Blog 23 May 2023 

Tracking CPI’s impact on genetic medicine pioneer, Touchlight

We measure impact many years after partnering with clients to explore how CPI’s support influenced a range of factors including growth and societal impact.

Louise Barker

Louise Barker

Director of Impact

We measure impact and track clients many years after their first interaction with us to explore how CPI’s support influenced a range of factors, including private investment, growth, and societal aspects, such as health and environmental impacts.

Touchlight Genetics was formed in 2007 with the ambition to manufacture DNA that would power the revolution in genetic medicine – applying personalised cancer vaccines and therapies to other deadly and devastating diseases and moving these closer to market. 

They recognised that DNA manufacture was expensive, slow, and inflexible, taking many months to deliver a product. The decades-old technique of producing DNA by inserting it into the bacterium E. coli, growing it in a fermenter, and then extracting it is difficult – both from a supply chain perspective of accessing materials and in the fact that it can produce strains of DNA that contain antibiotic resistance genes. 

Touchlight landed on a synthetic method of manufacturing DNA using enzyme biochemistry instead of bacterial cells. They developed a unique vector called doggybone DNA (dbDNA).

But innovation can be challenging for start-ups and SMEs. Revolutionary ideas are not always enough to secure funding and manage risk for investors. Without the guarantee of commercial success, the journey is complex and risky. 

The start of a beautiful relationship

We first collaborated with Touchlight in 2017, 10 years after its inception, to help them develop their next-generation, cell-free DNA manufacturing platform. So began a long-term partnership that continues today as we follow their success. 

Many years ago, before our impact journey began, we would have only tracked mandatory reporting KPIs. Our collaboration with Touchlight would have been recorded as one in the total number of businesses worked with and projects completed. A monetary value in the income generated. 

We now have the addition of layers of impact measurement. We look at the level of the individual project itself, for example, by gathering output data in project closure reports to understand the achievements. We also measure the impact of the companies we work with, gathering data and asking questions about what they achieve after collaborating with us. 

The beauty of how we look at CPI’s impact is rooted in that blend of robust measurement methodology and our efforts to understand the changes that result for companies and individuals – data combined with storytelling. 

Our impact journey has taught us the importance of telling a company’s growth journey through what, at first glance, may seem like small wins. Jobs growth, for example, is not something typically reflected in SME company reports, but is data we have – and it can represent exponential growth. 

Measuring impact is a long-distance journey

What we’ve come to realise is that tracking and understanding impact is a long-term commitment. How long things take to manifest varies, depending on the technology, the sector, the industrial environment, and so on. But we see such interesting things happen during each company’s journey, and we now understand much more about where investment needs to come in to enable an SME to remain viable and make small wins. 

Within a few years of a partner starting to work with us, we may see outputs in terms of innovation progression, new products, or licenses. Look more at a 5‑year timescale, and you may see changes in the company in terms of products released to the market, further R&D, investment and growth in jobs and turnover. 

During our work with Touchlight, we proved and scaled their dbDNA platform, transforming it into a commercially viable process. The technology is now at a point where it manufactures DNA at the speed, scale, consistency, and purity necessary to support the rapid growth of genetic medicines. 

In 2021, Deloitte ranked Touchlight as the fastest-growing biotech company in Britain based on its percentage revenue growth. In the same year, they broke ground on the world’s highest-capacity DNA manufacturing facility, located in a former Victorian water works on the river Thames. 

From speaking with them, we know we played a fundamental role in helping them achieve growth and deliver impactful innovation. 

CPI has skill sets and equipment that are not readily available anywhere else,” said Touchlight CTO, Jill Makin. By using CPI’s skills, we have saved many months of process development.” 

As well as contributing technical know-how and providing access to equipment, CPI helped Touchlight identify funding opportunities and collaboration partners. Touchlight went on to secure £147 million in private investment, and the company has expanded to employ over 100 people in high-value jobs. 

Revealing long-term impact

Beyond 5, 10, and 15 years is where impact truly comes into play. We’re modelling data around changes to the economy and society in terms of a company’s inward investment, gross value added at a national level, development in the sector or workforce, and any benefits to society – in Touchlight’s case, on public health. 

Our support helped Touchlight evaluate the future potential applications of its technology, including mRNA applications that have grown in demand since the use of mRNA vaccines to tackle COVID-19

What we learnt scientifically from working with Touchlight continues to generate its own impacts. Our increased knowledge allowed us to assist the UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce during the COVID-19 pandemic as they led the development of mRNA vaccines. 

We’re continuing to monitor the impact of our collaboration with Touchlight, conscious that the public health impacts of this project could be far-reaching. In 2022, for example, Odimma Therapeutics acquired access to Touchlight’s technology to support the development of their candidate immunotherapy cancer treatment, due to start clinical enrolment this year. 

As the company grows, makes new acquisitions, and forms new knowledge-sharing partnerships, we will follow the progress of this innovative technology we helped make possible – a technology that may well come to play a vital role in combatting serious illnesses and future epidemics. 

Coming up next...

In our fourth blog on impactful innovation, we’ll share another case study from the sustainability sector. Our long-term partnership with Chestnut Natural Capital is an exciting example of how our work contributes to reducing society’s impact on the environment.

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CPI ensures that great inventions gets the best opportunity to become a successfully marketed product or process. We provide industry-relevant expertise and assets, supporting proof of concept and scale up services for the development of your innovative products and processes.

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