Millionaires' club - academics reap the rewards of research

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The Independent Online

A growing number of academics are joining the ranks of the super-rich as they sell their ideas and inventions through spin-off companies. The first survey on the academic rich, compiled by The Times Higher Educational Supplement, reveals dozens of multimillionaire dons.

The list is dominated by professors, or former professors, from Oxbridge and Russell Group institutions - which represents 19 top universities - but also includes lecturers from Bradford, Dundee and Ulster universities.

The survey identified 12 academics as the highest earners whose discoveries have made them worth hundreds of millions of pounds. This includes John King, a former lecturer at Queen's, Belfast, who has been valued at £160m, and Brian Bellhouse, an Oxford engineering professor, whose wealth is estimated at £40m.

Several academics on the wider list of 67 dons have made their millions in the past year, including Professor Stephen Jackson, a Cambridge biologist, who founded KuDOS Pharmaceuticals in 1997. The Cambridge scientist Professor Sir Greg Winter and the Oxford chemists Professor Steve Davies and Professor Graham Richards also feature in the top 12.

Professor Richards, who admits to earning "a few million" through his work, said: "We are not in it for the money. Almost all academics who make money could leave academe and make more.

"Most have kept the day job, which means no time off and no reduction of normal teaching or administrative duties.

"Most believe it is valuable for their research to be exploited for the good of the nation's health."

Academics who make their fortunes come from a broad range of disciplines. They are as likely to be engineers, chemists or physicists as molecular biologists.

About half of the millionaires have capitalised on their work in the biomedical sciences. The other half come from the physical and chemical sciences, mechanical and electronic engineering and computing.

Academics told the THES that until the late 1990s, the money-making ventures centred on physics and engineering breakthroughs. But since 2000 the opportunities had widened as venture capitalists and pharmaceutical companies became more interested in academics' ideas.

Sir Greg Winter, who is head of the Medical Research Council's laboratory of molecular biology, said: "There are some lucrative fields in physics, such as super-conducting magnets and transistors, but equally there is much potential to make money in biology, medicine and chemistry."

The list was compiled by the THES using anonymous data from university technology transfer offices, regional development agencies, research councils, business schools, venture capital firms and university and industry partnerships.

Professor Winter, who created the Cambridge Antibody Technology Group which made a gross profit of £68m last year, said: "I get more pleasure from thinking about how what I have done has helped people with rheumatoid arthritis than thinking about my bank account.

"Anyway, I think I am a poor businessman because for all the millions I made, others have made billions from me."

Striking it rich

BRIAN BELLHOUSE

Created the needle-free injection technology company PowderJect, spun off from Oxford in 1993 and sold to Chiron, the US drugs group, for £542m.

SIR TOM BLUNDELL

Cambridge biochemist. Founded Astex Technology, which has been valued at £150m. It has developed a new approach to drug design.

STEVE DAVIES

Oxford chemist who founded Oxford Asymmetry and VASTox, which use chemical genomics technology. Oxford Asymmetry was floated for £58m.

PETER JENNER

From King's College London. Founded Proximagen, which specialises in discovering therapeutic targets for neuro- degenerative diseases.

JOHN KING

Former lecturer at Queen's University, Belfast. Chairman of Galen pharmaceuticals, which was taken over last year in a £1.6bn deal.

SIR PETER MANSFIELD

Emeritus professor of physics at Nottingham University. Created the magnetic resonance imaging scanner now widely used in hospitals.

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