Pepti hydrogels : from seed funding to commercialisation

Scientists at the University of Manchester have co-founded a new company, PeptiGelDesign based at the BioHub, Alderley Park, which is dedicated to the commercialisation of an innovative hydrogel technology developed at the University.

Work on the peptide based hydrogels started back in 2004 when Prof Aline Miller (School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical) and Dr. Alberto Saiani (School of Materials) were awarded a small seed fund of £4k from the University of Manchester. This prompted them to establish, within the University, the Polymers and Peptide Research Group (, which is located at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB). They went onto build on this initial project by attracting over £6M in funding to the University from public and private bodies over the past 10 years. This has led to the development of a technological platform for the design of peptide based hydrogels, which are now being applied in biomedical and biotechnological fields in areas such as tissue engineering, drug delivery and DNA sensing.

The technology is based on understanding and controlling the self-assembly of small peptides across the length scales to permit the design of bespoke hydrogel materials. Professor Julie Gough (School of Materials) became involved in the early stage development of these materials for cell culture and tissue engineering applications and she said:

“This highly innovative technology actually works! It allows the design of materials that can be tailored to mimic the 3-dimensional micro-environment in which we culture cells. Cells have very different requirements depending on their origin, nature and function and this technology allows the design of hydrogels with properties and functionality tailored to each cell type. This opens up new possibilities in cell culture and tissue engineering fields.”

Prof Aline Miller who led the original seed project said:

“This is a true UoM success story. We started over 10 years ago with a fundamental science project for which we were awarded a small pot of internal faculty money to do proof-of-concept work and here we are 10 years later co-founding a company to sell the novel materials we developed”.

“It is a unique experience to be able to take a novel technology from academia to industry. This is a great technology raising significant interest wherever I go. One of the most exiting aspects is that it is an enabling technology, allowing scientists in academia and industry to do novel research using a platform of innovative materials that can be tailored to their needs, whether it is defined 3D functional scaffolds for cell culture, tissue engineering and tissue model generation or injectable and sprayable hydrogels for the in-vivo delivery of stem cells and/or drugs. The commercialisation of the materials will hopefully allow us to unlock their full potential by making them widely available to scientists across the world”.

Dr Guillaume St-Pierre, CEO, PeptiGelDesign

Dr. Alberto Saiani currently holds a Healthcare Technology Fellowship from the EPSRC which focusses on developing this technology further. He said:

“This has been an astonishing journey through which we have moved from fundamental material science to process development to create a commercial product, thus showing the value that research can create and the importance of University seed funds. On our way we collaborated, and are still collaborating, with a number of great scientists across the University. We are now working closely with PeptiGelDesign, UMIP (University of Manchester Intellectual Property) and the University to develop the next generation of materials.”

In addition to the hydrogel technology PeptiGelDesign is also working on bringing to market an innovative cardiac patch medical device which was developed through collaboration between the University and a number of other European institutions.


The University of Manchester Intellectual Property Limited (UMIP) assists in the commercialisation of any innovative technologies and processes that may be derived from collaborative research. UMIP has over a 20 year history of Intellectual Property (IP) commercialisation and works closely with MIB to ensure that any IP is fully developed to maximise technology transfer.

Spin out companies

Reacta Biotech Limited

Integrating food science with medicine

Reacta Biotech Limited was incorporated in June 2013 by its three founders: Professor Clare Mills (Professor of Molecular Allergology, based in the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Manchester), Professor Ashley Woodcock (Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Manchester and Clinical Director for the Directorate of Respiratory Medicine and Allergy at the University Hospital of South Manchester) and Peter McPartland (ex- SV Life Sciences). The Company’s seed capital round completed in April 2014, and second round funding completed in June 2015, have been supported by a small group of private investors.

Food allergy has become a major global health problem, affecting 17 million people in Europe alone, and around 220-250 million people worldwide. The Company’s first product will be an oral food challenge kit for the confirmation (diagnosis) of peanut allergy in allergic individuals. The current form of the oral food challenge test has been adapted from that used in the EU funded EuroPrevall project by Professor Clare Mills’ team. Through a multi-faceted agreement with the University, the Company has gained exclusive access to this early development work and the substantial body of knowhow that has been established around it.

Reacta Biotech’s proprietary technology consists of a stable food matrix, which will be prepared in a standardised process to the highest food and pharmaceutical manufacturing control standards. The products will have documented quantified levels of food allergen and will be manufactured under strictly controlled conditions, ensuring they meet the regulatory standard required for a clinical diagnostic. The food challenges will be formulated to blind allergen across a range of doses, with the effectiveness of blinding confirmed by sensory analysis. The matrix is reconstituted immediately prior to use to provide a mousse-style chocolate dessert. This represents a step-change in blinding peanut, delivering a palatable and pleasant oral food challenge material with a homogeneous and consistent allergen dose.  The portfolio will be expanded to provide a range of challenge materials for patients with food allergy.

Website at:


Spectromics was formed as a spin-out in April 2014 by the University’s technology transfer company UMIP within weeks of filing the key patent application relating to this rapid, phenotypic diagnostic. The company is developing the technology into a point-of-prescription test that fits within a typical 10 minute doctor – patient appointment. It will consist of a low cost, simple to use instrument used together with test specific disposable cartridges. Each cartridge will test the sample for infection susceptibility against a panel of candidate antibiotics routinely used for that particular infection. The founding scientists: Professor Roy Goodacre, of Manchester Institute of Biotechnology and Dr Mat Upton, of the School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences, Plymouth University, have worked on this technology for a number of years prior to company formation, they are now both Directors of the company.

Conformetrix Ltd

Conformetrix Ltd was formed in 2007 by Dr Andrew Almond and Dr Charles Blundell and is focused on the optimisation of drug discovery and design using NMR-based technology to accurately solve bioactive three-dimensional molecular structures. Conformetrix won the Bionow Biomedical start-up of the year award for 2008 and Andrew was runner up in the 2009 “BBSRC Innovator of the Year” competition.


Pharmakure is a new drug discovery company focused on Alzheimer’s disease through the discovery of new uses for old drugs, offering great promise for delivering new therapeutic options to patient care. The founders of the company, Dr Farid Khan and Professor Andrew Doig have a successful track record and significant expertise in drug discovery and development in industry. PharmaKure has patented its first drug, PK-048, for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. PK-048 was first discovered in the 1980s, as a drug candidate for Parkinson’s disease, though it has never been previously tested for Alzheimer’s. The drug was tested in cell based assays and has demonstrated strong inhibition of β-amyloid cell toxicity. Importantly, previous data from animal trials have shown that the drug is orally active, non-toxic and crosses the blood-brain barrier in primate brains, a crucial requirement for an Alzheimer’s drug. In addition, PharmaKure’s approach of drug screening using cell-based models for AD has led to the identification of a number of promising hits and analogues which will further increase the company’s success & product portfolio. PharmaKure seeks further investment and pharma partnership to fund drug library screening; preclinical and early phase human trials.

In addition, MIB witnessed the formation of Discovery Biocatalysts in 2011.

UMIP contributes to the aims and objectives of The University’s “Exemplary Knowledge and Technology Transfer” agenda by providing Intellectual Property (IP) management and commercialisation activities