Which team do you work in and what does that team do?
I work in the Business Engagement team – we act as the interface between Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) and industry, academia, and small businesses.
We are selling our services and building collaborations, establishing relationships.
What’s your role within your team?
Grants and access to finance.
I am the Head of Research Funding. My role is to coordinate grant applications and competitive R&D bids.
On a day-to-day basis, I engage with SMEs and academics – people who are looking for funding for innovative projects. We triage opportunities; what’s good and what’s not, evaluating the opportunities and then bringing them to the scientists to work up potential projects and grant applications.
We go beyond that as well. Being Collaborative R&D, we also do a lot more of the strategic partnership engagement in larger bids and interface with the Business Development Managers. The Grants team and the Business Development team work really well together in building relationships.
Some of these relationships are a slow burner, Business Development Managers might be trying to establish a relationship with a potential high value client, and they might be a little bit reluctant. Grants can be a softer landing in establishing relationships – no money is exchanged unless the project is funded. Whether it’s successful or not, you can establish quite a nice working relationship through the process of formulating ideas/projects and applying together. Sometimes that leads to follow-on commercial work, or further R&D grant applications– we work as a team like that.
In three words, what would best describe your team?
Fun, hardworking and motivated.
What attracted you to the drug discovery industry and Medicines Discovery Catapult?
It started a long time ago. I did a health science course in my first year of university. I always had this ambition to work in medicine and medical research. It didn’t pan out at the time. I ended up doing a Master’s in plant molecular biology, working on genetically modified plants in high value crops. However, the lab work was awful – the tissue culture for plants is like the worst gardening you can imagine. You spend hours and hours in the hood, tidying up these little plants and transferring them to new growth media. I couldn’t see myself doing that forever, it was taking me away from what I wanted to do, which was work in medical research.
At the time, there weren’t very many jobs in New Zealand, it was all Agritech. In December 2005, I came to the UK and it took about six months before I got a position at the University of Sheffield as a technician for a leading infectious disease group. It rolled on into a PhD in infectious disease.
I was lucky – I got into the exact area I wanted to be in. I did a PhD and had a couple of Postdoc positions in cardiovascular, antimicrobial resistance and biomaterials. That was pretty good, it was taking me in the right direction. The motivation has always been to do something to contribute towards human health and medical research. It was a bit of a long, slow path to get there.
However, driven by the need for a permanent contract, I picked up a job as a consultant grant writer, where I learnt the tricks of the trade on the job, very much chucked in the deep end. I did that for three years and towards the end of the three years, I was getting quite good at it. I was winning a lot of funding but I was mostly writing for non-medical related fields (materials, manufacturing, battery tech, automotive, digital). I became a bit frustrated because I wanted to get back into medicine and support innovations in that field.
This job popped up at the right time. I was looking at the Catapult in its formation. As soon as the job came up, I was all over it – it seemed the perfect fit for me.
What do you aspire to achieve in this industry?
My goal is to support companies. It would have been nice to stay in research, to do something myself to advance medical research. Not everyone gets the opportunity to do that. But there are other routes to making an impact, like facilitating research. We do that by raising funding for companies and MDC so that others can bring new innovations and medicines to market.
The same motivation is still there. Some of the projects with companies like Redx Pharma and LUNAC Therapeutics, the new compounds, they’re going to have a massive impact if they make it to market. They are really exciting projects and exactly what I set out to achieve when I first came to the UK.
How do you stay connected with what’s happening in the industry?
Firstly, in Business Engagement, we have access to a bunch of tools – fantastic market research tools. I get regular updates through those tools on the market side. On the technology side, because I act as an interface triaging and helping people pull their grant applications together, I get exposed to a wide range of technologies, innovations, and cutting-edge research.
Naturally, as part of my job, it’s important to keep up to date with technological trends and read a lot of papers. I need to read papers quickly and then present it back in an easy-to-understand manner. I essentially get paid to keep up to date with trends. I won’t have that in-depth knowledge that our scientists have, but I will have a top-level view of quite a broad range of stuff. It’s one of the perks of the job. A lot of people don’t have time to read, but basically, my time is reading.
To date, what’s the most extraordinary or interesting job/project you’ve had in your career?
I’ve had some interesting jobs, done some fascinating projects, not medical related. When I was a consultant grant writer, one of my first big wins was a Horizon 2020, application for a company commercialising indoor vertical farming. It was big a few years ago, and still is – it had a lot of potential. We took the project because it was an exciting technology and there was a good chance of success. It took a month of non-stop late nights to finish writing the grant.
It was a great application. It got funded – 2.5million euro. It set them on a crazy trajectory and they’ve now raised over 200 million euro in private finance. What’s really interesting is the work plan we put together, you see they’re actually delivering through on this work plan, exactly how we envisioned it. That’s remarkable. Quite often you put these plans in and they don’t get followed. But this company did, and it paid off.
It was a nice project to work on, they’re now in over 25 countries – you can find a few installations in various London chains… maybe you’ve even tried some of the produce?
If you could swap your job with anyone in the world, who would you swap with?
I’ve worked a lot of hard jobs, stacking shelves, cleaning up motorways, retail. We’re very lucky to have the jobs we’ve got here at MDC, I wouldn’t swap.
Tell us something you like doing outside of work.
I am into my cycling – at the moment I’m doing a lot of road cycling.