06 Nov Guiding our Customers to Discovery
Tell us how you got here
My academic background set the pathway for my career. I received my degree in Chemistry and PhD from Leicester University and went on to do two postdoc’s in Cardiff. After which, I joined AstraZeneca at their Charnwood campus in Loughborough.
That was my first industry job, I joined a team of over 1000 people and worked my way up to group leader, specialising in drug metabolism (DMPK). After several years in academia; it was exactly where I wanted to be.
Then in 2010, all 1000 of us were gathered together in a marquee and told that our jobs were being outsourced overseas to cut costs; we were all essentially made redundant. It was a huge blow. I didn’t want to move, as I knew that as soon as I got another job with another large pharma company, it wouldn’t be long before this happened again. Luckily, we were all given a year’s notice, which gave us time to plan.
I began thinking about starting my own company, providing contract research and help as a service for companies that really needed it.
In March 2011 I joined BioCity’s very first Accelerator Programme, then called “bootcamp.” It was the first step on my journey to get additional funding; I had already initially invested personally.
I officially moved into BioCity in November 2011, after spending time working on my business plan in an empty office, I received the call to say that I had secured the investment which enabled me to employ three members of staff. We’re all still here now.
We broke even in the first year, re-invested our profits and have never been in debt, all managed in-house. I’m really proud of that. Our team has grown from the original three to twenty-six in seven years, forecasted to turning over nearly £3 million in 2018/19.
How does your business model work?
We’re lab based, our service is an essential part of the process of getting a new drug to market, outsourced to us by other companies. Once the chemistry part of the research has been carried out, measuring potency; our job is to then understand how the body will treat the compounds from absorption to excretion, with a view to optimise the correct exposure.
Our clients are mostly small companies. It’s a conscious decision not to target large pharma. We’re trying to help and guide our customers with their discovery, which is a lot more rewarding with smaller companies.
Seeing so many compounds coming into your lab, are you ever tempted to have a go at the chemistry aspect yourself?
No as we’d like to stay true to our core strengths. Medicinal Chemistry is more saturated in the market place that specialised DMPK companies. We like to be part of the journey and help multiple companies all over the world with their drug discovery.
We have been predicting how drugs will behave in the body for seven years and due to the work we’ve carried out and the predictions we’ve made, there are currently seven new drugs in clinical trials. If those drugs pass and go to market, it will be a great feeling to think we have contributed.
This year we outgrew our laboratories, we were at total capacity both space and employee wise. So, we moved to the new Discovery building. We now have 5500 sq ft of space which is 83% more than we had previously.
What makes you so passionate about XenoGesis?
All my life I was a scientist but now I am also a businessman. I want to help people by solving problems – if we make money out if it, that’s a bonus.
Out of our team of twenty-six, twelve are ex-colleagues from AstraZeneca, which means I’ve been able to hand-pick the best people with the best experience. I’ve also taken on some graduates and other experienced staff from other places and, as a result, XenoGesis has become a training ground, an opportunity for employment and a place for people to develop their careers. I believe anyone can go all the way with right attitude.
It sounds like the basis for a great work culture…
I have no tolerance for hierarchy for the sake of it or bullying, having personally experienced that in previous roles. Although we do have a company structure, I try to be as approachable as possible. I make myself visible rather than hide away in an office. I respect everyone in my team and encourage an environment where we can all have a laugh.
We get together outside of the office too – we have a ‘big do’ twice a year, at Christmas and during the summer. Last year all twenty-six took the train to Skegness for the day. The team do quite a lot together, yoga, charity fitness activities and of course, we all go out for beers every so often.
When I first started out I needed a lab. Glenn Crocker (BioCity CEO) sent out a press release saying that anyone from AstraZeneca who was starting their own business could rent a lab at BioCity for free, for a year. So, I drove straight here to find out more.
BioCity aren’t just landlords, they support you in lots of other ways. They’re good at seeking out people with potential and helping them to grow. BioCity have actually invested in us, however, I believe they would be just as supportive whether they had invested or not.
Things happen here. There are always events being held and if we ever have a technical issue, the facilities team get right on it.
What do you get up to in your spare time?
I’m passionate about mountain biking and motorcycling – that’s how I get to work, I have four motorbikes in total. I have two wonderful children, we’re a very adventurous as a family. Although saying that, last weekend I went camping with my son whilst my wife and daughter went shopping!