Liverpool Spin-Out Heading for the Top
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The support of a University can make all the difference when launching a successful spin-out from an academic idea. In this interview, Dr Paul Colbon, CEO of Liverpool ChiroChem Ltd (LCC), describes how he and Dr Jianjun Wu and Dr Jiwu Ruan have formed an international chemical company that develops chiral chemicals for the drug discovery market, by spinning-out technology Dr Wu developed at the University of Liverpool. With some big customers on the order sheet, and strong investment they are a growing company heading for the top.
AT: Please can you tell us more about yourself and how you came to form LCC?PC: Three years ago I was working as a medicinal chemist for a private company in drug discovery when I got a call from a former PhD colleague from the University of Liverpool, Dr Jianjun Wu. Over coffee Dr Wu told me about his discovery of a new chemical process that gives access to chirally pure chemicals that could be used to discover and produce new small molecule drugs in a broad range of therapeutic areas such as oncology and neurology. The University were patenting the process and he wanted to use this technology as the foundation on which to form a spin-out company that could impact upon drug discovery, development and manufacture.
AT: How did LCC spin out of Liverpool University?
PC: The scale of impact that this technology could have upon drug discovery and healthcare sector was very clear to me, so I was delighted when Dr Wu invited me to join him in forming the spin out. We knew the challenges in starting a chemical company, which requires significant upfront costs due to the requirement for expert scientists, capital equipment and associated overheads. My initial role was to write the business plan and pitch to potential equity investors. We successfully raised £1.1m private equity through a mixture of VCs and Angel investors and a crowdfunding campaign. This allowed us to develop our chemical portfolio and target pharmaceutical R&D companies worldwide.
AT: Do you still have links with the University?
PC: Yes - our R&D team currently operates from within the University and we have an exclusive agreement with the University over the patented IP. The university has also put us forward as an impact case study for the REF (Research Excellence Framework) due to the wider benefits the company has had on society beyond academia such as job creation, aiding the discovery of new healthcare/pharmaceutical therapies and exporting.
AT: Can you tell us more about your patented technology and how you are using it to grow your business?
PC: We operate in the supply chain of pharmaceutical research and development (R&D), supplying specialist (chiral) chemical components that enable laboratory based researchers to discover and build new drug molecules.
Our IP is key to this as it allows us to:
(a) Supply novel components to make new drugs (by accessing new chemical space).
(b) Accelerate the drug discovery/development process to increase patent life of new drugs.
(c) Produce old drugs more efficiently and to consistently high specifications and quality of supply.
The specialist components allow us to grow our business through three distinct channels:
1. Drug Discovery: supplying new components for the discovery of new drugs.
2. Drug Development: supplying the hit components on a larger scale to allow further pre-clinical and clinical trials.
3. Drug Manufacture: applying our efficient chemical processes to the manufacture of the final drug and for the generics marketplace.
AT: How does this set you apart from your competitors?
AT: What are the short-term and long-term goals for LCC and how do you plan to achieve them?
AT: Finally, is there anything else you would like to highlight about LCC for our readers?
PC: The world class research department at Liverpool University attracts scientists from all over the world, and this has led to a partnership between a British and 3 Chinese scientists. In just three years we have created an international technology company with R&D operations in the UK and production in China, giving us access to both western and eastern markets. Our global pharma and biotech customer base includes Merck, Novartis, Domainex, Charles River and Bayer.