Will White Rose blossom?

November 21, 1997

THREE rival universities in Yorkshire have joined forces to exploit blue skies biotechnology research worth Pounds 40 million annually.

The White Rose Biotechnology Consortium has been formed by the universities of Leeds, York and Sheffield to attract venture capital investment into the north ofEngland.

The aim is to create a cluster of companies working in areas as diverse as cancer therapy and ecosystems.

Jonathan Betts, biotechnology exploitation manager at Leeds University, said academics were enthusiastic about the consortium and several business plans were already being drawn up in the fields of gene therapy and drug delivery.

"Academics have a lot of ideas and many have links with industry, but they tend not to think along the lines of market potential," Dr Betts said.

"What we have to consider is whether the public will buy the products."

There was also much to learn about intellectual property. "Academics tend not to be aware of the risks they may be taking with their own patents, even by recording the results of their research in notebooks," he said.

A research audit is being conducted in the three universities to establish the commercial potential of basic research already under way. A grant of Pounds 250,000 has been secured from the Department of Trade and Industry to support market research, patenting and business planning.

Raju Sakaria, exploitation manager at York, said research at the university's Cancer Research Institute into the link between papilloma virus and cervical cancer could result in a commercial gene therapy to combat the disease. And a pharmaceutical company has already acquired cell lines from the university that could to be used in prostate cancer screening.

Nick Gostick, the exploitation manager at Sheffield University, stressed the contribution that biotechnology could make towards the regeneration of a city such as Sheffield that has been badly damaged by the decline of the coal and steel industries.

"The consortium has ambitious plans because we firmly believe biotechnology is a significant wealth and employment creator," he said.

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