‘molecular imaging agents’ that do not include radioactive ‘tags’. These agents will benefit patients by:

  • Enhancing diagnostic clarity and reducing misdiagnoses by selectively targeting diseased tissues
  • Reducing the side effects associated with radioactive treatment regimes

  • Enabling determination of optimal dosing levels, which reduces side effects

The Oxford Invention

The preparation of a new series of molecular imaging agents is the subject of this Oxford invention. 

The Oxford Agents


  • Do not require radioactive ‘tags’ to enable diagnosis

  • Reduced side effects
  • Benefits over conventional radiotherapy treatments, which cannot discriminate between healthy and diseased tissues

  • Are selective towards tissues with low oxygen concentrations (e.g cancerous tumours)

  • Can be tuned to enable delivery to specific biological sites (e.g. by attachment of monoclonal antibodies)

  • Can be tracked using optical (fluorescent) probes

  • Diagnostic equipment costs are greatly reduced

  • Radionuclides can be incorporated to enable PET imaging

  • PET scanners are widely available

  • Diagnostic clarity is enhanced by the Oxford imaging agents

  • Have dual imaging and therapeutic applications

  • Enables tracking of disease progression during treatment

  • Are biocompatible, stable and highly soluble in biological media

  • Facilitates delivery to diseased tissues (e.g. intravenously)

Patent Status

The technology is the subject of a UK patent application and Isis would like to talk to companies interested in developing the commercial opportunity that this represents.

5. Secure financial transactions

A new generation of protocols enhance the security of card-present financial transactions and enable secure card-not-present transactions to occur via insecure communications networks.

Marketing Opportunity

Financial transactions involving credit and debit cards present several challenges, most notably ensuring that confidential information (e.g. bank account number, PIN, etc) cannot be acquired fraudulently by third parties. In 2004, global credit and debit card fraud resulted in losses of approximately $8 billion, rising by an estimated 13% per annum. The introduction of CHIP and PIN has severely curtailed card-present fraud (e.g. due to counterfeiting, loss, theft), however, increased use of the Internet has led to significant growth in card-not-present (CNP) fraud. Evidently, protocols that provide a robust and ultimately secure means of performing financial transactions in a range of circumstances are of great economic importance.

The Oxford Invention

The Oxford Invention provides a unique method of ensuring the security of financial transactions. The protocol includes two main components; first, a means by which either party involved in the transaction can authenticate their identities to the other, and second, a method for achieving secure communications. This procedure, which represents a bespoke variant of a protocol (HCBK) developed by the Oxford Inventor, can achieve an exceptional level of security in highly efficient manner (cryptographically) and via a user-friendly interface. Further advantages of this method are that it:

  • Extends CHIP and PIN methodology to Internet/CNP transactions

  • Enhances the security of card-present transactions

  • Avoids the need to give the merchant the customer’s card number and PIN
  • Affords unprecedented security of transactions on insecure networks (vital in ubiquitous applications)

  • Is immune to man-in-the-middle and combinatorial attacks

  • Does not require public key infra-structure (PKI) for security

Patent Status

This technology is the subject of an international patent application, and Isis would like to talk to companies interested in developing the commercial opportunity that this represents.

6. Targeted Drug Delivery

Sugars deliver a highly selective enzyme-activated prodrug therapy - an exciting new approach to drug targeting.

Targeted drug delivery is a well-known approach that can:

  • Reduce dose size

  • Reduce side effects

  • Improve efficiency

Antibodies, catalytic antibodies and gene targeting have all been developed for this purpose but the application of these to the generic delivery of small molecules:

  • Can be difficult

  • Can depend on the creation of novel epitope-antibody interactions.

The exploitation of pre-existing ligand-protein interactions however, provides a natural affinity that may be exploited as an alternative. The Oxford invention exploits the often highly specific interaction between natural sugar ligand and naturally occurring carbohydrate-binding proteins as a means to guiding drugs to pre-selected targets.

The Oxford Invention

Researchers at the University, by exploiting the amazing selectivity of sugars, have developed a 2-part drug delivery system that works in the following manner:

  • First, an enzyme is selectively delivered to a specific biological target by sugar species engineered to appear on the surface of the enzyme – the sugar acts like a post-code sending the enzyme to the chosen location.

  • Secondly, this enzyme cleaves a protective sugar cap from a pro-drug, releasing the active drug to act where it’s needed. 

The therapeutic effectiveness of this approach has been demonstrated in an in vivo liver cancer model.  The enzyme a-L-rhamnopyranosidase was specifically engineered to display many galactose sugars on the enzyme’s surface, and this targeted the enzyme to the surface of liver cell hepatocytes.  The enzyme then acted to remove a rhamnose sugar cap from the well-known cytotoxic drug doxorubicin with impressive results on tumour burden. 

7.  Optimising resource allocation in portfolio management

A new software package incorporates sophisticated economic modelling to determine optimal resource allocation during preclinical pharmaceutical research.

Marketing Opportunity

Strategic management of pharmaceutical research and development is vital for delivering therapies to market faster and more profitably. In 2006, the average time to market for a new drug was between 10 to 15 years, at an average cost of more than £600m. Accelerating drug development, even by a matter of weeks, not only provides financial gains through increased market share and reduced development costs but also reduces the waiting time of patients for new and possibly life-changing therapies. The challenge faced by all research-based pharmaceutical companies is to identify routes that will provide optimal return on investment across a portfolio of research projects and with finite resources. As companies strive to achieve top-line and bottom-line growth through the refinement of project management procedures, tools that enable quantitative comparison of the economic merits of competing strategies will be of increasing importance. The requirement for tools that improve the profitability of resource allocation in preclinical pharmaceutical research is addressed by the Oxford invention.

The Oxford Invention

The OPRRA software package is one of the major achievements of over thirty years of research and development in Oxford towards stochastic methods and software for compound selection and resource allocation in pharmaceutical research. OPRRA incorporates both decision analysis and economic modelling, thereby providing a more sophisticated tool than is presently available for optimising the profitability of resource allocation in preclinical research. OPRRA has been designed with the end-user in mind and can be accessed via a user-friendly graphical interface. Critically, the mathematical rigour that has been applied in the development of the software, together with sound modelling assumptions based on extensive research of project and resource management in the pharmaceutical industry, ensures the confidence of end-users in the practical relevance of the OPRRA outputs.

Commercial Opportunity

Isis would like to talk to companies interested in evaluating this unique software.

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