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East’s science and tech firms commercialise groundbreaking research with £300m venture capital funding

The Tropic Biosciences team - From left to right: Dr Cristina Pignocchi, Dr Daniel Knevitt, Dr Eyal Maori, Gilad Gershon, Dr Yaron Galanty. Picture: New Anglia LEP

The Tropic Biosciences team - From left to right: Dr Cristina Pignocchi, Dr Daniel Knevitt, Dr Eyal Maori, Gilad Gershon, Dr Yaron Galanty. Picture: New Anglia LEP

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Almost £300m of venture capital (VC) investment in East of England businesses in the second quarter of 2018 is helping firms push ahead with cutting-edge projects.

Dr Alan Watt, chief executive and chief scientific officer at biotech firm NodThera, based in Little Chesterford. The company is among several in the East of England to have benefited from venture capital funding. Picture: Will Oakley/NodTheraDr Alan Watt, chief executive and chief scientific officer at biotech firm NodThera, based in Little Chesterford. The company is among several in the East of England to have benefited from venture capital funding. Picture: Will Oakley/NodThera

According to the Venture Pulse report by KPMG Enterprise, 22 VC investments totalling £291m were made in the region between April and June. The report revealed that finance and health technologies and artificial intelligence were seen as key investment priorities in the East.

Biotech firm NodThera, based in Little Chesterford near Saffron Walden, raised £28m to progress its research and development of treatments for diseases caused by chronic inflammation.

It has drawn funding from companies including Epidarex Capital and Sofinnova Partners.

Chief scientific officer Alan Watt said: “Venture money can be critical for startups since the adage that ideas are cheap is true, but it is the execution of the idea that costs money. For biotechs in particular the cost of doing business is relatively high, but the financial upside if a successful product is delivered can be substantial.”

Fellow biotech firm Tropic Biosciences, which is based at Norwich Research Park’s Innovation Centre, is developing new plant varieties in the tropical agriculture industry using gene editing.

It received £7.5m in a funding round led by Pontifax AgTech and Five Seasons Ventures, with the funds going towards commercialising its non-genetically modified coffee and banana varieties and helping its expansion into other promising crops.

Chief executive Gilad Gershon and chief science officer Dr Eyal Maori said at the time that they were aiming to “aid growers by bringing genetic innovation to crops and geographies that have seen little such innovation to date”.

Meanwhile Ipswich-based software developer Chainvine raised £2.5m in a funding round led by Deepbridge Capital.

Chris Wilson, corporate finance director for KPMG in the East of England, said the VC activity followed a “blockbuster 2017”.

“The uncertainty in the macropolitical and macroeconomic environment does not appear to be substantially hampering appetite for investment in startups,” he said.

“Healthtech businesses accounted for nearly half of the investments received over the last three months, although we are seeing new groups of companies emerging, in particular in AI and blockchain.”

Flender, a fintech peer to peer lender, has a team of software developers based in Dublin in Ireland, and they also have a UK office in Clacton-on-Sea.

The team launched their lending platform last year in Ireland and had been planning to launch shortly afterwards in the UK from Clacton, but the ongoing uncertainty in the market over Brexit is delaying their decision.

Chief executive Kristjan Koik said: “It’s a shame because the UK is our second biggest market after Ireland – lots of our 4,000 lenders are UK-based, and we hope to be able to launch fully from Clacton next year.”

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