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Philanthropy

2021/22 was a remarkable year for philanthropy at Oxford. Donations to the Collegiate University – excluding to the Colleges and other institutions – amounted to £249 million, the second largest total ever received in a single year, following the all-time record level in 2020/21. 41% of this was from UK donors, 23% from the US and the balance was from Asia and the rest of the world.

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Oxford Technology Park, a 450,000 sq ft space on a former rugby pitch on the outskirts of Oxford, has welcomed its first tenant, The Native Antigen Company, a supplier of reagents used in pharmaceutical research. Six more companies are close to signing leases. The Gosford All Blacks moved to Kidlington.

The malaria vaccine being developed at the Jenner Institute is now expected to provide 77% protection following large scale trials in four African countries. Professor Hill has been working on this for decades and was briefly diverted by the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine. Malaria has been a significantly more difficult challenge than Covid, the virus having been evolving for thousands of years. The Oxford vaccine is expected to be licenced in 2023 and will largely be produced by the Serum Institute of India. Richard Cockram

The new Oxford Cornwall Society, which is open to all current Cornish students at Oxford, recently organised a visit to the Bodleian Library where the Keeper of Special Collections laid on an exhibition of Cornwall-themed material for the group to view. This included 16th and 17th century letters about the alarming decline in the use of the Cornish language. One of the students was in the middle of a project on Cornish and was amazed to find how much the Bodleian was able to help her and also that she could actually handle and photograph such rare documents. The whole group was affected by the visit, which none of them had believed to be possible. Their internet address is :- http://oxcornwallsoc.wordpress.com

Past Events

73 members and guests enjoyed our annual lunch at The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow on 26 February, the first time we have been able to get together in such a large number since Covid began. In his introduction our Chairman, Jeremy Varcoe, announced that he will be retiring in the autumn. He will be succeeded by Celia Julian, a long-standing Committee member.

Since 2018 the revamped Westgate in Oxford has had a very negative impact on the Clarendon shopping centre off Cornmarket. The remaining businesses have been outnumbered by boarded-up shops, the most popular ones having relocated to the Westgate. In response, the Clarendon centre will be redeveloped and one of its new tenants will be Oxford Science Enterprises.

OSE is the venture capital firm which invests in Oxford University spinouts and it will take over the spot previously occupied by H&M. The first firm spun out of the University was Oxford Instruments in 1959. OSE now oversees investments in 105 companies, including Vaccitech, Oxford Nanopore, Immunocore and Nightstar Therapeutics. In 2021, Oxford University Innovation, which commercialises academic research, created 27 companies.

There is now a desperate shortage of laboratories in Oxford to support these new ventures and this is where the Clarendon centre comes in – soon it will be buzzing with scientists carrying out their research and bringing life back to the centre of the city. As its landlord, Lothbury Investment Management, has recognised, the explosion of life sciences start-ups in Oxford and the serendipitous availability of suitable space right in the centre have created an unmissable opportunity for development.

Richard Cockram

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As we mentioned in an earlier blog, Oxford Nanopore has been planning a flotation which was expected to value the Oxford spinout at £2.3 billion.  In the event, the initial public offering valued the business at £3.4 billion, which increased to £4.9 billion as soon as trading began on 30 September.  Not bad for a company formed in 2005 which is still making losses.  ON employs 640 full time staff, 500 at its Oxford Science Park base and the remainder in China and the USA.  

Not content with devising a low-cost Covid-19 vaccine which is saving millions of lives around the world, our amazing scientists in Oxford have now developed a cancer vaccine which has already been shown to shrink tumours in mice as well as improving survival rates.  The first human trial with 80 patients with a form of lung cancer is imminent.  Vaccitech – the company founded by Professors Sarah Gilbert and Adrian Hill – collaborated with the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research to develop this new vaccine, which is based on the same technology that is at the heart of the Covid-19 jab. R.Cockram 3/09/21

Part of a message from the Vice-Chancellor regarding the past year in Oxford:

The University’s enduring global reputation, cutting edge research and unique teaching environment have also helped us to retain first place in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for a fifth consecutive year, as well as number one in the country, in the Guardian University Guide. The THE ranking emphasises research and global connections, the Guardian focuses on teaching and career prospects for students. That we have prevailed simultaneously in both is a remarkable achievement, and a testament to the calibre of the people who work and study here. Finally, the Good Universities Guide named us “University of the Year 2021” due to our work on the vaccine and our success in broadening access to the University, demonstrating that we have not allowed the pandemic to distract us from our commitment to recruiting the very best and brightest students irrespective of their background.

While rankings are gratifying, it is funding that drives our research. For the fifth consecutive year Oxford has the highest research income of any British university, £634 million, over £50 million more than our closest competitor. We also attracted the most income from UK and EU Government sources as well as UK and EU industry.

We also have many extraordinarily generous philanthropic supporters. In January we announced a £100 million gift from INEOS to support research on antimicrobial resistance, one of the greatest challenges to global health. Our work on the Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities continued throughout the lockdowns as the entire city eagerly awaits the new performing arts centre. Work on our 39th college, Reuben College, has also continued throughout the year with the first cohort of students arriving in October. Looking ahead, we have announced our intention to create a new Pandemic Sciences Centre to build on our success in developing vaccines and therapeutics, and to bring together leading academics from across the disciplines and across the world to work together to ensure that we are never again caught unprepared for a pandemic.

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The Oxford-AstraZenecca cooperation achieved two targets almost simultaneously in July: A billion doses of the Oxford Covid vaccine have been delivered to more than 170 countries, having been produced at 20 sites around the world; and sales of the vaccine by AstraZenecca exceeded $1 billion in the first half of this year, in spite of being made available on a non-profit basis during the pandemic and still not being authorised by the US Food and Drug Administration.  

Seven Oxford scientists associated with Covid-19 were recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June for services to Science and Public Health: 

Professor Sarah Gilbert – Saïd Professor of Vaccinology – DBESarah is the Oxford Project Leader at the Jenner for developing the vaccine, now used around the world. 

Professor Adrian Hill – Director of the Jenner Institute and Lakshmi Mittal and Family Professor of Vaccinology – KBEA key member of the team that designed and developed the vaccine at the Jenner. 

Professor Peter Horby – Director of the Pandemic Sciences Centre, and Professor of Emerging and Infectious Diseases and Global Health – Knight BachelorPeter leads the UK Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 therapy (RECOVERY) trial, the largest such treatment trial in the world.  

Professor Martin Landray – Deputy Director of the Big Data Institute, and Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology – Knight BachelorMartin co-leads the RECOVERY trial with Peter Horby. 

Professor Andrew Pollard – Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, and Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity – Knight BachelorHe led the global clinical trials of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine. 

Professor Catherine Green – Head of the Nuffield Department of Medicine’s Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility and Associate Professor at the Wellcome Centre of Human Genetics – OBEAn integral part of Oxford’s development of the vaccine in partnership with AstraZeneca. 

Professor Teresa Lambe – Associate Professor at the Jenner Institute – OBEOne of the Principal Investigators overseeing Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine programme.  Richard Cockram

Oxford Biomedica was spun out of the University by Professors Alan and Susan Kingsman in 1996 and entered the FTSE 250 index for the first time in June 2020. The company specialises in cell and gene therapy and signed a vaccine supply agreement with AstraZeneca in September 2020 and began production of the COVID vaccine in the fourth quarter, prior to the UK regulator granting its emergency use in December. Increased demand for the Oxford vaccine has boosted Biomedica’s share price and this new market for the company is expected to lead to new partnerships outside its traditional areas. Richard Cockram

Optellum is an Oxford spin-out which started up in 2017 after three years of support by Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation. Optellum’s mission is to enable earlier and better cancer diagnosis and treatment by using Machine Learning (AI) to unlock new insights in huge image databases. In a press release on 27 April, Optellum announced the world’s first AI decision support for early lung cancer, having received FDA clearance for application in hospitals. Optellum’s software, Virtual Nodule Clinic, gives clinicians support in identifying and tracking at-risk patients who present suspicious lung nodules which could be cancerous. This is expected to improve clinical care coordination and decisions, with the aim of getting patients treated before the disease has metastasized, crucially increasing lung cancer survival rates.

Oxford Nanopore is a company spun out of Oxford University in 2005 with a mission to develop nanotechnology – this deals with the manufacture of objects with dimensions of less than a ten-millionth of a metre and the manipulation of individual molecules and atoms. Since its foundation, ON devices have been widely used to detect cancer, to track infectious diseases and to enable authorities to crack down on food safety. More recently, an ON device no larger than an office stapler has been used in over 85 countries to sequence DNA in the Covid-19 virus and hence to identify new variants. In March, the company announced plans to float on the London Stock Exchange, with an expected valuation of at least £2.3 billion.

In an earlier blog, we drew attention to Professor Adrian Hill’s 30 year’s research into a malaria vaccine. The single existing vaccine is only 36% effective, way below the goal of 75% set by the World Health Organisation. In clinical trials of 450 children in Burkina Faso, the new vaccine was 77% effective at preventing infection. The co-director of the Malaria Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Colin Sutherland, said that the results exceeded his expectations, though safety data from larger trials are needed. These trials are already under way. When Adrian Hill describes these early results as ‘thrilling’, you may be confident that a major breakthrough is in progress. The Serum Institute of India has already committed to producing 200 million doses per annum at a cost of about £2 per dose. It now remains to be seen if authorisation to use the vaccine can be fast-tracked, as the Covid-19 vaccines have been. In that case, it could be rolled out early in 2023.

We are all aware that Professor Sarah Gilbert led the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, but it is less well known that she co-founded an Oxford biotech start-up, Vaccitech, which was spun out of the University and incorporated in 2016. Vaccitech has recently raised $168 million from investors to support early-stage clinical trials, including treatments for patients with chronic hepatitis and prostate cancer. This latest funding values Vaccitech at around $425 million and could lead to a stock market listing.

Separately, another biotech company spun out of the University, Genomics, has developed a test that surveys patients’ DNA to calculate their risk of disease. If successful, the test could be used by GPs to identify patients with enhanced risk of strokes and heart attacks, potentially saving around 2,000 deaths per annum resulting from cardiovascular disease. This technology could also be used to identify other conditions such as cancers, diabetes and bipolar disorder which are missed by current screening. A pilot study is being carried out, involving 1,000 patients in northeast England. Richard Cockram

In January 2021 the University announced that it had been given £100 million by Ineos to create an institute that will research ways to deal with the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.  This is a global problem which is rapidly getting worse – around 1.5 million people die annually from strains of bacteria that evade antibiotics.  Since most antibiotics are used on animals, where bacteria evolve to evade drugs and then infect humans, agricultural use will be the area on which the research effort will focus.  The donation will be used immediately for research rather than being invested in bricks and mortar.  The institute will be based in a building already under construction, close to the laboratory where Ernst Chain and Howard Florey helped to develop the first antibiotic penicillin, research which led to them sharing the Nobel prize with Alexander Fleming.  January 2021

Anyway, this wonderful news has prompted me to undertake a first, a brief Chairman’s message to all Branch members here in Cornwall. I wish I could call it a “newsletter” but there is so little else to say. Our Committee is already beginning to stir again and is optimistic that it will be possible to resuscitate a worthwhile programme of events for the second half of 2021. Our first thought will be to try to carry forward much of what was planned for this year. We are also looking at ways of strengthening and perhaps widening our support for students from Cornwall who are either up at Oxford or considering applying to enter. Branch finances are reasonably healthy, but obviously in terms of both finance and human resources we cannot afford to stretch ourselves too widely. One idea is to work with two or three secondary schools with which we already have contacts to see whether the donation of a laptop to bright pupils who cannot afford to buy one would be helpful.

Our hard-working Secretary/Treasurer, Richard Cockram, to whom we all owe many thanks, will be  keeping us all up to date in the coming months.  I also invite anyone who has ideas or comments on any existing, or possible future, Branch activity to contact either Richard or myself. 

I hope we will all be able to meet up again before too long since fellowship is an important function of the Society. Meanwhile, stay safe and we should all keep our minds as active as possible. A dog helps enormously to keep our bodies active. Well, mine does!

With thanks for your continued participation with the Branch and my personal best wishes. Yours ever,Jeremy Varcoe

Robin Hanbury-Tenison (robin@cabilla.co.uk) published ‘Taming the Four Horsemen’ in February – a powerful polemic on the major threats facing the world today and how they can be overcome.  The threats featured include global outbreaks of deadly diseases.  Within weeks of publication, Robin returned from France with a severe case of Covid-19, from which he has now recovered.

Janey Fisher (née Anstey) has written a book about the Black Death called ‘Thirteen Forty-Nine’, to be published in January 2021. It was started before Covid, but completed during lockdown. Janey says the parallels are interesting! (janeyfisher54@gmail.com)

Oxford leads the way again! Oxford Nanopore is a spin-off of the University and has developed a virus test which will detect both Covid-19 and flu cases in less than an hour and a half. The so-called Lampore test can be carried out by non-medical staff with minimal training and is based on swabs or saliva. The Government has approved the nationwide use of the test, which will eventually be carried out by businesses and airports and has been described as hugely beneficial in helping to break the chains of transmission quickly.

Another book by a member!

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A book by our Secretary

In 1921, following hourly readings of sea level for six years from the pier at Newlyn, the Ordnance Survey established Mean Sea Level or Ordnance Datum Newlyn.  This has been the basis for all height measurements on OS maps of Great Britain for the past 99 years.  The story of why Newlyn became the base for MSL, how the measurements were made and the role of local people in running and maintaining the equipment is told in The Newlyn Tidal Observatory, on sale at archiveatnewlyn@gmail.org. The book was co-authored by our Secretary, Richard Cockram, who is also Chairman of the Newlyn Archive.

Two other members have recently had books published.

Tony Wood (Merton 1957) has recently had published, through Austin McCauley, a short story for older Primary and lower Secondary readers. It is called The Mermaid’s Kiss and is largely a Cornish story starting with a cliff fall of rock and ending in the Scillies. ISBN 9781528922593. 

Tony Cottrell’s new comic novel, ‘Mena Dhu‘ (‘BLACK HILL’- no further knowledge of the language required) is set in the village of Porthwallow and the imposing vast pile on the headland above, Mena Dhu.They are preparing for the annual cricket match between the village and the Big House, whose team is captained by Sir Cosmo de Coverlet, the latest in a line reaching back to Tristan and who happens to be the rightful heir to the Duchy of Cornwall and hence the throne of Great Britain.While it does not stand up to precise historical analysis – especially by Oxford alumni – it should entertain, especially if you are isolating yourself from the invasions from upalong. Available either on line through Amazon or directly from Tony on tony@menadhu.com

While the blogs below have been following the progress of the search for a covid vaccine, Professors Landray and Horby at Oxford have been trialing existing drugs to try to find a treatment for patients suffering from the virus. In a world first for Oxford, a controlled trial has proved that a widely available steroid, dexamethasone, significantly reduces mortality in patients requiring oxygen or on mechanical ventilators. Doctors are already proscribing it in hospitals and it is on the shelves of many pharmacies. The team already has four other drugs to test and the hope is that one or more of those, used in conjunction with dexamethasone, may reduce mortality rates even further. The only other drug shown to be effective in treating covid-19 is remdesivir. This cuts recovery times but does not affect mortality. Up to 5,000 deaths could have been avoided in the UK alone if the steroid had been known to be effective when the pandemic began.

Oxford Biomedica has signed an agreement with the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre. VMIC UK is a new joint venture company being established by the University of Oxford, Imperial College and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and is based in the Oxford Science Park. VMIC will bridge the gap between research and expertise in the manufacturing and development of new vaccine products. The five-year agreement will boost supplies of the potential Oxford vaccine and increase the UK’s domestic capacity.

HMG has pledged £65.5 million in additional funding for Oxford’s Jenner Institute vaccine project. The University’s agreement with AstraZeneca now covers the commercialisation and manufacturing of the job, provided it passes the safety efficacy tests. Cobra Biologies in Staffordshire and Oxford Biomedica will manufacture the vaccine in the UK. If all goes according to plan, 30 million doses of the vaccine could be made for the UK by September, as well as 70 million doses for developing countries at low cost. If this target is met, the world record for developing a new vaccine and delivering it to patients would be broken by several years. The Government and the medical profession are now trying to manage expectations.

The first vaccine against a contagious disease was developed in 1796 by Dr Edward Jenner. He demonstrated that an infection with the relatively mild cowpox virus conferred immunity against the deadly smallpox virus. Milkmaids who had caught cowpox did not contract smallpox. In 1840, the Vaccination Extension Act extended free vaccination to the rich and poor alike, overseen by the Poor Law Commission. By 1848, Dr Jenner’s vaccination against smallpox was being freely provided to all. (Source: Newlyn Archive)

OUS Cornwall awarded a £500 bursary for a final year student at Green Templeton College to carry out a medical elective in A&E and anaesthetics at Mater Dei Hospital in Malta. His skills will now be redirected to working with the NHS to save lives in the UK and he will use our funds to cover unanticipated costs arising from his sudden return to Oxford. In return, he will send us an account of how his life develops in the months ahead.

The Brilliant Club (see Outreach) is an award-winning charity that aims to increase the number of students from under-represented areas and backgrounds to mainly Russell Group universities. It runs the Scholars programme, which recently sent nine Mounts Bay Academy Year 11 students to New College in Oxford, where they graduated from the Programme.

Commercial spinouts. Two major investments are underway in Oxford. A new humanities department has been funded by a £150 million donation from Stephen Schwarzman, the founder of the Blackstone private equity group in the US, the biggest philanthropic gift in British history. Two collaboration and innovation hubs will be built on the outskirts of Oxford, to encourage the creation of thousands of high-tech science ventures. Legal & General will build thousands of affordable homes for postgrads and staff alongside the two hubs. The University and L&G will be investing £4 billion in these homes and ventures.

Oxbridge remains the gold standard for generating ideas that go on to become world-beating companies, way ahead of larger cities and universities. In 2019, 104 companies were spun out of Oxford, while Cambridge had 78 – far ahead of the nearest rivals. To be fair, four years ago a Cambridge chip design start-up founded in 1990 was sold for £24 billion. Oxford can’t match that, yet. If Boris builds a motorway and/or a new rail link between the two cities, that would encourage joint ventures and an even greater wave of new businesses emerging from an Oxbridge entrepreneurial corridor.

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