WIMM PhD students reach the final of international biotech startup competition

Bridging the divide between academia and industry is the sacred goal of many researchers, but few are equipped to take their ideas from the bench to the boardroom.

However, OneStart (an initiative supported by the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable and SR One - the corporate venture capital arm of GSK) is designed to help scientists do just that, and a team of four PhD students from Tudor Fulga’s lab have made it to the final of this year’s hotly contested competition.

The team (Timothy Rajakumar, Toni Baeumler, Bruno Steinkraus and Quentin Ferry) came up with the idea of using circular RNAs as vectors for gene replacement therapy, using cystic fibrosis as their model disease. The company which they have formed around their idea, Circulus Therapeutics, has beaten 316 competitors from Europe to land a place in the final of the OneStart 2015 competition, which will be held in London on Thursday 14th May.

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Left to right: Bruno Steinkraus, Timothy Rajakumar, Toni Baeumler and Quentin Ferry

Tim, Toni, Bruno and Quentin have undergone a rigorous series of meetings, bootcamps and training sessions to get to this point, and are one of 10 finalists from Europe to be competing in this year’s final alongside an additional 10 finalists from the Americas. There were over 630 entrants worldwide this year from 50 different countries - more than triple the number of applications in 2014. At the final on Thursday, the team will be required to pitch their idea to a panel of experts (from companies such as GSK, Sanofi, Roche and Astra Zeneca) for their chance to win the £100k prize.

The team aren’t the first scientists from the WIMM to reach the final of this highly competitive initiative – last year Dan Puleston and Ben Owens also reached the final with their company Vaxxamine, which is formed around a compound that is able to help support the ageing immune system. Tim, Toni, Bruno and Quentin have been in close contact with Ben, and are very grateful for his help and support. They would also like to thank Prof. Deborah Gill and Dr. Steve Hyde for their role in the team’s progress to date.

The entire cohort of staff and students at the WIMM wish Circulus Therapeutics the very best for their pitch at the final of the OneStart 2015 competition on Thursday – it is a huge achievement to have progressed this far through the competition, and hopefully the team will be able to go that little bit further at the final itself. Watch this space!

You can read more about the OneStart 2015 finalists here.