May 17, 2006
From bench to business - A campus company with catalysts for success

Making the leap from laboratory bench to viable commercial enterprise requires an innovative idea, business expertise and financial support. Celtic Catalysts, a campus spin-off company with a bright future, has realised the commercial potential of novel synthetic strategies developed in the UCD School of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. The production of single-enantiomer molecules is hugely important for the pharmaceutical and fine chemical industries. Celtic Catalysts has developed novel chiral catalysts, which can be scaled up efficiently for industrial use in asymmetric processes.

The story of Celtic Catalysts began in 1999 when Dr Brian Kelly and his then PhD supervisor, Dr Declan Gilheany, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer, recognised the commercial potential of their research and took part in the NovaUCD Campus Company Development Programme.Located on campus, Celtic Catalysts now employs five staff and has a business development office in NovaUCD, The Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre at UCD, while research and development are carried out within the UCD School of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

The academic credentials of the campus company were in no doubt, with a scientific advisory board including 2001 Nobel Laureate Professor Barry Sharpless and other world-renowned scientists.

When asked to explain how academic research can be brought from bench to business, Dr Declan Gilheany, who is a senior lecturer in organic chemistry at UCD and a CSCB and UCD Conway Institute Investigator, replied “To bridge the gap, we needed to build a management team comprising business and finance experts as well as researchers. In 2004 Brian Elliott joined the company as CEO, with over 25 years of senior management experience.”

Support with start-up came in the form of NovaUCD, who provide assistance with all aspects of the transition, from securing funding, licensing, marketing, to dealing with intellectual property.

“Celtic Catalysts is an excellent example of a campus success story, where scientists took risks to make the transition from academia to business. The company has already expanded its management team and secured significant funding and licensing deals. In addition it has clearly paid off for Brian who was a finalist in the Shell Livewire 2005 Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award”, says Micéal Whelan, Project Manager - Communications at NovaUCD.

By 2002, Celtic Catalysts had secured seed funding, and further investment of €655,000 followed in 2004 from venture capital fund 4th Level Ventures and Enterprise Ireland. Recently the company has received approximately €1 million in grants from European and national sources. Celtic Catalysts has worked with some of the major pharmaceutical and fine chemical companies since commencing operations. “Working with large multinational industry players serves as a tremendous validation of both our technology and our business model”, says Brian Elliott.

The company recently announced details of its CHOICETM programme, an ongoing development which is designed to give the pharmaceutical and fine chemicals industries access to an unrivalled diversity of ligands and catalysts. Celtic Catalysts also supply a new range of chiral compounds developed by Professor Derek Boyd at Queen's University Belfast, which will provide access to important pharmaceutical intermediates. Exclusive licenses have been acquired to catalysis technology developed at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire as well as at Queen's University Belfast.

Dr Gilheany concludes “Celtic Catalysts are looking to the future and to the next phase of development, with further investment and new contracts with multinational companies in the pipeline.”


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