What makes your business distinctive?
We were originally Cambridge Antibody Technology (CAT), which was acquired by AstraZeneca in 2006. It merged into MedImmune the following year, which means we have a really strong heritage here which includes a good network of collaborators with a particular focus.
We are distinctive around our protein engineering, antibody engineering and biopharmaceutical development skill sets. On top of that we’ve built a deep understanding of disease biology, and this combination of expertise gives us a competitive advantage in terms of our approach to making innovative treatments for patients.
We are also differentiated by our track record of success. We discovered the molecule that became Humira® (adalimumab); now marketed by AbbVie, initially as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and now being used to treat a range of different conditions related to inflammation. It was developed at CAT in partnership and in 2014 it became the best-selling drug in the world. We are very proud that it came out of our labs.
That track record is important because we are now looking at building our next wave of marketed biologics and we're on the cusp of delivering Phase III trials in a range of therapy areas, from oncology through to asthma. It’s personalised medicine: we have the ability to position biologic medicines so we can provide the best patient benefits.
We are distinctive because science is at the heart of what we do. Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca's CEO, is a great advocate of the culture of science, focused on delivering world-leading innovation. To innovate, you need really good data-driven scientific understanding and science-driven decisions, and for that you need exceptional scientists. Cambridge has a fantastic talent pool and we have a wonderful workforce. Our people have drive and commitment and it’s a real pleasure to work in this kind of environment.
Being in Cambridge for MedImmune and AstraZeneca is a great learning opportunity and hopefully we can help educate reciprocally across the disciplines. I think Cambridge Network plays an important role in creating encounters for learning and relationship-building, and these relationships are for the long term. People care about each other's success.
What are the greatest challenges your business faces?
The changing political environment is one challenge: how we respond to that and how we support the region, how we support the UK, and how we support the patient populations more broadly across Europe and globally.
Within our organisation we have a huge opportunity. We have a collaborative culture and our new R&D centre and global headquarters at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus reflects that. I have been involved in helping to design the new building, particularly from a laboratory perspective. The labs have glass walls which supports our vision of transparency, and we will have an outreach lab which will enable us to offer educational programmes.
But another challenge for us is practical; how we transition to the new site and move physically into the building in a way that is operationally seamless, and also how we handle the cultural implications of the move. We have nearly 2000 staff already in Cambridge, currently located at various sites around the city. We have to coalesce into the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and we want to make sure we land in a manner that is sympathetic to the community. We want to be genuinely synergistic to the city so that we are adding expertise, and sharing knowledge and information.
Interaction is what’s needed to drive innovation. We pride ourselves on making innovative treatments that make a difference to patients and you can’t do that in isolation. You need access to shared ideas and talent and to have productive dialogue to get the best for everybody.
What are the greatest challenges Cambridge faces?
The infrastructure is a challenge for the city. We have to think in a bigger, more visionary way about how we tackle the issues, whether it’s through creative ways of working or really fundamentally rethinking how we handle the movement of people, how we house them and so on.
We have to think in 10 years' time – what do we want Cambridge to look like? We need to compete on a global stage and we have to make this working environment successful. Everyone accepts it needs money and thought and careful planning. I have great respect for the people who are working to solve our problems.
Cambridge is a vibrant biotech centre, with startups and ideas and people with an entrepreneurial outlook; people who are prepared to lead and have a go and continue on a journey of exploration. It's a challenge in how we help these businesses to scale up and grow, and deal with issues like funding and finding practical space and good business processes to help them be successful.
We also need to do a bit more of our own PR and explain our impact – we have some great examples and the Cambridge Phenomenon books are very helpful in telling our story. But we need to shout about it more and that’s something Cambridge Network is already helping to do now.
What’s the best thing about Cambridge?
From our business perspective, it's the people and the ideas and the potential for collaboration which is just amazing. I think we already have over 100 collaborations with the university, and the opportunities are exciting. There is great potential for collaborations in the clinical space; we have a wonderful ecosystem of great people who are open about working together.
One of the reasons we chose Cambridge was to link the commercial side of our business to the science and to the broader science community. We are aware of the role we need to play in ensuring continuity of the talent pool, so we support post docs and PhDs and we also work in partnership with the Cambridge Science Centre to encourage science education.
Cambridge has a host of excellent support services – people who are very good at delivering high quality business solutions and good business opportunities.
It is also a very beautiful place to live and there's so much going on here, from exhibitions to cinema. It's very cosmopolitan and very diverse. There are many advantages to living here; we mustn't take it for granted.
Who or what has influenced you personally in your business career?
One of the pivot points for me was when a patient came in to talk about the impact of her treatment with Humira®. It was a ‘light bulb’ moment. When you have trained as an academic scientist you don't necessarily join the dots with how your work can affect people.
When I joined CAT I was really motivated by the scientific and intellectual challenges, and it was only later I realised that we have some tools and technologies that can really make a difference. I believe it's a duty of care to make the most of that opportunity. We see patients coming through who have been on various trials and that helps us understand the challenges patients face. That is a real motivation for me.
I've also been very fortunate to have worked with some great teams over the years. I've learned that it's helpful to question the fundamentals of what you are doing, while iterating that it's important to do the right thing with a sense of urgency. We are not only competing against others in the field, but also competing against disease.
MedImmune’s leadership team is global so I have found it useful to see and understand global ways of working. I have learned the importance of diversity of thought, and the need to see the bigger challenges that biotech and the industry face on a global scale. I've been privileged to be involved in some great leadership teams. You have some personal drivers but you end up in an environment where you are empowered to deliver.
Jane Osbourn was in conversation with Judi Coe, Cambridge Network Editor