Introduction by Professor Nick Jennings

Professor Nick JenningsAt Imperial, our mission is not merely to understand the world, but to change it. We are doing this through world-leading research and education, and by exercising our translational and commercial capabilities, and collaborative spirit, to turn great academic thinking into transformative real-world innovations.

Earlier this year, we set out in our Academic Strategy an ambition to help make society healthy, sustainable, smart, and resilient: four themes that capture some of the great scientific and societal challenges of our time. This ambition is especially resonant when we consider the global response to COVID-19. Imperial teams are working, often with industry collaborators, to develop epidemiological models, an RNA vaccine, point-of-care virus and antibody tests, and a design for an emergency ventilator. They are aiding the digital response to the pandemic by advancing principles to ensure contacttracing apps preserve privacy. And they are looking at ways to build a more resilient and sustainable economy for the post-pandemic world.

Imperial’s rapid response to the pandemic is in many cases the result of research carried out over decades. The epidemiological models devised by Professor Neil Ferguson and colleagues, which influenced decision-making by governments around the world, draw on techniques that were already under development when he advised the UK government on the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001. Professor Robin Shattock, who leads one of two UK-based teams developing a COVID-19 vaccine, is building on groundwork carried out over a similar period. This research is now accelerating at an extraordinary rate. With an acute sense of urgency and significant support from government, philanthropists, and industry, we are seeing progress that would normally take years happen in months.

To make this rapid impact, some researchers are repurposing existing technologies. Point-of-care tests built using existing platforms have been developed by teams led by Professor Molly Stevens, Dr Firat Güder, Dr Pantelis Georgiou, and Professor Chris Toumazou, the latter with technology from his consumer DNA-testing scaleup DnaNudge.

Some staff and student teams are working on completely new initiatives. A team at our prototyping facility, the Advanced Hackspace, has designed a face visor and has manufactured 38,000 of them for the Imperial College NHS Trust using a floor of our Translation & Innovation Hub that has been converted for the purpose. They are supported by Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which has provided kits for assembling many of the visors. Another group, led by Dr Joseph Sherwood, has designed a new kind of emergency ventilator. In contrast to existing designs, the new ventilator can be assembled quickly from off-the- shelf components and the team is working with manufacturers who are ready to mass produce the devices.

The teams have been able to rapidly launch these initiatives thanks to our established cross-disciplinary communities, such as the Hackspace, and a culture of collaboration that allows us to assemble networks of staff, students and outside collaborators on the fly. The can-do ethos, that strong desire to use our expertise to change the world, is something that sets Imperial apart from many other universities. You see it in our culture and the kind of people we attract. We could not make the desired impact without industry partners, and our highly productive relationships with friends and collaborators in industry are also central to our work.

In Imperial’s Enterprise Division, 140 specialists in industry partnerships, project management, consultancy, entrepreneurship and commercialisation are helping to make an impact with this work. They have expanded our digital offering by providing services such as the student entrepreneurship hub online. And they are continuing to use their commercial skills to help turn research into world-changing inventions, and help businesses and investors establish connections with our academics and students.

This edition of the Review of Enterprising Activity offers a sample of the work our community is doing to make a real difference through new technologies, ventures, and industry collaborations. It showcases the kind of energy and enterprising endeavour that will change the world and help us tackle the evolving challenges the world faces in the years to come.

We want to work with you on these challenges. If you are inspired by what you read here and would like to explore opportunities to collaborate, I warmly invite you to begin a conversation with our Enterprise team.

Professor Nick Jennings
Vice Provost (Research and Enterprise)
Imperial College London