Case study: Professor Ursula Gompels

“When you spend time in industry you realise just how collaborative it is, and how important your networks are in business. My Industry Fellowship helped me realise the importance of this.”
Awarded: 1999 – 2003, Employer: London School of Health and Tropical Medicine, Host: GlaxoSmithKline

Ursula is Professor of Molecular Virology at the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine, where she studies immune mediation of infections, virus genomics and adaptation to gene therapeutic systems. She was awarded her Industrial Fellowship in 1999, hosted by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) at their research and development site in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. 

“During my Industry Fellowship, I was investigating both the fundamentals and applications of immune mediation molecules for vaccines. GSK were doing applied work in related areas at the time, so I decided it would be useful to work with them.”

To support her collaborative project at GSK, Ursula applied for a PhD studentship, which was awarded by the BBSRC. “A paired studentship led to greater outcomes on my project, and provided the student with further training and research opportunities. Ultimately, their project had a more translational goal.” 

Ursula was attracted to the Royal Society Industry Fellowship because she wanted to explore the opportunities that industry offered without leaving academia. “I saw both fundamental and application based research as being equally important, and the Royal Society has always been bridging the two worlds.” 

Ursula’s Industry Fellowship allowed her to leverage funding to continue with her research after its completion, feeding into a body of work that culminated in patents granted in 2015 and 2017. This allowed her to establish the spin-out company Virokine Therapeutics Limited with a former colleague from her time at GSK. 

“The spin-out company was the culmination of a 20 year research programme. I saw the opportunity to take my research to commercialisation before my Industry Fellowship and pursued this, and over the past 5 years the company has evolved.” 

The company uses ‘virokines’, kinds of signalling proteins from viruses that can attract unique combinations of  immune cells to an inoculation site to make vaccines work. They are applying this to nucleic acid vaccines to produce brand new immunotherapeutic treatments. 

“My Industry Fellowship was an invaluable opportunity to see how the patent process worked and how scientific research could be translated into application, something that wasn’t so easy for me to develop in academia”.