Innovation news in brief: Banking; Brexit; regenerative medicine; genetics

Nearly everyone in the UK has used VocaLink technology

Banks stifling innovation and competition

Banks should sell their stake in UK payments infrastructure to help increase innovation and competition, a new report suggests.

The recommendation follows the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) market review into the ownership and competitiveness of the infrastructure that supports the payments systems: Bacs, Faster Payments System and LINK.

These payment systems are currently owned by a relatively small number of banks, which also control the single infrastructure provider that they rely on to process payments, VocaLink.

In the UK, VocaLink processes over 90% of salaries, more than 70% of household bills and almost all state benefits. Nearly every business and person in the UK uses its technology and last year the company processed over 11 billion transactions with a value of £6 trillion.

The PSR said the evidence indicates that the common ownership of this infrastructure provider by this small number of banks is having a negative impact on innovation and competition in the industry. The PSR is now proposing that these banks sell part of their stakes in VocaLink in order to open the market and allow for more effective competition and innovation.

Hannah Nixon, managing director, PSR, said: “The payments industry has evolved at a steady pace, but now is the time to ask whether or not it is operating best practice. The evidence we have gathered shows that common ownership is hampering competition and the speed of innovation in the market.

“There needs to be a fundamental change in the industry to encourage new entrants to compete on service, price and innovation in an open and transparent way.

“Our proposals will increase competition and create more opportunities for challengers, fintechs and other organisations looking to enter the market. This will create the conditions for greater innovation – which is in the interests of those that use the infrastructure services directly, and the UK economy as a whole.”

Read the full report

Three quarters of high-growth businesses would vote no to Brexit

Three quarters of high-growth small businesses surveyed by Aston University's Centre for Growth plan to vote for the UK to stay in the EU.

Seventy-five per cent of respondents would vote for the UK to stay within the EU if a referendum was held 'now', with only 6 per cent voting to leave. This figure rises to 82 per cent among those businesses who are operating in international markets.

Prof of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at Aston Business School, Mark Hart, said: “These high growth companies may only be a small proportion of all businesses, but they create a huge number of jobs in our economy. As such, their opinion on the European question is crucial.

“While it’s for politicians to put forward the competing cases for staying inside or leaving the EU, the message from some of our leading small business entrepreneurs is clear: Europe is, on balance, good for business and they don’t want to jeopardise that.”

Innovation: Doing it Differently

Almost 200 delegates from across Lincolnshire attended the Doing it Differently innovation conference at the University of Lincoln recently, reports theLincolnite.

The annual event provided firms with the opportunity to network, build business support and access unique tips on innovation and competitive strategies.

Key speakers addressed how having the right relationship with technology in business and how ‘perseverance and determination’ are keys to success.

Sue Cadd, innovation manager for the University of Lincoln and organiser of the event, said: “We are working to expand the Lincolnshire economy and spread the word of how great the county is.

“The purpose of the event is to inspire businesses and celebrate their success. One of the reasons for doing this for delegates to go away and include some of the things from today in their own business or think differently.”

Cobra Biologics and Centre for Process Innovation join forces

Cobra Biologics Ltd and the Centre for Process Innovation, a UK-based technology innovation centre, are collaborating on a project focusing on the development of an industrial manufacturing platform to support gene therapy and regenerative medicine.

The £1.8 million project, which is being led by Cobra, is being funded to a value of £1.4 million by Innovate UK via its 2015 competition for the development of regenerative medicines and cell therapies.

The collaboration between Cobra and CPI will focus on AAV vectors – currently the delivery vehicle of choice for gene therapy treatments. However the advancement of these therapies into clinical trials is being hampered by the lack of robust scalability needed to manufacture AAV vectors.

The proposed collaboration between Cobra and CPI will develop a scalable and flexible manufacturing process and should enable the acceleration of more potential products into clinical testing and ultimately new medicines. This in turn will increase the chances of treatments being developed for a whole range of currently intractable diseases.

Dr Fergal O’Brien, Director of Biologics at CPI said: “CPI is delighted to be collaborating with Cobra Biologics Ltd and applying our expertise in developing scalable and industrial manufacturing platforms to AAV production. We see this project as a key enabler in meeting the current and future needs of the biologics industry and are delighted to be supporting a leading UK company in this sector.”

Funding award for Desktop Genetics and Imperial College London

Software firm Desktop Genetics Ltd and the Epigenetics Unit in the Division of Cancer at Imperial College London have received a grant for £300,000 from Innovate UK to develop software tools that selectively design targets against cancer cell lines with the objective of improving chemotherapy and overcoming drug resistance.

The CRISPR software tools that Desktop Genetics develop aims to combine data-driven, intelligent, predictive biomodelling capabilities with the analysis of heterogeneous genomic and epigenomic data.

Prof Bob Brown, who leads the Epigenetics Unit of Imperial College London, will use this novel approach to investigate the epigenetic mechanisms underpinning resistance to chemotherapy in ovarian cancer cell lines.

Leigh Brody, PhD, Director of Genomic Services at Desktop Genetics, commented: “There has been a great deal of excitement over the potential to use CRISPR in the clinic. We hope that an integrated omics approach to epigenetic CRISPR will support target validation of small-molecule therapies modifying the epigenetic landscape.”