The University of Birmingham is to set up a pioneering centre to lead research into the world’s forests, thanks to a £15 million donation from former student and academic entrepreneur Prof Jo Bradwell and his wife Barbara.
Funded by one of the largest gifts ever given to a British university, the Institute for Forest Research will study the impact of climate and environmental change on woodlands and the resilience of trees to pests and diseases.
Prof Bradwell, who studied medicine at the university and graduated in 1968, subsequently becoming a professor in the Department of Immunology said: “The UK has the lowest woodland cover of any large European country because of deforestation over the centuries. What little we have remaining is now under serious threat from climate change and imported tree diseases.”
Prof Bradwell founded Birmingham-based medical diagnostics company Binding Site in 1983. It is a classic example of how discoveries in the laboratory can achieve considerable commercial success. The company was spun out of research work undertaken at the University of Birmingham. The team developed a new way to produce highly-sensitive antibodies which could be used for diagnostic tests to identify childhood immune deficiencies and blood cancers in adults.
Realising they had identified a process with huge commercial potential internationally the research team, led by Prof Bradwell created the Binding Site as a commercial venture.
That was 30 years ago. In November 2011, Prof Bradwell sold the majority of the shares in the medical diagnostics company to Nordic Capital. Jo Bradwell retains a small shareholding and remains on the board.
The value of the sale is undisclosed, but it will have been a considerable sum. In 2009, Binding Site’s auto-immune operation was sold to the Werfen Group for £80 million.
Prof Bradwell, 68, remains a professor at Birmingham University where the Binding Site leases laboratories and does much of its research. Its headquarters is a state-of-the-art research facility in Calthorpe Road, Edgbaston. Employing 550 people, the company has offices and distributors all over the globe, with a major operation in San Diego, USA. It turns over £55 million a year, 90 per cent of which is export based.
The Binding Site began with a range of clinical research products. It has continued to grow and expand, launching new, high-value, knowledge-based products and opening new offices, the most recent being in Spain. It has year-on-year sales growth of 18 per cent and has won the Queens Award for Export Achievement, and the Queens Award for Enterprise twice. Forty per cent of the company’s products are sold in the US. The Binding Site’s charity partner is Birmingham-based Cure Leukaemia.
Prof Bradwell is an enthusiastic and accomplished climber. In August 2010 he successfully climbed the 3404m Pico De Aneto in the Pyrenees, and has been on several expeditions to the world’s highest mountain ranges in the Himalayas and South America.
He is chairman and founder of the Birmingham Medical Research Expeditionary Society which was begun in 1977 when several young doctors started climbing together.