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Region's universities unite to boost regional economy

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Published on 04 April 2018

Connecting Capability Fund announced
Connecting Capability Fund announced

The North East’s universities are joining forces to commercialise research and boost the region’s economy after receiving £4.9m in Government funding. 

Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, announced the Connecting Capability Fund (CCF) award, made by Research England, that will see Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland universities working together to make a step change in delivering research to the market place and to develop entrepreneurship amongst their academics through an ideas impact hub and associated proof of concept support.

The newly announced project also aims to establish an ongoing North East University Investment Fund (NEUIF) to support research based spin-out companies in the region long-term after the CCF funding comes to an end.

Shirley Atkinson, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sunderland, commented: “We know that universities are crucial to the fabric of the North East.

“The Connecting Capabilities Fund will enable us to galvanise the collaboration that exists between our institutions around the commercialisation of research and ensure that our universities are delivering societal and economic impact to our region and beyond.”

It is hoped the project will build upon the current success of university spin-out companies, encouraging more start-ups and enhancing the region’s economy. 

The newly announced project will focus on four key areas of regional strength – advanced manufacturing, the chemicals and process sector, life sciences and healthcare and digital.

The project will support the ambitions for high skills job growth in these key sectors as identified by the strategic economic plans of both the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and Tees Valley Combined Authorities.

Examples of successful research commercialisation at all stages can be found across the partner universities. At the University of Sunderland researchers are establishing a company to further develop new drugs, including one to help treat the rare, life-threatening genetic condition Cystinosis, whilst at Northumbria University, in collaboration with Durham University, research is helping to develop better and more efficient displays in mobile phones. Meanwhile Kromek plc is a well-established Durham University spin-out company and Newcastle University’s new development Atelerix is the first spin-out from the existing Northern Accelerator project.

The Northern Accelerator project is chaired by a strategic advisory board made up of leading figures from academia and business and Durham University is the lead institution.

Roy Sandbach OBE, Chair of the Northern Accelerator Strategic Advisory Board, said: “Our North East universities do world-class research not just for knowledge creation but to deliver national and regional economic prosperity and employment.

“This award supports a leading-edge approach to the engagement of academia with business expertise, providing start-up advice, development and long-term funding.

“It will be a game-changer for the North East’s economy and a vital contribution to the delivery of the regional strategic economic plans.”

Speaking about the announcement of CCF funding for the North East, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark said: “The North East has some of the most innovative people, businesses and organisations and I am determined to build on its success.

“Improving our ability to bring new innovations and products to market is crucial to the success of the UK economy and the new set of projects announced today will further strengthen the link between our world leading universities and businesses.

“Through our Industrial Strategy we are determined to improve people’s lives. By increasing investment in research and development by an extra £7 billion over the next five years we will ensure the UK remains one of the best places in the world to innovate, do business and create the high value, high skilled jobs of the future ensuring we build a Britain fit for the future.”

The CCF-funded Northern Accelerator project will run until 31 March 2021.

At University of Sunderland, Professor Roz Anderson is establishing a spin-out company to accelerate the development of new drugs developed with her team. Once fully established the new company plans to bring forward to the next stage of clinical trials a side-effect-free drug to treat Cystinosis – a rare, life-threatening genetic condition that causes lethal kidney failure before the age of 10 if untreated.

Past spin-outs from the University of Sunderland include Brewlab - a leading provider of training and analysis services for the international brewing industry. Based in purpose-built premises on Sunderland’s riverside, Brewlab is now trading successfully independent of the University.

 Across the region:

  • Kromek plc – a spin-out of Durham University’s Department of Physics, its products are used in security screening, medical imaging and nuclear detection. Based at NetPark, in Sedgefield, County Durham, Kromek employs over 50 people in North East England among a worldwide workforce of over 100.
  • Atelerix – a biotech spin-out of Newcastle University offering transformative technology for the storage and transport of viable cells at room temperature. Atelerix is based at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle and employs three people.
  • Research by Dr Valery Kozhevnikov at Northumbria University, in collaboration with Durham University, which is helping to develop better and more efficient displays in mobile phones. Since 2015 Dr Kozhevnikov’s team has been working closely with a large manufacturer to embed these in device screens

For more information about the Northern Accelerator project visit www.durham.ac.uk/northern.accelerator

For more information about the Connecting Capabilities Fund visit http://www.hefce.ac.uk/ke/ccf/