CCUK Ltd partners with NBIC to attract SMEs to innovate in oral care

National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC) Case Study. Dr Katerina Steventon, NBIC


How to innovate in the oral care sector?


The National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC) is an Innovation Knowledge Centre facilitating engagement of academia and industry in biofilm research. One of NBIC’s goals is to become ‘the go-to partner hub’ to spark innovation for personal care companies launching new products in the skin and oral microbiome markets. Cosmetics Cluster UK Ltd (CCUK) is a cluster of companies rooted in the North of England with UK-wide reach. NBIC operate nationally and have presence in the North West with an office at the world class science facility at Alderley Park[i], Cheshire. One of the CCUK pillars of activity is to concentrate on Research and Innovation projects. The first collaborative project with NBIC will focus on oral health, aiming to attract companies, in particular SMEs, working in this area i.e. manufacturers of toothpaste, mouthwash, denture care and toothbrushes. Oral care is an area of opportunity for partnering in translational biofilm research, with an established NBIC academic base. Working with trade clusters, networks and associations enables us to come closer to the industry grass roots, listen to the unmet needs and build relationships by showcasing our research excellence.


Daily oral care is an essential need for the majority of the population aiming to prevent tooth decay (dental caries) and gum inflammation (gingivitis) progressing to gum disease (periodontitis) and maintaining oral health and an attractive appearance, avoiding discoloration and bad breath (halitosis). Tooth decay and gum diseases are caused by dental plaque bacteria that promote acid production from sugar or an uncontrolled inflammatory response, respectively, and prevention via good oral health has a large market potential. The national oral health market is in crisis[ii] with the NHS having spent £36M on preventable dental operations in children and teenagers annually. In our recent blogs, we have explored the clinical perspective on oral hygiene, new technologies, consumer attitudes and future direction of the industry.


As Dr Gillian Westgate, the Director of the CCUK noted, “Innovation in the oral care sector has been fairly incremental, the industry would appear to be waiting for the next big breakthrough after fluoride that is relevant for consumer healthcare. The regulatory route is a barrier to commercialisation, the US position of having a monograph adds to the complexity; and it is toothbrush technology that has probably outstripped toothpaste innovation. Opportunities would seem to lie with a more focused approach to target specific consumer groups’ needs”.[iii]


The value of the toothpaste market in the UK is over £540M and rising[iv] and there is an opportunity for oral care innovation. Recent innovative technologies include Sensodyne NovaMin (GSK) forming a protective crystalline hydroxyapatite-like layer over exposed teeth for lasting protection from hypersensitivity. Pronamel (GSK) is a uniquely optimised fluoride formulation, clinically proven to strengthen the enamel, and Unilever’s Zendium brand we mentioned in our previous blog. In terms of mechanical brushing, UltraBrush, an oral hygiene device using ultrasonic technology (5000 vibrations per second), cleans by distributing toothpaste between teeth and the gum line. The brand claim to make daily oral hygiene simple with minimum effort and maximum efficiency, avoiding professional cleaning by a dental hygienist.


We present this case study to appeal to innovative companies in the oral care sector who want to engage in collaborative R&D with academia. In the North West and Yorkshire, there is an interest in the public health aspects of oral care. Our aim is to work, in particular, with the Manchester, Bradford and Leeds regional links to public government initiatives[v] working to improve oral health and reduce inequalities in children and the elderly. One of the issues identified by public health authorities in these regions is the prevalence and severity of tooth decay in children from Eastern European, Asian and Black British ethnic groups.


Advancing Innovation: How NBIC brings the right partners together


Collaborative R&D benefits a company by providing access to expertise and funding to maintain competitive advantage, helping to differentiate their claims or shorten time to market for newly launched products. For SMEs in particular, it may be hard to find the right academic research partner. Having launched a large portfolio of collaborative projects between universities and the industry awarded a Proof of Concept (POC) funding[vi], we have a good track record at forging successful partnerships. In each of these, an academic institution works with a company addressing a need in oral biofilms; four projects with very different themes have been awarded in the oral care sector. How did these relationships happen? Since 2017, NBIC has hosted themed workshops, bringing together academics and industry for a dialogue about needs, challenges and interventions applied cross-sector. These face to face meetings are a place for a personal introduction and networking that lead to joint research applications. The Biofilms Management Workshop, applicable as an interventional theme to oral care, was held in Nottingham in February 2020. Having known research in our 52 universities, we were also directly involved with a formation of several partnerships via targeted introductions.


Regulatory routes applicable to oral care range from food to cosmetics, medical devices and pharmaceuticals. One of the successful POC funding stories, involves University of Southampton and Unilever.  Professor Jeremy Webb first met with Unilever at a capability and roadmapping workshop held at Unilever’s Port Sunlight. His funded Proof of Concept project, which is also a collaboration with Professor Paul Stoodley (University of Southampton, and Ohio State University), investigated the use of an in vitro model for oral healthcare risk assessment. Whilst hundreds of microorganisms live in the mouth, many are harmless while others cause tooth decay and gum disease; the project looked at how oral care products may affect the complexity of oral microbiome to better predict product efficacy. The results have enabled Unilever to benchmark a model bioreactor system for understanding the dynamics the of oral microbiome. The next steps will be to use this validated model to better understand and predict the impacts of changes within the microbiome on oral health.


In June 2020, a project addressing gum disease and P. gingivalis biofilm formation, a consequence of inadequate oral hygiene, won an award due to a direct introduction. A collaboration between University of Cambridge and Frontier IP Group was funded to fight the bacteria that contribute to gum disease. By creating origami-like DNA nanostructures loaded with antibacterial enzymes or proteins, these therapeutics will bind specifically to the target bacteria and to improve the penetration and disrupt the biofilms these microbes form. Dr Mark Richardson, NBIC CEO, introduced the company (an IP commercialision specialist) to NBIC. They identified a project in their portfolio that could fit with the call, and the quality and scope of this academic led proposal was successful in receiving the funding award.


Infections of the mouth can be protracted and painful for the patients; new pharmaceutical approaches have been explored to address these. University of West England (UWE) partnered with OsteoCare Implants, working on research into disruptive titanium technology for prevention of biofilms. Titanium dental implants that replace damaged or missing teeth can sometimes get infected. The project has taken inspiration from how edible mussels attach to rocks or jetties, by applying a thin film of the mussel adhesive, polydopamine capturing platform, on titanium. The film in turn can “hook” suitable agents to minimise infection. Oral fungal biofilms are common in oral infections. Recently, funding has been awarded to collaboration between Cardiff University and Destiny Pharma to explore novel drugs in the management of Candida albicans. Successful treatment is hindered by both biofilm resistance and a limited number of effective antifungal drugs. The project will evaluate novel anti-biofilm drugs and reduced risk of infection in mucosal in vitro models.


Relevant Models in Oral Care


The Biofilms Management Workshop report has highlighted in-vitro modelling as an essential R&D tool. One of NBIC industry partners seeking to utilise more relevant, representative and robust models to improve their screening methodology, commissioned a survey of academic expertise in in-vitro oral care models with multiple bacterial species in October 2019. The science of oral biofilms is mature within the NBIC consortium, there is a spectrum of expertise amongst our northern academic partners (University of Glasgow, Newcastle University, University of Manchester, University of Leeds and University of Sheffield) and southern academic partners (University of Bristol, University of Southampton and Cardiff University), available to be shared with the industry upon request.


Fundamental science has been funded by different councils of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in the area of oral care, e.g. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have awarded projects to University of Southampton and University of Glasgow. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has funded University College London and Medical Research Council (MRC) awarded funding to University of Manchester. However, smaller funding calls for innovation closer to market and impact on society are mainly covered by Innovate UK or Innovation Knowledge Centres, of which only NBIC is dedicated to the biofilm space. Having nurtured relationships that have developed into projects that are creating real change and value, we can offer many insights on how to innovate, not always by seeking new technologies. Working with oral commensal (harmless) bacteria as probiotic technologies that inhibit the formation and/or control of pathogenic plaque biofilms or focusing on the visualization of the biofilm structure to either give an insight into novel target for biofilm removal or consumer education offer an innovative potential. Finally, the personal care and consumer health industries may embrace not only teeth but also soft tissue in terms of ‘healthy mouth and tongue’ and encompass a range of products from oral supplements, to drinks to chewing gums as well as tongue cleaning tools e.g. scrapers. Jointly, on behalf of the CCUK and NBIC, we would like to invite you to connect with us for a dialogue about innovation in this space. The next Proof of Concept funding call will be run in autumn 2020 or early 2021.





[iii] Dr Westgate in email communication