19 September, 2012 - 14:36 By Tony Quested

Tech targets for next US swoop on Cambridge

BlueGnome’s acquisition by genotyping giant Illumina provides a further testimony to the world-class calibre of Cambridge UK technology and BioMedTech innovation – but it holds considerably more promise for the future welfare of the cluster than the last US move into light blue territory.

The aftershocks from HP’s seismic acquisition of Autonomy last autumn have left a faultline that may never completely close. But Illumina is different – and the BiomedTech community is different.

Also, Illumina has a track record in Cambridge. Its first major venture into the cluster saw it swallow Solexa, which had thrilled the world by delivering automation to signal a brave new dawn of enterprise in the post-genomics era.

That was in November 2006 and Solexa has continued to thrive in the now familiar Cambridge-California transatlantic cradle we have come to know and love.

Three years after Cambridge’s Sanger Institute had announced the mapping – with global partners – of the human genome, Solexa had a real proposition in its portfolio.

It came to world attention by developing a proprietary, next generation genetic analysis system for use in whole genome sequencing, targeted resequencing, digital gene expression and microRNA analysis.

Cambridge entrepreneur and Silicon Valley Visionary of the Year, Hermann Hauser, has had his genome sequenced using Solexa – and emerged relishing rather than fearing the future!

Illumina got great value for its money – or rather for its share capital – in acquiring Solexa; it was an equity deal valued at $600 million and Illumina also pledged to inject $50m into the Cambridge business. The synergies were right and the marriage of minds and missions looks built to last.

Like Solexa, BlueGnome is a class act: A Queen’s Award for International Trade winner, BlueGnome was founded in 2002 by a team of Cambridge University scientists who developed a novel mathematical technology for the analysis of genetic data – also inspired by the sequencing of the human genome.

Like BlueGnome, Solexa is a Cambridge University spin-out. It had been founded in a Cambridge pub – sadly not the Eagle where Crick & Watson announced they had cracked the structure of DNA – in 1998 by four Cambridge University scientists.

Beer and empathy proved exactly the right brew for the birth of a business Cambridge UK style.

Illumina will nurture BlueGnome just as it has Solexa; it will respect that there is much to be gained from not disturbing the Cambridge roots of the business.

The latest in a seemingly endless stream of US acquisitions of Cambridge’s best, it has to be hoped that lessons have been learned from HP’s bungling of the Autonomy acquisition.

Datanomic, Zeus, i2 and many others have gone to American parents in recent times and certainly appear to have escaped the unrest Autonomy has endured in the last 11 months.

So what credible targets in Cambridge does that leave available to Uncle Sam? ARM is the best company in Cambridge but CEO Warren East doesn’t believe Intel or anyone of that stature will gain much from acquiring it.

Abcam is another jewel in the Cambridge crown but has been busy making acquisitions of its own. Inkjet giant Domino is the one major player in its sector to escape US clutches and that is unlikely to change any time soon.

Wireless company CSR has to be a possible acquisition target somewhere down the line. As does CleanTech envelope Tracking market leader Nujira - which may well be the next to slip across the Pond.

And of the newcomers, wireless startup Neul - which is trailblazing its weightless concept for development of smart cities, and also leveraging the white space spectrum – looks an obvious ‘buy’ given that America is an early adopter of and partner for, its proposition.

Of the two best most recent startups, security software specialist Bromium is already half American, with Cambridge and California its dual homelands. But small cell backhaul pioneer Cambridge Communication Systems will do well to stay independent – it is already such hot property.

And in BioMedTech there are two other standout Cambridge businesses that would fetch top dollar tomorrow if they simply crooked their fingers – personalised medicines specialist Horizon Discovery and antibodies adventurer Kymab.

The Californian bean counters will be well aware of them and the grains of sand will already be trickling through the hour glass. It really is just a matter of time before these stars earn their stripes in the land of King Dollar.

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