Source: Isis Innovation / University of Oxford
Oxford spin-out Oxitec Limited has been sold to synthetic biology specialist Intrexon Corporation (NYSE:XON) for $160m. Oxitec is commercialising technology to control pests and invasive species including mosquitos, which spread dengue fever and other diseases.
According to the World Health Organisation dengue infects up to 390 million people each year, and is a leading cause of serious illness and death among children in some Asian and Latin American countries.
Outdoor open release trials with Oxitec’s leading mosquito-based product OX513A which targets the dengue-carrying mosquito Aedes aegypti have been completed in Malaysia, Grand Cayman, Brazil and Panama. Trials in Grand Cayman, Brazil and Panama have all shown a greater than 90 per cent reduction in the local mosquito population. The Malaysian trial was an earlier stage trial looking at comparisons between OX513A and wild type.
Oxitec was founded in 2002 by Luke Alphey, David Kelly and Paul Coleman from Oxford’s Department of Zoology. They had developed insect strains, including mosquitoes, which are bred so that their offspring die before reproducing, reducing the size of the disease-carrying population.
Isis Innovation assisted with patenting the initial intellectual property, setting up the company and raising investment.
Isis Innovation also invested £248,000 in seed funding from the Oxford University Challenge Seed Fund for proof-of-concept research.
Isis Innovation managing director Linda Naylor said: “Early seed funding is absolutely crucial, and in this case we were able to support Oxitec early on with practical help and with startup funding from the University Challenge Seed Fund. By reducing dengue and other diseases, this Oxford-developed technology can have a huge positive impact on global health. The proceeds of this transaction will allow Isis Innovation to continue to invest in the next generation of Oxford technologies.”
The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Andrew Hamilton, said: ‘Oxitec is an outstanding example of how the commercialisation of Oxford research can help address global problems. I have been to the company’s factory in Brazil and seen for myself the potential it has to tackle the suffering caused by dengue fever. The £9 million return to the University is an endorsement of our technology transfer strategy and our policy of continued investment in our most successful spin-outs.’
Intrexon Chairman and Chief Executive Office Randal J. Kirk said: ‘Oxitec’s technology demonstrates that engineered biology can solve some of mankind’s most difficult problems – many that have eluded solutions for a very long time – while exercising tremendous respect for the environment.’
Intrexon – capitalised at $6.5bn – will continue to develop Oxitec’s genetic modification insect control technology.
In April 2014 the National Biosafety Committee in Brazil, CTNBio gave their technical approval for commercial release of Oxitec’s OX513A. It is the first genetically modified insect to be considered safe for use in Brazil. In July 2014, Oxitec opened its first factory in Brazil and is awaiting full commercial clearance from the ministry of health before starting commercialisation.
Oxitec has also received approval for open field trials in Brazil and the USA to trial the company’s first two strains for agricultural insect-control of the Mediterranean fruit fly and the Diamondback moth. These are scheduled to start later in 2015.
The University increased its stake in the company through further investments by OSEM (Oxford Spin-out Equity Management). As a result of the sale, Oxford’s investments will return US$14.4m (£9.2m) to the University.
Oxitec was named a World Economic Forum technology pioneer in 2008 and has been recognised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ‘Grand Challenges for Global Health Initiative’.
The Oxitec agreement follows last year’s successful sale of another Department of Zoology spin-out, NaturalMotion. US social games company Zynga acquired the digital animation company for more than US$527m, returning more than £30m to the University.