Open Cell is transforming shipping containers into lab space in London

Open Cell is a new collaborative space for biotech innovators in Shepherd’s Bush London. Aiming to support the London ecosystem of bioscientists and designers, specialising on incorporating new biological techniques into material development. It’s a unique space, composed of modular mixed use areas including labs, studios and workshops. Opencell is located within 45 shipping containers adjacent to Shepherd’s Bush Market.

After running a biodesign exhibition with the Royal College of Art in White City, London, a year ago, Open Cell founders Helene Steiner and Thomas Meany saw amazing inventions from students. The ideas had tremendous impact but also had a need for space and specialist lab equipment. Helene and Thomas were well acquainted with this problem since they run a startup specialising in developing DNA design and prototyping tools called Cell-Free Technology.

After a year of searching for spaces, proposal writing, rejections and negotiations they managed to obtain support from U+i group, a property developer specialising in regeneration, SynbiCITE the UK’s synthetic biology industry and engineering biology industrial accelerator, and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Council. However, the gamechanger came when a friend introduced them to Biotop, an Austrian science collective and architecture studio. Their collaboration began only in April but within a month the entire Biotop team flew to London to begin building labs in shipping containers.

Extending the study of the Frankfurt Kitchen, the Biotop team are seeking to experiment with, and optimise, biotech lab design. The goal is a user centric design to facilitate most efficient usage with the lowest cost. Containers are the ideal starting point since they are readily available, easily moved and have a long history of multifunctional use. In addition, it provides a flexible testbed in which innovative lab designs can be rapidly installed and tested. New companies are designing new manufacturing techniques and this space acts as a sandbox. The Biotop team have diverse backgrounds, including biology, chemistry and architecture. This leads them to question everything and take a very unique approach to design. Ralf Bleim, an architect in Biotop describes the way he engages with bottom up design: “Maybe the biggest challenge is to put all the people on the same table for hours and discuss with the scientists why they put things from there to there or a tube from there to there, because sometimes it seems like just a shelf… Build a shelf, and it should look fine. But to them it is not a shelf, it is more.”

In a way it makes perfect sense since the startups and designers who will move base themselves in Open Cell are working in a very unusual discipline. Broadly defined as “synthetic biology”, they are bridging the fields of technology, biology and design. As an example one designer, Alice Potts, has been working with food waste to find way to upcycle it into fashion. This type of approach is central to the style of businesses that Open Cell hopes to support; ecologically sustainable manufacturing methods and circular product life-cycles along with data driven research are essential ingredients in designing new materials. In addition new biotechnology tools have emerged that provide detailed genetic information to researchers to help provide a quantitative picture of processes and methods to improve them.

SynbiCITE, the UK synthetic biology industry and engineering biology industrial accelerator has supported the project financially since they see it as the missing link in the startup growth chain. Prof Paul Freemont and Richard Kitney Co-directors of SynbiCITE, Imperial College London describe the potential impact of this space: “We are seeing the emergence of a world leading bio-economy in the UK developing ecologically sustainable materials and products. We are also seeing new companies popping up in unlikely places, outside the traditional University environment. By supporting Open Cell we hope that early stage innovators can propel their ideas to prototypes  faster than ever before. We are also particularly excited about the opportunities for collaboration between designers, artists and biotechnologists that will make Open Cell and the UK the leading place for innovation in bio-based applications.”

Open Cell held an early viewing at the end of May but now its doors are open to the public and all are welcome to participate. The team will host a venue for the upcoming London design Festival and will also play host to homegrown events like the London Biotech Week that will be held later in the year. Part of their mission is to increase understanding of the impact of biotechnology and invite debate and discussion around its use. The space is embedded in a location that has a long history of textile design and as Zowie Broach, head of Fashion at the Royal College of Art puts it: “Shepherd’s Bush has been a key location for textiles and materials across the history of fashion design in London. Open Cell will be a space where the innovative and the traditional can work side by side adding a new layer, in new times, in new ways.”





Innovation in the human microbiome

31st May 2018 by Akash Patel

The human body contains trillions of micro-organisms, with an estimated 3.8∙10^13 bacterial cells accounting for up to 0.2 kg of body weight (Sender, R. et al., 2016). These microbes live within us in a symbiotic relationship and research has led to the understanding that they prove vital to our physiological functions. As vital as they are in remaining healthy, they are highly associated with causing or contributing to the development of many chronic diseases. These microbes are collectively known as ‘the human microbiota’ and the ‘microbiome’ is the term which describes the genes of all these microbes. The microbiome is unique to every individual and the extent to which it affects vital bodily functions is only just beginning to be really understood.

It was thought that the bacteria present in the gut mostly aid with digestion; they are now understood to play a role in cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), arthritis and type 2 diabetes, amongst other diseases (Thomas, S. et al., 2017). Surprisingly, bacteria growing in oral cavities have been found to be associated with the development of cardiovascular disease (Hajishengallis, G., 2015). These associations are becoming increasingly studied and as a result there is a wave of innovation in biotechnology to address these challenges and correct the dysbiosis (microbial imbalances on or inside the body), that is often found to be associated with many diseases.

 The revised estimates for the number of human and bacterial cells in the body are 3.0∙10^13 and 3.8∙10^13 respectively; this is still more than the number of stars in the milky way (2.5∙10^11)!

The revised estimates for the number of human and bacterial cells in the body are 3.0∙10^13 and 3.8∙10^13 respectively; this is still more than the number of stars in the milky way (2.5∙10^11)!

New players in the microbiome

There are several notable start-ups emerging in the microbiome space that are producing innovative technologies to address the challenges of dysbiosis.

Microbiotica is a spin-out of the Sanger Institute focusing on how the microbiome can be used to combat disease and they have developed a platform which cultures, characterises and phenotypes the patients gut bacteria. Their aim is to help identify the association between the bacteria present in the gut and their function to develop live bacterial therapeutics and biomarkers.

Early-stage start-up Microinventa, a company that has emerged from Deep Science Ventures, has developed a high-throughput culturomics platform to predict and isolate valuable bacterial strains from the human gut. By doing this they will identify how to engineer a healthier gut microbiome and prevent the dysbiosis associated with complex diseases such as IBD and cancer.

Another microbiome start-up, BioMe, recent winner of the IMAGINE IF! Global accelerator, have developed a pill-sized medical device called ‘Biocapture’ for targeted and non-invasive sampling of the human gut microbiome. In sampling the gut microbiome, they will be able to identify dysbiosis and microbial imbalances shown to be associated with susceptibility to many common diseases.

Finally, fighting the antimicrobial resistance crisis - Rapifage, another start-up from Deep Science Ventures, aims to address this at the primary care level, and has produced a novel phage-based diagnostic that can discern between bacterial and viral infections in sub-minute times. They aim to address the incorrect prescription of antibiotics in the GP surgery, a significant contributory factor to the antimicrobial crisis.

The human microbiome is the world of microbes, microbial genetics and how they influence our physiological function in health and disease. Coupled with the enormous challenge of antimicrobial resistance threatening global populations, the number of microbiome start-ups will only increase making this an incredibly exciting and dynamic area of biotech.

Work cited

Sender, R., Fuchs, S., Milo, R.. (2016). Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body. PLoS Biology. 14 (8)

Thomas, S., Izard, J., Walsh, E., Batich, K., Chongsathidkiet, P., Clarke, G., Sela, et al.. (2017). The Host Microbiome Regulates and Maintains Human Health: A Primer and Perspective for Non-Microbiologists. Cancer Research. 77 (8), 1783–1812.

Hajishengallis,G.. (2015). Periodontitis: from microbial immune subversion to systemic inflammation. Nature Reviews Immunology. 77 (8), 30-44.

RebelBio partners with Clustermarket to support startups with state-of-the-art resources.

London, United Kingdom -- Clustermarket, the online sharing platform helping scientists, engineers and other technology pioneers to get easy and affordable access to equipment and services just announced a strategic partnership with RebelBio, the world's first early-stage life sciences accelerator with programmes in London and Cork. Clustermarket is providing companies backed by RebelBio access to the resources they need on demand with exclusive offers.

“We cannot be prouder to work with Clustermarket, the leader in sourcing scientific services & providers throughout the UK & Europe for our Rebels. The attention to detail and support is unparalleled and this platform enables startups to accelerate their scientific development at a fraction of the time & cost it has taken in the past.” added Steven O Connell, the Associate Director & Programme Manager for RebelBio

RebelBio is a startup accelerator backed by SOSV - The Accelerator VC which focuses on entrepreneurs building technologies in or around the field of life sciences. The accelerator offers seed funding, lab space, world-class mentorship, inspiring peers and a community of successful and diverse founders from all sectors.

The partnership will support RebelBio’s startups with their specialized requirements and will provide them streamlined access to state of the art instruments and services at London’s leading universities such as Imperial College, King’s College, University College London and Queen Mary University. The platform saves administrative and legal work by having pre-negotiated contracts in place, which include IP protection and confidentiality agreements.

"Clustermarket is an online sharing platform for scientists to list, discover and book technology, lab equipment and expertise within their institution or cluster and therefore increases efficiency which is vital for research institutions but also for early stage companies in the science space. We are excited to be working with RebelBio’s innovative startups and help them focussing on their R&D rather than spending too much time and money on sourcing and establishing relationships with universities", said Johannes Solzbach, Co-Founder & CEO.

About SOSV & RebelBio

SOSV — The Accelerator VC — is a venture fund with US$300M in Assets Under Management operating global accelerator programs: HAX for hardware in Shenzhen and San Francisco, RebelBio for biotech in the UK & Europe, IndieBio for biotech in San Francisco, Chinaccelerator for Internet in Shanghai, FOOD-X for the business of food in NYC and MOX for mobile software in Taipei. SOSV invests in over 150 companies per year and over its two-decade history has a net IRR of over 30%, putting it in the top 7% of VC funds in the world.The TechCrunch Crunchbase 2017 investor report is out and SOSV is in the top 5 most active seed investor in the world.

About Clustermarket

Clustermarket is an online marketplace helping scientists to get easy and affordable access to equipment and services they need for their research. The equipment and services listed on Clustermarket are offered by universities, other research institutions, and businesses. The London based company aims to foster innovation by supporting collaboration and enhancing transparency between academia and industry. Existing resources can be used more efficiently; hence research becomes more affordable and less time consuming.


Twitter: @clustermarket



Clustermarket: the airbnb for lab equipment

Guest article by Ines Sequeira (Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine)

How many times you went around your department looking for a specific piece of equipment to use for just that one experiment? How many times you asked around your colleagues if they knew someone that had expertise on the new experiment you were trying to set up?

After the boom of “sharing economy”, in which people rent beds, cars, boats and other assets directly from each other, coordinated via the internet, for the first time we are able to book expertise, lab space and lab equipment outside our institution via an online platform: Clustermarket.

This platform was created in partnership with Merck Accelerator as the UK’s first online sharing platform for life scientists to list, discover and book resources within their institution or cluster. It gives scientists the opportunity to access latest technology in an easy and affordable way.

Clustermarket also allows institutions to rent out their technologies (equipment, software), infrastructures and services. You could list the equipment you have in the lab, making it accessible to other researchers. This can also be a nice source of income to help paying the service/maintenance fees of the equipment.

I believe that this new platform empowers researchers and institutions and it’s a great way to optimize resources. It is a win-to-win situation.

UK’s first online marketplace for scientists breaks down barriers to entry for life science start-ups

For the first time , companies and scientists will be able to book expertise, lab space and equipment outside their institution via an online platform, creating a new dawn for independent life science research in the UK.

Clustermarket ( has launched in partnership with Merck Accelerator as the UK’s first online marketplace for scientists – enabling grassroots scientific research and ‘access for all’ in life sciences.

This new ‘science on demand’ online platform, inspired by the AirBnB model, now allows UK science administrators, experts and institutions to rent out their technologies (equipment, software), infrastructures and services direct to start-up companies and innovators – initially with a focus in life science.

As a result of Clustermarket platform, research and development in the life science industry will be more affordable and less time consuming – making it easier for start-ups to breakthrough with innovation and bridge  the ‘Valley of Death’ (a term traditionally coined because life science start-ups and scientists have found it difficult to initiate research due to the high associated costs, thereby hindering discovery).

Clustermarket co-founder and CEO Johannes Solzbach says:

“Before Clustermarket, a scientist who required a mass spectrometer (a piece of equipment most commonly used in life science research) would have had to pay up to half a million GPB on top of other equipment needed.

Through Clustermarket they now have access to this type of equipment on demand, thereby enabling more research and removing barriers to entry.

We are proud to be the frontrunners in the democratisation of scientific research, which traditionally has had its reins held by massive institutions and corporations.

By launching Clustermarket we have initiated change in the research process, making it faster and affordable, and creating a better outlook for all in the industry by providing a platform for collaboration and innovation.”

In the first stage of its journey Clustermarket has secured a partnership with Merck, the international developer, manufacturer and distributor of pharmaceuticals.

Merck Accelerator says:

“We are delighted to partner with the UK¹s first sharing platform for life Sciences via our Accelerator program. The partnership enables Merck to support the grassroots of scientific research – an area which traditionally has held large financial barriers to entry due to the expensive costs of acquiring lab equipment and expertise.

We are confident the partnership with Clustermarket will enable a whole new shared economy and unprecedented access for life science research, in turn fostering new levels of breakthrough and understanding."

New Platform Bridges Valley of Death for Life Science

A new online sharing platform for life science research just launched has attracted hundreds of life science entrepreneurs and has bridged the gap toward making the UK more competitive in terms of commercialisation of scientific research.

Clustermarket CEO Johannes Solzbach says while the UK makes claims to being a global leader in science and research, the country has failed to compete when it comes to commercialisation and his platform,, has set out to bridge this.

Solzbach says, "In effect, overseas countries are pumping research funding into the UK to take advantage of our leading academics and institutions, but the commercialisation is not something that the UK itself is able to boast as a leader.

At Clustermarket we aim to reverse this trend and help the UK become a commercialisation centre as much as a research one. This identified gap is the reason we have chosen the UK as a launch centre for Clustermarket.

We envisage that with our platform,, there is a greener light for life science entrepreneurs to be able to take their ideas to market and we are delighted to have had such an overwhelming response to the platform in the first weeks since launch.

The high cost of research equipment and expertise has traditionally been a large barrier to entry for commercialisation of research in the UK.  The new platform provided by makes the journey to market more accessible by facilitating shared access to expertise and equipment.

Solzbach points out that peer countries in life sciences, such as China, Denmark and Germany are pushing ahead in terms of commercialisation by funding satellite research centres around the UK's prestigious academic institutions but the tendency is to take the piggy-backed results back in-house, for commercialisation in their own territories.

Coupled with the expected EU funding that is expected to be pulled from life sciences post-Brexit, the UK faces an ever widening valley of death scenario when it comes to commercialisation of academic research and realising innovation, which is causing real concern within the life science community. 

This commercialisation concern is backed by a UK Government report which says that 93% of research ideas do not get to market because of the high costs in terms of instruments and infrastructure. The report, released in 2013 by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee called Bridging the valley of death: improving the commercialisation of research says that a troubling feature of technology companies in the UK is how many are acquired by foreign owners where the subsequent jobs and wealth are generated outside the UK.

"We believe this is because life science entrepreneurs in the UK have been having to look abroad for funding so as to enable them to undertake expensive research and development," says Solzbach. Clustermarket is setting out to solve this problem.