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Created spin-off company from UCPH discovery related to cancer research. Now sold to US biotech
A venture that was a result of University of Copenhagen (UCPH) protein research was sold for DKK 0.5bn earlier this year. Now the main UCPH researcher talks to the University Post about the project and the spin-offs from university research in general.
The company, Epitherapeutics, was sold to Gilead Sciences, an American biotech firm and was established on the basis of research made by Kristian Helin in his laboratory at the University of Copenhagen. Research that could ultimately lead to a new treatment for cancer.
Kristian Helin’s team at the Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC) discovered a new family of proteins with ‘enzymatic functions’. The discovery was published in Nature and offered the potential to revert the specific modifications on the so-called ‘histones’ that DNA is wrapped around. The modifications of histones provide an important regulatory mechanism for controlling cell proliferation, and changes can in some of the modifications lead to cancer.
“I believe, these types of processes are good for the university, as it creates visibility for UCPH, and it gives back to society with immediate impact in terms of job creation,”
“If we could find out how to inhibit activity of the proteins – we would potentially be able to stop cancer growth”, Kristian Helin explained to the University Post.
After a year of legal negotiations with investors, Kristian Helin and his colleagues at BRIC founded Epitherapeutics with the help of three seed funds.
“Now, people can’t say that we are sitting in an ivory tower. I believe, these types of processes are good for the university, as it creates visibility for UCPH, and it gives back to society with immediate impact in terms of job creation,” he says.
“The university could get a lot more out of [the creation of spin-offs, ed.] if it had the funds.”
When questioned about how the creation of spin-offs and the potential gain individuals can make from it might pose a threat to research independent of commercial interest, he responds that the structure is such that the university is involved in the whole process. For example it has to approve the hiring of new staff in the company. The issue of independence, is a question Helin takes seriously,
“The big risk is that we do innovation and not real research. If we for example start working on how to improve the lens of some camera, we have gone the wrong way,” he says to the University Post.
BRIC research is funded solely by foundations and not by industry.
UCPH has as a policy not to create companies themselves. To Helin the real question is whether the university is benefitting enough from the spin-offs.
“The university could get a lot more out of [the creation of spin-offs, ed.] if it had the funds to do so,” he says to the University Post.
The university owns the patent for the discovery and is being paid a patent lease from Gilead Sciences. But as the patent is from the very first research stages, “it is only a symbolic amount,” Kristian Helin says.
But nevertheless, “it has been a good experience, starting a company based on a discovery made in our lab,” he says.
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