September 10, 2021
RH: Tell me a little about LightOx and your pioneering work to find a treatment for early-stage mouth cancers.
SW: Our lead drug candidate, which will go into clinical trials next year, is a topical treatment, and the easiest way to describe it is to imagine a fluorescent Bonjela gel placed on a cancerous area of a person’s mouth.
When you shine a light on the gel, it becomes toxic and kills the cancerous cells.
We chose oral cancer because there is presently no treatment in that space; in fact, the patient journey can be brutal.
The cost of surgery is relatively low, but the impact on the patient is huge, to the extent that if someone is operated on, they may have to learn to speak or swallow again.
As a business, we spun out of Durham University and was originally backed by High Force Research – a Durham-based company that makes clinical grade drugs and which I now run – that gave us initial seed finding to develop our work.
We then received support from a Dutch funder before High Force came in again, and latterly Northstar Ventures.
RH: You have worked with us here at Jackson Hogg for several years to fulfil your recruitment needs. What is it about our service that you appreciate, and how have we helped you meet your goals?
SW: My journey with Jackson Hogg rolls out through my entire time in the North East.
I came up here with QuantuMDx Group in Newcastle and got to know the team right from the beginning.
Jackson Hogg provided great support when we began expanding – we went from three people to 110 – and it was very good at finding and attracting people to the company.
It has subsequently been similarly helpful with LightOx – we have gone from three people to 13 – and with High Force Research too, a recent example being our recruitment of a HR manager.
The team really understands a company and the people it requires.
You must think a good way into the future if you want to recruit the right person, particularly if you are looking for senior level staff, owing to the associated notice periods, and Jackson Hogg is great when it comes to that.
I tell the firm of my plans, and where I want the business to be in a certain timeframe, and Jackson Hogg’s team works to ensure I have the right individuals at the right time.
RH: How reassuring for you is our partnership, in terms of Jackson Hogg making sure the recruitment process is sound, so you can continue focusing on other areas of your business’ growth?
SW: If you know you get good candidates from a recruitment firm, then you continue to use them.
Jackson Hogg has a very good – and growing – life science provision, with Kimberley Warren, who leads the team, working alongside senior consultants Kristi Porter and Georgia Bernard, and consultants Olivia Robinson and Haffiz Iskandar.
The life science sector is fairly unique, and there are a lot of nuances when it comes to recruitment.
The needs of a pharmaceutical company are very different from a diagnostics firm, which are very different again from a business working on medical devices. So, when it comes to recruitment, it is most definitely a specialist industry.
For example, if I was to say, with my LightOx hat on, that I want a regulatory person, I would be talking about pharmaceuticals.
However, with High Force Research, I would mean chemicals and drug manufacture, and with QuantuMDx Group, it would be different again.
You therefore need a specialist and knowledgeable recruitment partner to ensure the right individuals are put in front of the right companies – and that’s what Jackson Hogg does.
It has a very strong life science team and backs it up with people who know all about marketing, others that know all about HR, and others that are very strong on finance.
The partnership I’ve had with Jackson Hogg has worked very well over a number of years, and I’m sure it will continue as we seek to adds to LightOx’s growth profile.
RH: You mention our first-hand experience of the life science industry’s continued growth, especially in the North-East. With that in mind, you recently moved to The Biosphere, at Newcastle Helix. How will that help your future work?
SW: We moved into The Biosphere on September 1, with financial support from Northstar Ventures helping us do so. It represents a good fit; we have technologies that complement other companies in The Biosphere that have drug development capabilities and work on fluorescent imaging probes and antibody coupling, for example.
There are a lot of epithelial-based (skin) technology operators there as well, and a number of companies that I’ve dealt with in the past, such as identity testing specialist NorthGene, which I used to run as part of QuantuMDx Group.
There has always been a cluster doing this kind of work in the North East – we’ve long had technologies and companies spinning out of universities – and The Biosphere is now a recognisable hub for that work.
RH: How do you see the landscape moving forwards in the region’s life science sector?
SW: The strength of research in the North East has been good for a long while, but what we are getting better at is translating that towards clinical trials.
We are giving people the opportunities to develop their companies and management skills, while bringing new technologies forward.
We’ve also got two of the best hospitals in the country in Newcastle, and the region has a strong clinical ethos too; people are willing to test your devices.
Furthermore, because it is a small community, people will refer you to the right clinician or the right group that has done similar trials in the past.
All these things work to give us a real advantage.