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Manufacture Business Practice, Advanced Medicine, Trends & Forecasts

Catapulted to the Top

How did you get interested in manufacturing?

I’ve always been more interested in molecules than whole organisms – and I’ve also always had a bit of an engineering instinct; I was one of those children who liked to dismantle things to see how they worked, much to my parents’ frustration! My academic research career began with monoclonal antibodies, right at the start when their full potential was still being investigated, and I soon got a job to set up a monoclonal antibody laboratory in GD Searle in High Wycombe (UK). As monoclonals became more popular, I was introduced to large-scale manufacturing – and the engineer in me was fascinated by all the stainless steel kit. I then decided that I wanted to move out of straightforward research and get into manufacturing. Over the years I grew various businesses to become global players in biological manufacturing before being approached by the Scottish Blood Transfusion Service, which wanted to modernize the service. 

And what prompted your change in focus to cell and gene therapies?

The blood transfusion services have been taking blood out of one person, processing it, testing it, and then giving it to another person for years. I was also involved in other transplants, such as pancreatic islets, which can change patients’ lives. It’s similar to cells and regenerative medicine when you think about it. When I heard about the new Cell Therapy Catapult that Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, wanted  to establish to bridge the gap between invention and commercialization, I knew that I wanted to lead it, so I immersed myself in the process to establish it. I was delighted to be offered the chief executive officer position in 2012.

How did you find the move from commercial biotech manufacturing to national associations?

When I first left the biotech industry for the blood transfusion service, it was like landing on planet Zog... There were so many business practices I just didn’t understand – but I also learnt that, ultimately, the differences are what you make them.

When you’re in business, you measure where you’re going financially. But in the public sector, finances are much more static. You aren’t bringing in nearly as much new money, so you have to be a good steward of what you have. At the same time, you also have to motivate people around your organization’s mission – so it all comes back to leadership. You have to be clear about why you’re there and what you’re doing; that’s what makes people really respond.

What advances would you like to see in the area of cell therapies?

What we’re really looking for in autologous cell therapies is an increase in process automation over the next five years to help reduce variability. Right now, cell therapy is sometimes unfairly called a “craft industry” so our goal is to standardize processes. Ultimately, we want to put the factory in the hospital – not a miniature version of a factory, but rather a fully functional ‘factory in a box’ that’s about the size of a couple of big refrigerators. When the automation is good enough to do that, I think it will be the most disruptive thing to happen to cell therapy – and the companies that embrace it will be the ones that have the most success.

What are your hopes for the future of the Catapult?

I’ve set myself the long-term goal of growing the cell and gene therapy industry to reach an annual value of around £10 billion in the UK – a number that is based on my experience of monoclonals; when I started there was no value – and now there are sales in excess of £50 billion globally, growing at seven percent per annum. I think this goal is eminently achievable. Right now, there are several licensed advance therapy medicinal products in Europe, and I expect that number to increase quite rapidly over the next few years. We’ve already seen over 500 companies established globally, with the UK being home to some 16 percent of those companies (an increase of about 40 percent since we started). In fact, I personally know of six that have been formed in the last year alone!

I really want the UK to be the go-to place to make and market advanced therapies. I think the Catapult has a lot of first-mover advantage; our £55-million manufacturing center in Stevenage should be fully functional in 2017, and will play a key role in embedding the long-term manufacture and supply chains into the UK.

What are your proudest achievements at the Catapult?

We’ve gone from an idea on a piece of paper to being recognized as one of the most prominent cell and gene therapy organizations in the world – all within three years. I’m really proud of that, and I just hope I can keep the momentum going.

In our industry, things take time to develop – but it’s in my nature to push things to go as fast as possible. I don’t want to spend six months dealing with a data package or a year analyzing the results; I want to get the information and get moving. Why? Because I want companies to form and I want people to work in this terrific field. And most of all, I want patients to benefit from new treatments.

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