Taking technology from the lab to the marketplace
Enterprise Ireland offers funding of up to €500,000 for researchers seeking to commercialise their projects
The Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund programme builds on other State supports with the ultimate aim of creating high-growth spin-out companies. Photograph: iStock
Each year, the Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund programme supports the development of up to 45 different research projects to the point where they can be commercialised as new products, services and companies. “The aim is to bring the projects along the last mile of the commercialisation journey,” says Kevin Burke, director of ICT Commercialisation with Enterprise Ireland.
“We provide a mechanism through which researchers can transform their ideas into commercially relevant businesses. We help them bring commercially relevant technology out of the lab and into the marketplace. We also assist them to take the project or innovation to a point that they will be able to de-risk it, go to market and seek funding and investment.”
The programme has been run by Enterprise Ireland for the past decade, according to Burke. “We fund projects from most third-level institutions in the country and across all technology sectors including medtech, life sciences, software, engineering, energy and so on,” he says. “We cover a broad spread of technologies and a wide geographic spread as well.”
The programme builds on other State supports with the ultimate aim of creating high-growth spin-out companies. “We are particularly interested in projects with a strong science base and which are tackling problems using deep knowledge and IP protected by the technology transfer offices in the third-level institutions – this creates good defensibility for the innovations.”
The funding available from the project helps put strong project teams together. “Initially, the research teams are made up of principal investigators and postdocs and so on,” he explains. “Team members get a very interesting opportunity to do applied research with the potential to create start-ups. They also work with Enterprise Ireland commercialisation specialists who are familiar with the challenges and opportunities associated with these projects. We provide a lot of financial and non-financial supports. We do it to contribute to the innovative enterprise base in Ireland. The new, innovative companies that emerge from the programme will hopefully become the established scalable companies of the future which will make a significant contribution to Ireland’s exports and employment.”
In August, Enterprise Ireland announced awards of more than €400,000 each to three projects through the commercialisation fund. The three projects, all of which are led by women, are in the broad life sciences sector.
StarMAT Technologies led by Prof Sally Ann Cryan of RCSI, has developed a versatile, polypeptide-based materials platform which can be used to overcome the delivery challenges associated with getting many emerging advanced biotherapeutics, including gene- and protein-based medicines, into clinical use. The technology can be tailored to deliver specific drug payloads and be integrated with medical devices when required to target specific tissues and cells.
Led by associate Prof Aisling Dunne of Trinity College Dublin, Adjuvenate is addressing the increase in the occurrence of whooping cough infections as a result of the inability of current vaccines to provide sustained immunity. Many vaccines employ adjuvants but there is a significant need to develop new, more effective adjuvants that enable the production of vaccines that elicit a sustained, lasting immune response.
The team has discovered and patented a new pertussis-vaccine component and this novel protein has the potential to be a third generation standalone booster vaccine for the disease. The commercialisation fund will support the further development of this novel adjuvant, in the first instance to develop a new, improved whooping cough vaccine.
The third project is exploring the development of gene therapies for common retinal disorders. Led by Prof Jane Farrar of Trinity College Dublin, the team has developed a novel gene therapy aimed at treating the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness in the developed world. While there are several effective treatments for the wet form of AMD, there are no licensed medical therapies for dry AMD. The dry form of AMD represents more than 90 per cent of cases of AMD and affects approximately 150 million people globally.
The funding will support the initiation of key commercialisation activities and help the team finalise the target product profile, the clinical development plan and first-in-human study design.
“We have a pipeline of innovations which all start as research projects,” says Burke. “Sometimes they are based on a scientific breakthrough which offers a quantitative improvement in the performance of a technology. We look at problems that could solve and what customers it could serve. Sometimes it can be a really interesting product idea where there are high technical or regulatory barriers to market entry, and we can help the team overcome those barriers and attract new investors.”
Researchers interested in availing of commercialisation fund support have two routes open to them. “We put out three calls a year and they go through an external assessment before being approved for funding,” Burke explains.
“We also have an ongoing process which involves Enterprise Ireland commercialisation specialists working hand in hand to co-create and build projects with researchers and teams. These are selected one by one rather than in a batch from open calls. Projects could be anything from nine months in duration and €100,000 in value to three years and €500,000. We are continually looking for new and interesting research teams and projects, our door is always open to them.”