Sixty Seconds with Dr Simon Warner
Dr Simon Warner is Head of Licensing & Ventures - Life Sciences at Oxford University Innovation (OUI). Simon has over twenty-five years’ experience in commercial Biotechnology in various roles, raising venture capital, securing strategic partners and philanthropic funding sources. We talk to Simon about his career to date, his role at OUI, and his passion for seeing innovative ideas and inventions make it to real life.
Firstly, please can you tell us about your career to date and what attracted you to this position?I
I joined Oxford University Innovation (OUI) in 2021 as Head of Licensing and Ventures, Life Sciences. My previous career highlights have included the successful sale of Oxitec, a spin-out from the University of Oxford, where I was CSO, leading the development of pioneering insect control in public health and agriculture. Oxitec was purchased by synthetic biology specialist, Intrexon in 2015 for $160m, and following the sale I led further initiatives securing funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the control of mosquitoes that transmit Malaria and with Bayer to control devastating crop insect pests. I worked for Syngenta for over a decade and had roles based in California, North Carolina, and the UK, where I innovated in crop biotechnology and was responsible for developing agricultural products sold today. At Syngenta, I had a role in technology, strategy and innovation, monetising IP assets in return for cash or equity in start-ups for Syngenta and in-licensing IP rights to support future commercial products. I have a Biochemistry degree from University College. London and a PhD in plant molecular biology from the University of Leicester.
I was attracted to the position as I saw an advert posted and did the old-fashioned thing and applied for it. My hope is always being able to pass on the commercial knowledge in large and small companies and successfully taking spin-outs through successful financial exits in the Oxford ecosystem.
Could you tell us a little more about your role and team?
The Life Science Licencing and Ventures Team at OUI essentially create commercial licences which allow Intellectual Property (IP) to reach the market through the licensees. This could be big companies in the pharmaceutical or digital technologies industry, or biotechnology companies involved in feeding and fuelling the planet. Alternatively, the IP can be licenced to spin-out companies from Oxford University to form new companies and we have published an express licence template that is applicable for those spin-outs. We also help spin-outs to attract venture funding or other funding, to help them finance themselves and work with the University to ensure fair value sharing.
How can Oxford researchers learn more about the expertise you offer?
I would highly recommend visiting the 'For University Members' section of the OUI website, where we provide researchers with advice and support on any matter concerning the commercialisation of research.
Who or what inspires you?
There are many things I find inspiring, but in a work context I really enjoyed my time in industry and start-ups where you can really move new inventions and technologies to make products that are registered and commercially sold. I've been really lucky in my career to be able to have pioneered in areas such as biotechnology in crops which have helped farmers feed the world in a more sustainable way. Who would have thought then a little spinout from Oxford selling GMO’s with six legs, two wings, and the potential to bite you could be a success in combating malaria, dengue and Zika. How much would you pay for a company that sells boxes of mosquitoes? It is quite amazing that Oxitec was acquired by a U.S. company for $160 million U.S. dollars and today now has commercialised Aedes do Bem (Translation Good Aedes) mosquito product in Brazil and is selling boxes of mosquitoes to protect people’s homes and families. So, I find it inspirational when you see innovative ideas and inventions make it to real life.
If you weren’t Head of Licensing & Ventures - Life Sciences at OUI, what else would you like to be doing?
That's an easy that's an easy one. I would be working in a spin-out or small to medium sized enterprise as I love the process of invention. During my career, I've been very fortunate to be able to work with bright people and co-inventors and file many patents, and watch those patents and technology go from the lab, to the field, to the market to make a big difference to the world.