Green light for Oxford spin-offs

March 20, 1998

OXFORD University has spawned two new companies, one focusing on new electronic display technologies, the other on developing treatments for brain diseases like Alzheimer's.

Display firm Opsys has been set up on the back of research by two Oxford scientists, Victor Christou and Oleg Salata, on light emitting chemicals that could be used to develop brighter, more efficient displays for laptop computers, flat screen television and mobile phones.

Dr Christou, leader of a research project at the university's inorganic chemistry laboratory, has designed new light emitting molecules while Dr Salata of the university's engineering department has been producing prototype displays that use the new molecules. "What makes these compounds particularly attractive is their flexibility. Their properties can be tuned to meet the needs of different display technologies," Dr Christou said.

Michael Holmes, managing director of Opsys, said the market for information displays is already worth tens of billions of dollars and is growing faster than any other segment of the electronics industry. "The thirst for information in the 21st century will be such that electronic displays of higher and higher resolution will appear on more and more applications, not just televisions and computers, but on videophones, dashboards in cars, advertising hoardings and sales machines."

Mr Holmes anticipates that initial backing of Opsys by a City financier will carry the firm through until the third quarter of the year when further external funding of up to Pounds 1 million will be sought to enable expansion. "We are confident of getting the extra funds. The two lead scientists are acting as consultants to the firm, which is also supporting three university researchers," he said.

Equity in the company is split between the various partners - Mr Holmes, Dr Salata and Dr Christou and the university.

Synaptica, the other spin-off firm, will aim to commercialise the work of two university scientists on brain diseases. Susan Greenfield of the university's pharmacology department, and David Vaux, based at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, are hoping to establish the biochemical causes of neurological degeneration in such diseases as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The work could lead to drugs to block the destruction of vulnerable brain cells. Professor Greenfield said projections indicate more than 14 million people in the United States alone may suffer from Alzheimer's disease by 2050. She said: "These figures emphasise the humanitarian, as well as economic urgency, of devising effective treatments."

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