British Science Week

17 March 2022 | Interviews & Insights

In celebration of British Science Week, we asked some of our Business Managers and collaborators what it’s like working at a technology transfer office (TTO), and what makes UCLB so special.

 

Tell us a little about yourself and your background

Nicholas Yiu, UCLB Associate Business Manager – I’m a chemical and materials engineer by training and I’ve worked in various companies, national labs, and startups developing technologies around energy storage, smart windows, and 3D printing. I received my BS in Chemical Engineering and my MS in Nanotechnology.

Barny Cox, UCLB Senior Business Manager – I ‘cut my teeth’ in technology transfer at Queen Mary Innovation, where I also undertook a business development secondment role at human challenge study spinout, hVIVO Services Ltd. Before that, I undertook postdoctoral and doctoral studies at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, as well as working for two internationally acclaimed patent firms and the British Medical Association.

Joanna Dawczyk, UCLB Associate Business Manager – I am particularly interested in low-carbon technologies and advanced materials. I obtained my MEng degree in Chemical Engineering from AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow. After an internship in BASF (Germany), I was offered a scholarship from Shell to pursue PhD studies in Tribology at Imperial College London under the supervision of Professor Hugh Spikes.

David Phillips, UCLB Senior Business Manager – I grew up in the countryside, on and around farms.  I am a countryman and a biologist by inclination and was very lucky to be in the right environment for that to flourish.

Anand Patel, LifeArc Fellow – I’m currently a professional athlete (triple jump) and ex-professional artistic gymnast. I’ve completed a Masters and PhD in Chemistry at UCL (2012-2021). Balancing both full time disciplines have been tough but very rewarding!

Tanel Ozdemir, UCLTF Investor – For the last 4 years I’ve had the pleasure of being an investor on the Life Sciences Team of the UCL Technology Fund (UCLTF). Before joining UCLTF, I was an academic scientist and completed my MSc, PhD and Post-Doc at UCL.

 

What is your specific area of science and why did you choose it?

Nicholas – I was impressed when polyurethane racing swimsuits were released in 2008 which changed the game in competitive swimming. That was my introduction to how concepts of fluid dynamics and materials could transfer into real-world products with significant impact. This led me to the clean energy challenge and how we need to decarbonise and electrify everything to help tackle the climate crisis, and now I primarily focus on clean energy and energy storage technologies.

Barny – My passion lies in adoptive cell therapy, a form of treatment that uses the cells of our immune system to eliminate debilitating autoimmune diseases and cancer. A distant fantasy when I did my undergraduate degree, cellular immunotherapy as it is otherwise known, is now making a real difference to the lives of patients. At UCLB, I’ve been fortunate to manage the IP portfolio of Hans Stauss – Tumour Immunology Professor and founder of Quell Therapeutics Ltd. – who is a world leader in this scientific field.

Joanna – I specialise in Tribology and Fuels Technologies. Tribology is the study of surfaces moving relative to one another. Friction in engines and machinery results in energy losses, increased emissions, and reduced productivity. I grew up in an industrially polluted area and I am happy that I helped to develop tribological solutions that address fumes, wear and unlock energy efficiency gains in various sectors.

David – I started off as a nuclear chemist, working on reactors for the Atomic Energy Authority. I then read genetics and progressed to a molecular virology and genetics doctorate. I was studying the control of gene expression in viruses and found the interactions on the biological and biochemical levels fascinating. Technology transfer helps make use of the science and makes it applicable to everyday life.

Anand – Organic and Physical Chemistry. I loved both experimental and theoretical chemistry which is a bit unorthodox! So I naturally decided to do an interdisciplinary PhD on firefly bioluminescence. I was inspired by the amazing staff, professors and lecturers at UCL to pursue a science career.

Tanel – I started off my academic career working on tissue regeneration with embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells. After undertaking a PhD rotation project with Prof Chris Barnes at UCL and tinkering with bacteria engineered with oscillating fluorescent genetic circuits, I was captivated by the ground-up engineering principles of synthetic biology and decided to (slightly) change fields and complete my PhD in microbiome engineering.

 

What does it take to be successful in a science-related career?

Nicholas – Be constantly curious and unafraid to challenge the current state of technology. There is always a better and more efficient way to do something, and you need to be willing to question the status quo daily.

Barny – A fundamental love of science is essential, as well as an inquisitive mindset and a good understanding of detailed biological systems and scientific methods. Tech transfer also benefits specifically from effective multi-tasking ability, a good eye for detail, and a desire to create impact from new and innovative discoveries.

Joanna – I believe that the most important skill is to find the right balance between fundamental science and practical applications. Technology transfer offices, such as UCLB, are created to maximise the impact of academic discoveries by stimulating, identifying and progressing opportunities to develop research and technologies.

David – Patience. A lot of patience and a great deal of positivity. In an experimental environment, the majority of projects will not reach the final fruition of a publicly available treatment or process. Keeping positive from the ones which do helps maintain the energy to keep going for the next group of new projects coming through!

Anand – Natural drive and ambition because life isn’t so easy in science, especially when the chips are down and time is short during a PhD! Being bold and brave to try new things no matter how nuts the ideas are. I would recommend to establish an internal network that is built over your time at university and beyond. Having these conversations effectively catalysed the creation of my interdisciplinary PhD.

Tanel – First and foremost, a humble and hungry approach to scientific discovery. Coupled to this, gaining a wider perspective on how we translate scientific discovery into impact in the real world.

 

What are some interesting things that people in your profession work on?

Nicholas – So many things! I’m currently working on a plastic upcycling technology to reduce plastic waste, a fast-charging battery technology to increase the adoption of electric vehicles, and software that detects fatigue and mental state via voice analysis to help prevent accidents in high-stress environments, and many other cool projects!

Barny – When the coronavirus pandemic hit, we helped to provide free-of-charge licences around the world for the life-saving CPAP breathing device. My colleagues are making an impact in areas like climate change, with hydrogen fuel cells that are helping in the effort to decarbonise the economy and supporting ventures with social or environmental missions, like a range of paints made from coal mine waste.

Joanna – Recently, Prantar Tamuli (Biochemical Engineering Department, UCL) discovered an interaction between cyanobacteria and a particular hydrogel matrix that enables the growth of carbon-negative concrete. The production of construction materials is energy and carbon-intensive and these types of biomaterials are the potential game-changers.

David – I’ve worked on technologies as diverse as battlefield emergency trauma treatments through to cancer therapies and anti-viral drugs and vaccines. One of the most satisfying was a new dermatological therapy for people with psoriasis and eczema. It’s a debilitating condition and being able to help with these patients’ quality of life was really rewarding.

Anand – Novel bioluminescent molecules that can be used to probe biological processes. The organic chemistry is very fun and messy! Using lasers and quantum mechanics to extract the electronic structure and dynamics of photoactive molecules, such as oxyluciferin (firefly light emitting molecule).

Tanel – At UCLTF, we have the pleasure of working with UCL academics who are world-renowned leaders in their respective fields. I’ve spent the last 4 years working with Prof John Greenwood and Prof Steve Moss from UCL’s Institute of Ophthalmology who co-discovered the LRG-1 protein, which was found to be a novel regulator of neovascularisation. This protein is a potential therapeutic target for a range of diseases and it’s a privilege to work with them as they try and translate their research into real-world patient impact.

 

What do you love about working with UCLB?

Nicholas – I enjoy working with a wide portfolio of brilliant academics at UCL with so many ideas that could significantly impact the world. I love that each project is unique and I get to sink my teeth into work of all sorts and there’s always something new to learn.

Barny – UCLB is a stimulating and entrepreneurial working environment. We are privileged to be able to exploit technology from the truly world class UCL research base. Access to funding capital and support through partnerships with UCLTF and Apollo Therapeutics has delivered a lot of success in translating early stage research findings into meaningful medical impact, which is very rewarding.

Joanna – I love that at UCLB we can work on various projects within the Physical Sciences and Engineering field. It continuously motivates me to leave my comfort zone and learn something new every day. I think that at UCLB we have a strong feeling of project ownership. This personal approach is important because we feel responsible for the overall success of UCL’s discoveries.

David – Great people to work with and great technologies!

Anand – Through LifeArc, I have gained an invaluable insight into how TTOs operate similarly and differently, and was given the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of the TT pipeline. I felt confident to contribute in meetings, whether in team meetings, engaging with patent agents, companies or academics.

Tanel – Working at UCLTF, I’d have to say the variety of our day-to-day. We get to interact with near enough every key stakeholder in biotech and drug discovery. This includes leading academics, UCLB, other investors, pharma companies, and brilliant entrepreneurs.

 

What inspirational message would you give young people to inspire them to pursue a career in science or the TTO space?

Nicholas – Don’t be afraid. Some of the hardest and most pressing challenges in the world require deep technical and scientific solutions which need to be translated from research labs into the real world. Your planet needs you!

Barny – As Albert Einstein once said – “The most important thing is to never stop questioning.” A career in science is always fascinating and working in tech transfer means working with some of the most exciting discoveries that are helping to change the world for the better.

Joanna – Working in science is extremely interesting, rewarding, and opens the doors to unlimited career opportunities. You will help to solve real-life problems and develop valuable skills such as analytical and critical thinking.

David – It’s your chance to make science count, and not be just for academic geeks!

Anand – In TT, one thing to remember is that it’s no longer about you and it’s about unconditionally translating the work generated by the academics. This may be hard to deal with especially if you are young and equally ambitious coming out of university; you may even want set something up yourself! However, learning to drop your ego is an invaluable skill on its own, which leads to many more fascinating experiences and opportunities.

Tanel – I’d suggest they take a step back and see just how broad the options are within science. And to ask for help! I wouldn’t be here today if someone didn’t take their time to teach me how to hold a pipette or tell me a little bit about what their role entailed.