The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with grand potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Ross: I’m Dr Ross Burn, the CEO of CatSci Ltd and one of its co-founders. CatSci is an award-winning innovation partner for medicines development; we are dedicated to breaking down the silos in drug development to accelerate the delivery of life-changing medicines to patients in need.
We have 6 operational laboratories across two UK sites, fitted with the latest high-end equipment. From our HQ in Cardiff, we have done business in 13 countries and now we work with four of the top five global pharma companies.
We have a keen focus on green chemistry; we develop environmentally-sustainable chemical processes to enable our customers to reduce the environmental impact of their operations. I have always believed that businesses need to think about their environmental impact, and that we need to do our best as a company to improve sustainability.
I am passionate about making CatSci an integrated medicines partner, meeting the needs of our customers across the globe from candidate selection through product launch and beyond. We continue to develop our chemistry, manufacturing and controls (CMC) capability and capacity to become an end-to-end partner for innovation in the non-clinical development of medicines – I believe that integration of drug substance and drug product development will power our future growth.
Ross: After my PhD, I began my first role at AstraZeneca as an Analytical Chemist. In 2010, AstraZeneca decided to shut down several Research and Development UK sites. CatSci was then spun out of AstraZeneca, and four colleagues and I set up a catalysis screening lab, ensuring that the exceptional laboratory facilities, ways of working and expertise associated with medicines development were maintained. Since then, we have refocused our value proposition from being a niche chemistry company to the fully integrated innovation partner for medicines development that we are today, to reflect the evolving market demand in drug development.
Ross: We started CatSci with five employees in 2010, and we surpassed our 100th hire in September. We will continue to grow in Cardiff in order to satisfy our customers’ needs, while we also have a second lab in Dagenham. Taking a long-term perspective, we intend to create or sustain 300 high-value jobs – consolidating the UK’s position as the go-to location for best-in-class pharmaceutical development services. We focus on attracting the top talent who all driven by the same purpose: getting medicines into the hands of patients who need them.
Another thing I am passionate about is our staff’s wellbeing, and believe that it’s the hard work, talent and commitment of the CatSci team that has made us the company we are today. I take the livelihood of employees very seriously, I want them to feel supported and included in the business. Every employee is a shareholder in the company, and we really have created a fantastic CatSci community. We also take time to know everyone’s personal objectives and aim to align these with business goals, and encourage staff to take advantage of development and learning opportunities.
When we focused on scaling up the business, we moved away from hiring based on technical capability alone, and based our hires on technical ability as well as personal qualities. CatSci’s values are integrity, commitment and expertise, and it is critical to us that every team member shares these. We are dedicated to making CatSci a diverse and inclusive workforce that attracts the best talent where people are happy at work and passionate about our mission. As we grow, effective recruitment may become an issue. To minimise this risk, we have two internal talent managers and unique talent acquisition and integration workflows. For a high growth business, one should take control of their talent pipeline and treat it with as much care and attention as they would their sales pipeline.
Ross: For me, it has always been starting with the end in mind, which is developing new medicines for patients in need. Medicines Development is a very complex and expensive process, thus we take time to understand the market needs and trends, and devise a strategy that will add the most value. The evolution of CatSci excites me, we take a fully global view in line with the nature of the pharmaceutical market. The predominant driver for all our customers is access to the highest quality research and development with simple and integrous intellectual property rights, so our vision will always remain the same: “Working together to be the leading partner for the development and manufacture of new medicines.”
We perform plenty of market research to better understand and validate our product offering; we continuously invest in new capabilities to provide a value-adding solution to a current problem or need. Since we pivoted from a niche chemistry company to developing chemical processes for medicines, we’ve grown on average 50% year-on-year. We will continue to invest in more capabilities and endeavour to get more share of the market to continue this rate of growth.
Following market crafting work in our start-up years, it became clear that the US market was absolutely vital for us – this is the epicentre of the emerging biopharma sector and the HQs of many large pharma companies. These emerging biopharma companies have limited internal capabilities and it is essential for them to partner with companies like CatSci. Sales cycles in this segment are shorter than others. Accordingly, growth and resource development within the US was a key focus for CatSci between 2017-2022. At the same time, we have continued to look for opportunities to work with European companies and we’ve recently expanded into Japan – the second largest market for pharmaceutical innovation.
Ross: When we first started CatSci, we were carrying on with the work we were doing as AstraZeneca employees, but it was definitely challenging trying to find new contracts and building new relationships from scratch. We had to hone our entrepreneurial skills while working on the science, business development and leadership, something that was new to all of us. When we changed our business strategy, we then had to reposition the company as a global medicines development partner from its original conception as a catalysis services provider.
The majority of our work is carried out through export and when we decided to focus on the US, we had to establish trust and credibility as we were essentially a complete unknown trying to sell into the demanding and crowded US marketplace.
Not only that, but we were committed to developing a differentiated position based on experience and expertise to challenge lower quality, lower cost competitors.
Another challenge that we face is growing the capacity of the company to meet our customers’ needs and expectations whilst maintaining exceptional quality of service. We have recently secured significant funding from Keensight Capital, and this will allow us to carry out our extensive expansion plans to increase our capabilities, laboratories and workforce.
As with the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic was another significantly challenging time. With international travel essentially halted within a matter of weeks from the end of the first quarter in 2020 amid an immediate fear of the unknown economic outlook, we suffered the cancellation and delay of projects. Plus, as I mentioned, a significant portion of our work relies on US relations and business development, and the pandemic meant no international trips or trade shows for client relationship building, and the inability to invite customers to our site as part of their decision-making process. However, we quickly implemented a COVID-secure laboratory and maintained a resolute customer-focus, which meant we able to rebound with minimum disruption. I was incredibly pleased that we didn’t have to furlough any staff, and we developed and implemented digital tools to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, including a 360° site tour to enable virtual visits to our facilities.
As a result of our agile mindset, innovative internationalisation strategy, passion for medicines development and outstanding team, we now work with more than half of the top ten pharma companies, and four of the top five.
Ross: Firstly, I would advise finding a good CFO, as they will have the knowledge and experience that you might not have. Investments are challenging, which is why it is important to have someone on the team who fully understands the process. It is also imperative to research as many potential investors as possible; you need to have an investor that is the right fit for you and your business objectives. Investors will be looking for a clear vision for growth, so it is important that you have a high level of ambition, and you find an investor that shares your vision and aligns to your company’s culture and values. Finally, you need to ensure that you are fully prepared by the time you begin to approach investors. You need to fully understand and be able to exemplify how your business is creating value and how you will continue to do so in the future, and that your financials and operational processes are all in order.