Overwatch’s R&D investment generates US export growth

Calculated R&D investment pays off for Belfast medtech firm Overwatch Research, generating US deals worth millions of dollars.

A £500,000 investment in R&D to develop a software platform that tackles the global issue of experimental errors in preclinical trials has paid off for Belfast firm Overwatch Research.

The company is generating significant growth in the US market having secured deals worth millions of dollars in the past year.

“We brought our software to market in 2019 and have already had quite considerable success in the US market”

Overwatch Research’s software works by reducing errors in the logging of important data in preclinical research, improving the drug development process for global pharmaceutical companies.

Overwatch’s customers include Boston-based Blueprint Medicines, The Institute of Cancer Research in London and a global pharmaceutical company who recently agreed a multi-year seven-figure licence deal.

Perfect planning prepares for success

“Ultimately our ambition is to improve the quality of life for millions of people worldwide by making the drug development process faster, safer and more scientifically reliable,” said Overwatch CEO Dr Chris Armstrong. “Many research scientists still use a mixture of paper-based notebooks and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets as key elements of their laboratory toolkits while recent US pharmaceutical industry research has shown that experimental mistakes cost the industry billions every year.

“The idea for our software came from our ambition to create a product to revolutionise how pre-clinical drug development studies are managed and performed, ultimately offering a software package that could address the high rate of failure in later clinical trials.

“We have accessed a range of Invest NI support to grow our team and build a world-class software platform that prevents scientists from making mistakes in the error-prone tasks of study design, data collection and data analysis. We brought our software to market in 2019 and have already had quite considerable success in the US market. This includes a multi-year seven-figure deal with a US-based multinational biopharmaceutical company. Invest NI’s support has been crucial to our ambitions to grow further, move into new overseas markets and build our own in-house development capability as part of our future five-year growth strategy,” Dr Armstrong said.

Since 2018, Invest Northern Ireland said it has offered Overwatch a range of support totalling £259,290 for six staff, R&D and market development activities. All of the jobs are now in place.

Invest NI’s R&D support is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund under the EU Investment for Growth and Jobs Programme 2014-2020.

In recognition of Overwatch’s commitment to innovation, it has been awarded a Gold Level Innovator Certificate from Innovate NI. Innovate NI is a Department for the Economy programme, helping local businesses innovate successfully. It is delivered by Invest NI, local councils and further education colleges. 

“Overwatch is a great example of how investing in innovation and R&D can open major global business opportunities for a company,” said Invest Northern Ireland CEO Kevin Holland.

“Our Grant for R&D supports Northern Ireland companies to develop products and services, which helps to strengthen their competitiveness in the global marketplace. Over the last three years, we have built a strong partnership with Overwatch, helping it to add six new staff and develop their world-class software platform, which ultimately enables pharmaceutical companies to get drugs to market quicker.

“Overwatch started out as a participant in the Co-Founders programme run by Catalyst NI before earning a place on Invest NI’s Propel Pre-accelerator in 2018. Following our technical assistance and support for R&D it launched its first product in 2019 and secured its first sale with a US pharma company that same year. Since then, it has won numerous contracts in the US, which is excellent progress for such an early-stage company.

“This is only the beginning for Overwatch and Invest NI looks forward to supporting it to continue to grow further in international markets.”

Main image at top: Kevin Holland, CEO, Invest NI with Dr Chris Armstrong, CEO, Overwatch Research

By John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 24 May 2021