Millions of pounds are pouring into fledgling UK life science companies through crowdfunding platforms, providing a new financing option for early-stage biotechnology entrepreneurs trying to commercialise medical innovations.

Cambridgeshire-based Axol Bioscience is the latest to use equity crowdfunding to bridge the notorious “valley of death” — the funding gap that often imperils start-up companies, especially in the biotech sector.

Axol, which produces customised human cells for use in medical research, is seeking £600,000 through an equity crowdfunding platform called SyndicateRoom which has raised over £16m for life science companies.

Crowdfunding has taken off in many sectors as an alternative to traditional finance and, for investors, an adventurous way to deploy capital in an era of low interest rates and volatile equity markets.

Life science companies have been relatively slow to take advantage — in large part because their businesses are harder to understand and take longer to produce a return compared with many sectors.

However, this has begun to change in the past two years as dozens of European biotech and medical technology companies have raised money through platforms such as SyndicateRoom, Crowdcube and Seedmatch.

Apta Biosciences, a research tools company based in the UK and Singapore, raised £2.8m in two separate rounds with SyndicateRoom last year.

Others that have raised more than £1m include Cambridge Nutraceuticals, which is developing a “tomato pill” containing powerful antioxidants from tomatoes. Meanwhile, Warwick-based Fertility Focus is developing technology to more accurately track the ovulation cycle.

Advocates believe crowdfunding can help tackle the shortage of finance that has long hindered UK biotech start-ups — a problem often blamed for Britain’s relatively poor record in turning its world-class science into commercial successes.

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This article appeared in the print copy of The Financial Times on 21 December 2015.

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