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Kev Dhaliwal | Edinburgh Molecular Imaging

Imaging ‘smart agents’ for real-time diagnosis

“When we took the concept of an optical light-detecting cancer patch to Biotechnology YES in 2008, we came second in the UK Finals – and the idea we presented there is a central part of what Edinburgh Molecular Imaging now does.

“Not many clinicians get exposed to Biotechnology YES,” says Kev. “Yet, experiences like this bring clinicians much closer to their goals, in terms of developing and commercialising technologies so they can benefit patients.”

Kev Dhaliwal EMI
“I’d never had business training before, so doing YES, learning about spin-outs and simulating being part of company were all good practice.”

Clinician, professor and entrepreneur

Professor Kev Dhaliwal is a busy man. Officially, 50% of his time is spent as a hospital doctor, a consultant in respiratory medicine in the NHS, and 50% is as a Professor at Edinburgh University encouraging entrepreneurship and running a research group developing new optical imaging technologies funded by RCUK and medical charities.

The ‘other 50%’, he says half-jokingly is contracted to the company he co-founded to commercialise the technologies he and his research colleagues develop. “In reality,” he says, “each element is driven by the others and forms part of one ecosystem.” The hospital and research institute are located right next to innovators based in the Edinburgh Bioquarter, so Kev can also move freely between his clinical, research and company duties.

Seeing the light

After A levels Kev went to Edinburgh University to study medicine. During his training, he did a PhD funded by an MRC Training Fellowship. He was doing some basic research into diagnostic imaging – and it wasn’t working. “Then I met an amazing chemist and friend and thought about how to use his skills with mine.

“We worked out how to apply smart chemistries (fluorescence) to finding new solutions. Seeing things happen in those first models made me visualise as a clinician what could happen in patients and how it might help them. I literally saw the light.”

Further insights into clinical applications and commercial potential came via Kev’s team’s experiences during Biotechnology YES. “I’d never had business training before, so doing YES, learning about the spin-out process and simulating being part of company were all good practice.”

Nearly ten years on Kev now sits on the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) strategic advisory team for healthcare technologies advising them on research and training strategy in this area.

More Information

Visit Edinburgh Molecular Imaging and
EPSRC/MRC Doctoral Training Centre for Optical Medical Imaging


Top impacts

Novel IP
The fluorescent agents developed by Edinburgh Molecular Imaging are novel and protected by patents in all major territories. The core of the technology is that the fluorescent signal from the optical agents is increased on target engagement in a diseased patient.

Raising funds for the start-up was “probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” says Kev. “There were lots of knockbacks and refusals. It took over 3 years and dozens of pitches.” The University team led by Professor Mark Bradley, Professor Chris Haslett and Kev have received just over £20m of funding from the Wellcome Trust, EPSRC and MRC, and Series A venture capital funding for EMI was £4m.

International grant
Awarded an international grant of £0.9m from a major international initiative designed to accelerate pre-clinical product development in the area of antibiotic-resistant infections, one of the world’s greatest health threats.

Promoting entrepreneurship
“Each year I give a YES seminar or case study, and I help embed entrepreneurship via the EPSRC/MRC Doctoral Training Centre for Optical Medical Imaging. I encourage students to enter YES. It’s low-cost, high impact and impressive.”


Young Entrepreneurs Scheme

  • Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Nottingham University Business School
  • Jubilee Campus
  • Nottingham, NG8 1BB