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Young scientists from Rothamsted Research win national competition with idea for controlling garden slugs

5 December 2006

Scientists from Rothamsted Research were last night named as the best budding biotechnology entrepreneurs after winning the national final of a business plan competition in London.

The young Rothamsted scientists walked away with prizes including £1,000 after impressing judges at the final of Biotechnology YES with their hypothetical business plan for a company called Phytofend and its revolutionary product called SlugFast, a genetically modified Hosta plant proven to be a highly effective means of slug control. Hosta is naturally attractive to slugs and the SlugFast variety has been transformed to express a novel appetite suppressing protein, the plant attracts slugs and, upon ingestion, causes them to stop feeding.

Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) is an annual competition organised by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI). It helps young researchers understand how to set up their own biotech company by developing business awareness and the skills needed to be successful entrepreneurs. This year 51 teams of 248 individuals were whittled down to 8 teams in the final through a series of regional heats where they were able to draw on advice from mentors with experience in enterprise, innovation, patent law and equity investment. Other prizes scooped by the Rothamsted Research scientists for their win include sponsored places at the BioIndustry Association Dinner and the opportunity, provided by the UK Trade and Industry, to give a presentation at a prestigious US business plan competition at Rice University in Texas.

Dr Peter Ringrose, Chairman of BBSRC and head of the judging panel, said: “The Rothamsted Research team showed an excellent grasp of the principles of finance, marketing and intellectual property rights needed to be a success should they ever decide to enter the world of commercial biotech. Biotechnology YES has been running for over a decade and the quality of entries continues to climb. Together with the rest of the judging panel I have been hugely impressed by all of this year’s finalists and the careful preparation that clearly went into every team’s business plan.”

Stephen Pearce, who took the role of Managing Director for Phytofend, said: “We are happy and surprised to win. We have learned a lot about working together and how to actually launch a spin-out company. We really didn’t know anything before we started on YES but with the help of the mentors we have really learned a lot. We have enjoyed the unique opportunity as its completely different from anything else we would do in out PhDs.”

“We would like to thank Gerard Bencen at PBL and Tina Crombie, James Logan and Sarah Dewhirst at Rothamsted Research for their support.”

The other members of the Rothamsted team who each took on management roles in the hypothetical company were Dan Godfrey, Neryssa Glithero and Ben Webster.

For the first time the final of Biotechnology YES saw a presentation from a team of young scientists representing the environmental sciences. Environment YES, supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is a spin-out from the main competition. The competition was won by a team from Cranfield University with their hypothetical company Green Switch. Their product harnessed scientific breakthroughs to efficiently convert farmyard waste efficiently into electricity.

Ms Poppy Leeder, who manages the Knowledge Transfer Funding Scheme for NERC, said: “This is a really good opportunity to start training scientists in entrepreneurial awareness. I’m very pleased that this year we have been able to open up the competition for environmental scientists to take part.”

Profiles for all the hypothetical companies are listed in the Notes to Editors.

Category prizes were awarded to:

  • Best consideration of IP strategy sponsored by Eric Potter Clarkson – Phytofend, Rothamsted Research
  • Best healthcare business plan sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline – Aptinostics, Imperial College London
  • Best medical technology by Smith & Nephew Prize – Nanozorb, University of Manchester
  • Best plant science business plan sponsored by Syngenta – Phytofend, Rothamsted Research
  • Best presenter sponsored by Tim Hart, Cybersense BioSystems – Leila Shepherd, Aptinostics, Imperial College London
  • Pfizer Prize for Innovation – CereAll, Institute for Animal Health

Dr Mark Edwards, Senior Director of Science Policy, Global Research & Development at Pfizer, which sponsored the prize for Innovation, said: “Biotechnology YES showcases the next generation of scientists who are going to preserve the future of clinical and academic R&D in the UK. Success in business requires an understanding of the complete package that includes innovation, intellectual property and the workings of the market and YES gives this to participants.”

Image available - contact the media office on 01793 413299


Notes to editors

Pictures of the winners are available from the BBSRC Media Office, please see below for contact details.

For more information on the Biotechnology YES competition go to: http://www.biotechnologyyes.co.uk

Biotechnology YES has been running since 1995. Research has found that young scientists participating in the competition are more likely to enter business roles than other young scientists.

List of hypothetical company profiles:

Green Switch (Cranfield University) proposed BioCube, a product harnessing scientific breakthroughs to covert farmyard waste into electricity more efficiently than ever before.

NuFill (Moredun Research Institute) has developed a revolutionary technology to repair the damage caused by dental caries using technology based upon the harvest of progenitor cells from the decayed tooth.

Aptinostics (Imperial College London) develops consumer-focused point of care diagnostics based on an innovative, patented technology platform using aptamers for accurate and simultaneous detection of multiple biomarkers. Its first product is a home test kit for curable sexually-transmitted infections (STIs): Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and Trichomoniasis.

CereAll (Institute for Animal Health) proposed a new strain of wheat that is not only completely safe for coeliac disease and gluten intolerance but also can be used in the same way as any other bread wheat, so offers a direct replacement sufferers’ diets.

NDD Technologies (University of Edinburgh) has developed a targeted drug deliver system from the discovery of a novel method of producing pure, ultra short carbon nanotubes.

Phytofend (Rothamsted Research) has developed a product called SlugFast, a genetically modified Hosta plant proven to be a highly effective means of slug control. Hosta is also naturally attractive to slugs. Transformed to express a novel appetite suppressing protein, the plant attracts slugs and, upon ingestion, causes them to stop feeding.

Green Cell Technologies (University of Leeds) provides a novel environmentally friendly source of energy utilising a revolutionary microbial fuel cell technology. The fuel cell is a highly efficient way of releasing nutrients from organic waste such as grass clippings and converting it into electricity using bacteria.

NanoZorb Therapeutics (University of Manchester) proposed the development of unique nanoparticle related cancer therapeutics which exploits the extremely high metabolic activity of Non Small Cell Lung Cancer cells by absorbing the glucose in the tumour microenvironment, interrupting their metabolism and causing spontaneous cell death.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk


The University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI) is a world class centre committed to the development of entrepreneurial skills and the commercial innovation of new technologies and ideas. Our purpose is to engage staff and students in the acquisition of enterprise skills so that they are better able to realize the opportunities generated in a rapidly developing entrepreneurial culture. UNIEI aims to be at the forefront of international thinking and best practice in engaging universities and businesses in the process of wealth creation. http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/enterprise/


The four members of the Rothamsted team from left to right: Dan Godfrey, Neryssa Glithero, Ben Webster and Stephen Pearce (150 KB)

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External contact

Tracey Hassall-Jones, University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation

tel: 07956 156629


Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299