A science company working at the cutting edge of cancer research is thriving after taking the decision to leave Cambridge and set up home in Sandwich.
Agalimmune was launched in April 2013 to explore the treatment potential of a new technology, discovered in the United States, to target and destroy cancer cells.
The business originally used a laboratory, leased by its parent company, Loxbridge Research, at Granta Park in Cambridge but ultimately found the location was holding back its work.
Mike Westby, Chief Executive of Agalimmune, said: “Granta Park is in what people in the science and technology industries like to call the ‘Golden Triangle’ of London, Cambridge and Oxford, so it seemed a really good place to locate.
“I guess one thing that we found was that whilst the facilities were great, the networking with other organisations really was not happening very dynamically.
“There wasn’t really any mechanism by which different companies or scientists could come together, share ideas and help accelerate and move their own projects forward.
“As a small company we were looking for a place with competitive rates, a place with a skilled workforce or potential workforce that we could identify and recruit.
“What we saw at Discovery Park was not only people trained to work in this space who we could access, but also a lot of adjacent companies who had the skills and facilities we could work with in order to establish the business.
“So for us, Discovery Park came by far to be the best location to do our business and we worked together with the site management team to build a proposal for a new laboratory that went to the Regional Growth Fund in East Kent.
“We moved onto site last year after our application was approved, using the money to ready the laboratory and buy the necessary equipment to be able to start work.
“Within the first three months of being established here we made probably the equivalent of one year’s progress of what was happening before, turning an idea into a chemical candidate, which we are able to prepare for clinical testing.”
The company currently has six full time staff bringing in extra staff when needed, using the skills, facilities and expertise of a number of other tenants based at Discovery Park.
Agalimmune has 2,500 square feet of office space and laboratory space where its scientists are carrying out testing to monitor the effect its chemical ‘molecule’ has on cancer cells. The company hopes to be in a position to start clinical trials in the the second quarter of 2016.
Mike is no stranger to the Discovery Park site, having been part of the research management team at Pfizer, before the company decided to scale back its work at Sandwich. He was among the last scientists to leave.
During his time with Pfizer he played a pivotal role alongside a team of scientists in discovering and developing a new HIV medicine called Maraviroc, which is now used globally to treat the condition.
He said: “Our team was the last to leave the research building. By the time we finally closed our laboratory most people had left site and the people that were still there were finishing off work like we were.
“It really had the feel of a place that was preparing to be levelled and knocked down, so when I came back to consider it as a place to set up a laboratory it was, to be honest, to cross it off the list.
“So it was shocking, but in a really good way that in such a short time the new owners had transformed the site from one that really felt like it was heading for the annals of history of Research and Development to a vibrant business site.
“That vibrancy is what struck me when I returned. The fact that there are all sorts of businesses on site, I think, is an absolutely fantastic testament to what the owners have managed to do.
“It has provided the ability for lots of support services to locate here, such as legal teams, patent attorneys, media companies, right through to start- ups and CROs.
“What is really critical for Discovery Park is that it is seen as a centre of excellence. We need to move away from the idea that R&D, particularly in the bio-technology space is only defined by the so-called golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London.
“The fact is, to use a cycling analogy, London is a hub where people actually come to do business. Discovery Park in Kent, Manchester, Cambridge and Oxford are the spokes, which serve as centres of excellence doing all the key components of research.
“The fact that the first thing you see when you step off the high speed one rail link from Discovery Park into St Pancras is the Crick Institute ought to be great testament to the fact that here is a real potential contributor to the UK economy.