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Saturday 17th August 2019

SBC News - Autumn 2013

Words from the CEO

Building the SBC COMMUNITY; AN Open Innovation brand is developing

It has been a busy period, pre and post summer holidays for the SBC team. Coming out of a Strategy day with the Board with a clear mandate and a clear strategy is always a good sign that our stakeholders appear pleased with both the progress and the quality of projects, people and companies that we are attracting. 

It is into this exciting phase that I have great pleasure in welcoming Miranda Knaggs as our new Marketing Manager, from BioCity. Miranda is a friend and long-standing colleague in the Bio-Incubation community. She is currently Chair of the UK Bioincubator Forum and comes with a vast knowledge of how to create a buzz amongst a vibrant SME mixed community. It has been great to see her get cracking and engaged with the Community and she will be a tremendous help to me personally. At the same time, we thank Emma Palmer Foster for her tremendous assistance as Strategic Comms, a role that she will occasionally continue for us and which has to date, been invaluable. We of course now welcome Emma, Harry Finch, Berwyn Clarke and Nick Pay, to our growing SBC Experts Panel, a really important part of our offering. Meanwhile our Entrepreneur in Residence, Barbara Domayne-Hayman, continues to provide great support to our tenants and to me personally on matters strategic. Christina Patino, our Business Development Executive is preparing for her latest SBC/Discover Assist Roadshow in Northern Ireland, where we have many friends and potential collaborators. This we hope is further evidence of a UKplc approach to our catalytic role in enhancing translation of research and commercialisation of opportunities.  We are the good guys and we do want to help if we can.

We are looking forward to the Official Opening of the GE “Show Lab” By Keiron Murphy and Sir William Castell. We have also had a flurry of fantastic science seminars from Lifelines (Groningen) and Queen Mary (Barts and William Harvey); the science seminar series is a very important component of the building of the community. We are engaged with the NHS locally, through the Eastern Academic Health Science network and our recent announcement of work around future Neuro-therapeutics, with MIMIT. I hope to have exciting news on progress with tenancy and the development of our Accelerator facility in the next newsletter and you will see that we now have a date for the OI Summit. We continue to strive to create something unique here at Stevenage and we welcome new tenants, partners and projects to our growing community.

In this issue:

Funding News

Arachos Pharma Q & A 

1) Arachos is one of the few GSK spin-outs based at SBC.  Briefly what is the company working on and how has the location supported you achieving Arachos' aims? 

We are developing two oral anti-inflammatory medicine candidates that were discovered during our time working within the GSK respiratory and inflammation groups. These are two exciting and different opportunities to help patients with unmet needs in the treatment of their inflammatory conditions. We plan to complete the pre-clinical package and then progress into the clinic, aiming at clinical proof of concept studies that could lead to their full development. 

Being based at the SBC has been great for us; it fosters good interactions between tenants, and the proximity to GSK allows us to take advantage of the expertise there while giving us access to the SBC Expert Panel. It is a very credible location when pitching to potential investors or partners.

2) Congratulations on the TSB grant you were just awarded.  How difficult was the application process and what tips can you provide to others for success with TSB applications and other forms of financing?

Thanks! As pharmaceutical company scientists, writing grant applications was something we had to learn. After the “expression of interest” stage we had to work hard to create a clear story in the limited space available. There was very helpful point-by-point feedback on that which guided the full application we then submitted. This required a lot more detail with costings and defined CRO partners for the work, a business plan, Gantt chart, risk mitigation and other details in a series of appendices.

Based on my experience as acting assessor for the TSB (in other rounds and competitions) as well as an applicant, here are my tips.  

  1. It sounds obvious and it’s what school-kids are told early on, but “carefully read and then answer the questions in the right place.” It’s surprising how often applicants fail to do so!

  2. “Get others to read and criticise your application before finalising it”. You are likely to be too close to the project to be able to see where you’ve not explained it well.  People at the SBC were very helpful and generous with their time doing this for us, especially Barbara Domayne-Hayman, who is the SBC’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence.

3) How do you intend to spend the award money?

The award will pay 60% of the costs of the pre-clinical development package to make our Selective Glucocorticoid Receptor Modulator candidate AP362 ready for clinical trials (we need to raise the matching funding for this package). This will include scaled-up synthesis of drug substance, characterisation and stability studies, and the formal safety studies required by the regulatory authorities. It will also fund AP362’s further biological characterisation and comparison with classical glucocorticoids and a competitor by Pfizer to help us choose the best development path and initial clinical indications.

4) Aside from other funding, are you looking for anything else, for example certain types of partners for collaboration?

We are considering different types of potential partners, from “classic” venture capital to corporate VC firms. We are also giving some consideration to “risk-sharing” type deals with a single company, which could potentially be a large pharma. We suspect that the current amount of investment needed is likely to be too high for Angel investors, but it’s difficult to judge which of these would give Arachos the best chance of success so we are keeping an open mind. 

5) How did your team celebrate the good news and what do you do to boost morale during the challenges of building a company?

We shared a bottle of champagne and a chocolate cake on the day and have a celebratory meal with our partners planned soon. We keep a high level of morale/ resilience by being very supportive of each other, taking regular breaks, and taking part in group exercise, e.g. circuits and netball. We’re an experienced team so we’ve dealt with many rough periods in our careers as well as the smooth!

Tenant News

MRC Technology to join innovation network at SBC

Relocation of MRC Technology's drug discovery unit starts next step in campus growth

Stevenage and London, UK, October 15 2013 – Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC), the UK’s first open innovation bioscience campus, and MRC Technology, a life science technology transfer organisation, are pleased to announce the relocation of MRC Technology's drug discovery activities to the Stevenage campus. The move forms an important part of MRC Technology's evolution and sees their Centre for Therapeutics Discovery become the cornerstone tenant in SBC's Accelerator building. Fit-out of the facilities is expected to start shortly, with completion and relocation by 2015.

In choosing the new location for its laboratories, MRC Technology was attracted by the innovation network developing at SBC and the opportunity it offers to collaborate extensively with universities, charities, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. MRC Technology undertook an extensive search to find the right environment for its further development, as it is expected that the current site adjacent to the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill, London, will be decommissioned by the end of 2016. Co-located with GlaxoSmithKline on the Stevenage campus, SBC is a joint venture between the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, GlaxoSmithKline, the Wellcome Trust and the Technology Strategy Board, and has in excess of 25 tenants.

MRC Technology's Centre for Therapeutics Discovery, which has around 70 staff, identifies and develops novel small molecule and antibody targets generated by academia and research charities, with the aim of creating effective new drug candidates. From its inception in 2000, MRC Technology has helped launch 12 drugs, form 18 start-ups and generated over £600m in royalty revenues. At SBC, it will occupy around 23,000 sq ft of laboratory and office space.

Dr Martino Picardo, CEO of SBC, said 'We are delighted to welcome MRC Technology's Centre for Therapeutics Development to our open innovation campus. Its expertise and networks provide an excellent complement to those of SBC, our stakeholders and tenants. The relocation of MRC Technology here provides a huge endorsement of our business model, and the Centre’s occupancy of the Accelerator catalyses the next stage of campus growth.'

Dave Tapolczay, MRC Technology’s CEO, said, 'Our move to Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst provides us with a fantastic opportunity to increase and strengthen the small molecule and therapeutic antibody engineering development work that we do for academia, charities, biotech and pharma. It will help us realise our ambition to be a centre of excellence for translating drug targets into drugs with potential to move to the clinic, and we are looking forward to being part of the open innovation network at SBC.'

Science Minister David Willetts said, 'MRC Technology’s relocation to Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst will strengthen the already thriving collaboration between academia and industry, helping to bridge the so-called ‘valley of death’ between scientific discovery and the marketplace. The UK remains one of the world’s most progressive and important centres for life science research, not only boosting UK growth but creating new and improved treatments for patients worldwide.'

Progenitor Q&A

1) Two years ago Progenitor was voted Best Emerging Biotech at the Oxford Biotech Network's Annual Awards Dinner. Why do you think the company stood out then and what's on the horizon that will keep it in the spotlight?

Progenitor's offering is a discovery platform for drugs that act on the body's adult stem cells to regenerate specific tissues that are damaged in disease. This is a fresh look at developing regenerative medicines and an approach that aligns our field with big pharma, which has been searching for a way of integrating stem cells into its R&D effort. I think it was this promise that inspired OBN's members to name Progenitor the best biotech newcomer that year. I hope the subsequent investment from SROne and the great relationship Progenitor has formed with stem cell colleagues in GSK has gone some way in justifying OBN's choice.

2) Congratulations on the financing from SROne this past spring.  How will Progenitor be putting that money to work in the next few years?

We've been busy with three new programmes to discover drugs that regenerate cartilage, myelin and muscle to treat degenerative diseases affecting these tissues. Over the next 18 months we aim to obtain hits from these programmes to progress in the next phase of the company's development. 

3) Things are clearly going well for you, but I'm sure you came across some hardships in the beginning.  What pieces of advice would you give to budding bio-entrepreneurs, especially when it comes to team building and financing?

Building a successful biotechnology business in the UK is extremely challenging and I don't know of anyone who's attempted this and not gone through the mill in the process. Therefore, entrepreneurs should be prepared to make smart compromises in order to get ventures off the ground promptly - just remember you can always improve your team as the business progresses, but you'll be working with your investors forever.

4) What do you hope to gain from being in an Open Innovation incubator?  What types of partners (if any) are you looking for?

Our business model relies heavily on collaborations to leverage expertise and resources, and to achieve greater capital efficiency. During this early stage we are particularly grateful for our collaborations with SBC tenants Plasticell, as well as Scinovo and GSK. Going forward we envisage partnering molecules or starting completely new discovery programmes with big pharma companies seeking a sensible entry point into regenerative medicine.

Focus on Labstract

By Yfke Hagar, Royal Society of Chemistry

These are challenging times for the pharmaceutical industry. With thinning product pipelines and patent cliffs looming, many big pharma companies are looking to enhance R&D productivity by reinventing the drug discovery process. Suki Klair has first-hand experience of the challenges faced by the industry, gained during a 15-year career as a medicinal chemist.          

Observing the changing pharma landscape, Klair spotted a gap in the market and founded Labstract – a bioscience support services company. 

It started with a phone call. In 2012, Klair saw news coverage of the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC), an open innovation bioscience campus located in Hertfordshire, in the heart of the London–Cambridge–Oxford ‘golden triangle’. 

Convinced he had found the perfect place to realise his idea, Klair phoned Martino Picardo, chief executive of the SBC. In July 2012, Labstract became a tenant of the SBC, offering state-of-the-art laboratory facilities to entrepreneurs and biotech start-up companies, including the other SBC tenants. 

‘The number of small discovery start-ups has increased in recent years, as a result of downsizing of large pharmaceutical and biotech companies,’ explains Klair. These smaller companies often have limited facilities, and that’s where Labstract comes in. ‘We offer fully equipped walk-in chemistry and biology labs that scientists can use on a short-term, ad hoc basis, anything from a day to several weeks.’ And academics can use Labstract’s facilities, which include analytical tools such as LC-MS and NMR, to develop their entrepreneurial ideas and obtain data for their business plans and patent applications before approaching investors. To provide its scientific customers with access to the latest technologies, Labstract regularly arranges technology showcasing. ‘Everyone benefits from this arrangement,’ says Klair. ‘Our customers get to use state-of-the-art equipment, and technology providers expose their products to the scientific community.’

Labstract also supports the market in outsourced drug discovery, where drug synthesis, screening and development are contracted out. Klair notes that companies using this approach, often referred to as virtual drug discovery, will find Labstract’s chemical and biological sample management service particularly attractive. ‘In order to maintain low overheads, virtual organisations depend on service providers such as Labstract,’ says Andrew Lightfoot, CEO of Peptinnovate, a virtual drug discovery company based at the SBC. The ability to handle and store compounds in a secure and controlled environment is vital to ensuring their integrity, he adds. ‘With the current drive for virtualisation, I expect the need for Labstract’s services to grow over time,’ says Lightfoot.

Another advantage of flexible lab access is faster decision making. ‘Someone running a virtual drug discovery company based in Cambridge, for example, may have a contract research organisation based in India or China as their synthesis partner,’ explains Klair. ‘So if they lie awake at night thinking of a new compound that they want to screen, they could visit Labstract to make it themselves in a couple of days, rather than wait for their partner’s next scheduled synthesis.’

Labstract also offers lab-based training courses on NMR, practical medicinal chemistry and practical flow chemistry, taught by Klair and a network of expert consultants. ‘These courses are aimed at PhD students or postdocs who want a career in medicinal chemistry, or industry employees in the early stages of their career,’ says Klair. With the UK government warning that many scientists leave academia without the practical skills needed for a career in industry, such specialised courses may help plug the skills gap. 

Brian Mahoney, an organic chemistry PhD student at the University of East Anglia who recently attended Labstract’s medicinal chemistry course, stresses the importance of mastering modern techniques such as microwave chemistry and solid-phase extraction. ‘The Labstract course teaches an array of techniques using facilities that you don’t normally have access to in a university research lab,’ he says. ‘So if you want to work in an industry where these techniques are used, this course is a great stepping stone.’

With the SBC gaining momentum – a new University of Cambridge drug discovery unit is set to become a future neighbour – Labstract looks to have a bright future. And rubbing shoulders with the other SBC tenants is proving to be good for business, as Klair had hoped. ‘It’s a stimulating environment to work in, because it creates a culture that generates new ideas and encourages collaboration,’ he says. 

SBC Expert Highlight

Dr Paul Gerskowitch Q&A

You're one of the most sought after advisers on the SBC Experts Panel. What made you decide to join and what do you enjoy the most about it?   

If correctly managed, SBC’s Open Innovation approach can provide strong potential to foster and accelerate innovation in today’s tough funding climate. 

Early stage companies often struggle when they try to market a deal, but early input from experienced, battle-trained, professionals can make a difference; this is what SBC’s Experts Panel can offer. I enjoy exposure to novel concepts and interacting with colleagues to ensure that business plans are made as bomb proof as possible! 

You're one of the most sought after advisers on the SBC Experts Panel. What made you decide to join and what do you enjoy the most about it?

If correctly managed, SBC’s Open Innovation approach can provide strong potential to foster and accelerate innovation in today’s tough funding climate. Early stage companies often struggle when they try to market a deal, but early input from experienced, battle-trained, professionals can make a difference; this is what SBC’s Experts Panel can offer. I enjoy exposure to novel concepts and interacting with colleagues to ensure that business plans are made as bomb proof as possible!

Your career has been quite varied with a long list of senior positions- what do you consider the highlights and is there anything else you would like to try in the future?

The most exciting things I worked on were whatever I was doing at the time! From working on gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, oncology and stem cell research to my experience of working with the Nobel Laureate, Sir James Black - I paid close attention to the quality of the data and the impact of variations between the molecular properties of probe molecules and discontinuities in the bioassay data. He reinforced the importance of how normal physiology is controlled for improved target validation .

Like many of my early contemporaries I confess to not having much of a clue about how exactly our R&D budgets came about! This changed when I began to work with investment banking teams. Here, understanding how to achieve deal closure and a value-added return was a high priority. I learned to manage my expectations of a technology’s ability to create a paradigm shift in medical practice.  

I believe that opportunities for early diagnosis and treatment will indubitably result from approaches that are rooted in convergent medical technologies (CMT). For CMT to succeed we need people from different disciplines to take unconventional approaches to problem solving. Identifying the people and reducing barriers to collaboration is a challenge that I would be happy to embrace.

In your opinion, what are some of the most exciting areas of biomedical science and if you had a spare £1M where would you invest?

We hear all the time about the alarming growth in antibacterial resistance which if left unchecked could result in a bleak future. I know that this area throws up huge research and commercial challenges, but it is one into which I might try to invest my spare million!

Clearly you have a lot of priorities to juggle in your work.  What do you do to relax in your free time?

I am an enthusiastic horseback rider, but ride less now that my body’s repair mechanisms are slowing down! We operate in complex and sensitive environments that are not immune to frustration!  I am also a keen clay pigeon shooter. This by way of contrast provides an environment in which making a noise and breakings things goes largely unnoticed! Otherwise, I have a broad taste in classical and rock music and enjoy eating, drinking and debating with chums.

SBC Events

Save the Date: the SBC Open Innovation Summit

SBC is delighted to announce the next Open Innovation Summit, taking place on 28th January 2014. Riding on the success of the first Open Innovation Summit in 2012, this event will be yet another chance for the bioscience sector to gather together to progress their ideas and their connections.

The first summit saw delegates from GE Life Sciences, Unilever, Philips Research, Innocentive, GlaxoSmithKline, Caprion Proteomics, The Wellcome Trust, the MRC, Cambridge Enterprise and 160 other entrepreneurs, researchers, academics and investors exploring the opportunities that open innovation and collaboration have to offer.  

This time around our theme is “Open Innovation: The Next Generation” and our keynote speaker is Ian Tomlinson, Senior Vice President, Head of Biopharmaceuticals R&D and Worldwide Business Development (WWBD) in GlaxoSmithKline. Watch this space for further announcements of other speakers from biotech, pharma, and academic and clinical research from across the bioscience world.

The summit will explore how collaboration and open innovation is shaping how we work as a sector and the competitive advantage these methods can bring. In the bioscience sector our ways of working are changing.  Cross-company partnerships are sharing pre-competitive data that previously stayed behind locked doors; and an increasing number of organisations are using crowd-sourcing of patients and carers as well as researchers, to generate ideas or to better define what R&D should be achieving.  

We’ll let you know when tickets go on sale. The previous summit was sold out 5 weeks before the date so make sure you don’t miss out!  


Manage & Lead your projects more effectively and gain funding for doing so!

The National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) is an inter-disciplinary centre of excellence based at the University of Hertfordshire. We aim to set the national agenda and establish project management as a major profession and discipline in the UK. 

Something different…. We have developed a unique Masters (MSc) & Postgraduate Certificate (PG Cert) in Project Management Practice which offer an introduction to the theory and practice of managing and leading projects effectively in the workplace. Uniquely, assessment is focused around how participants apply these skills to their work, making the learning highly relevant.   

Specifically designed for the ‘pharmaceutical & life sciences’ sector, special guest lecturers Pauline Stewart-Long and Steve Douglas, both project management experts, will formally present at GlaxoSmithKline, giving practical examples to support participants applying the learning to their professional practice.  

Will the course have a positive impact on your business growth?*

We have specifically developed our programme to have two main outputs: 

  1. The individual or group changes as a result of the learning and confidence gained as we present management and leadership skills in the context of their projects, and

  2. Uniquely, as our assessment is based around how participants apply the learning to their real work projects or professional practice, there is tangible evidence of change in their projects.


*SMEs are entitled to Government funding which greatly reduces the cost of the programme. 

For more information please email:; Tel: 01707 28 4855

In this issue:


Funding News

Arachos Pharma Q & A

Tenant News

MRC Technology to join innovation network at SBC

Progenitor Q&A

Focus on Labstract

SBC Expert Highlight

Dr Paul Gerskowitch Q&A

SBC Events

Save the Date: the SBC Open Innovation Summit


Manage & Lead your projects more effectively and gain funding for doing so!

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