Professor Jacqui Matthews is chief expertise officer (CTO) at biotech agency Roslin Applied sciences.
The agency, based mostly within the Midlothian Science Zone, is a three way partnership between the College of Edinburgh and two funding and enterprise improvement companions. It really works to resolve world challenges in agricultural expertise (agtech) and animal well being. Prof Matthews leads on strategic partnerships and manages the analysis and improvement programme specializing in bringing scientific improvements to the agri and animal well being sectors. Her achievements previous to becoming a member of the agency embody managing scientific programmes in academia supported by funding of greater than £13 million – and inventing the small redworm diagnostic, marketed by Austin Davis Biologics. She can also be an honorary professor on the Royal (Dick) College of Veterinary Research.
What does your function contain and what do you goal to realize?
I’m chief expertise officer; in an organization with “expertise” within the identify, and the place it’s the idea of the product that we’re promoting, it’s a central function. However in some methods, the title hides the true significance of what my job is and that’s to bridge the hole between the educational aspect and the business and investor aspect of the operation.
Roslin Tech’s function is to be a conduit between nice science and the worldwide market. A lot of my time is wanting on the nice alternatives, and at improvements popping out of the College of Edinburgh and Roslin Institute specifically. That science might be in a variety of topics: genetics, gene enhancing, infectious illness, to call however a couple of.
We glance to match up these improvements to the wants of finish customers and to search out the place the science may help plug gaps available in the market. For any variety of the problems going through the agricultural and veterinary sectors in the meanwhile, whether or not that is associated to illness, effectivity, or new methods to get meals to the worldwide inhabitants, my job is to mine the science that can assist present the answer.
The enterprise launched a £50m capital raise in July and lately introduced that it was increasing its govt staff, saying it’s an “thrilling time” to be at Roslin Tech. Are you able to clarify extra about these strikes and their goals?
Being at a younger firm is all the time an thrilling time; issues are shifting very quick for us in the meanwhile and the vitality is palpable. It was solely three years in the past that we began up with simply £10m and an settlement that allowed us to assist commercialise the superb science and expertise that’s being developed across the College of Edinburgh’s Easter Bush Campus.
It began when a bunch of traders noticed the potential in Scotland’s agtech experience – it’s value declaring that Scotland ought to be actually happy with being a world chief on this space. And the rationale why it’s thrilling now’s that the thesis has been proved proper. We’re efficiently creating the expertise; participating with the market who’re serious about what we’re doing and attracting curiosity from traders from everywhere in the world.
As a fast-growing enterprise, we’re bringing in new expertise quickly, including extra capability into our govt and throughout the corporate as an entire. One of many key new roles we’re seeking to fill in the meanwhile is an insect technologist – not surprisingly in a expertise firm, these roles are as key as these of the individuals working the corporate.
How has the enterprise been capable of perform throughout the Covid disaster and what modifications have you ever needed to make?
We’re a streamlined operation, so the modifications that we wanted for Covid had been simple. Our breeding programmes work continued, however we did should cease some actions for some time. Many employees had been capable of do business from home, however after all with scientists there are duties and analysis actions that want specialist tools.
For instance, the work that we’re enterprise with stem cells – the cells from which we’re capable of construct any cell that makes up an animal’s physique – needs to be carried out by expert scientists in a laboratory. We went again into the laboratory as shortly as we might however clearly we have needed to introduce protocols about hygiene and social distancing – we really feel we’re in protected palms at our HQ within the fantastic Roslin Innovation Centre!
Fortuitously, we have now now caught up on something the place we needed to take a pause and except for that we have now coped very properly – lots of our scientific companions, portfolio firms and present and potential traders are dotted world wide so we often work with them remotely anyway. And throughout the pandemic, we have managed to tackle fairly a couple of new hires, together with the person who goes to go up our insect genetic nucleus, so we haven’t let the pandemic intrude with our strategic path.
Roslin Tech has stated the partnership between science and trade is central to its technique and enterprise plans – whereas sustainability is vital to your buyer base and the funding group. Are you able to give extra particulars on these priorities?
Our targets are key sustainability targets, and the way we get there may be by means of sustainable processes. There’s loads of discuss sustainability nowadays, and sometimes it appears firms attempt to shoehorn their enterprise underneath that heading. I believe we is likely to be uncommon in that the very essence of what we’re doing is about sustainability – our key total process is to make the manufacturing of protein extra environment friendly.
There’s a scarcity of meals on the planet in the present day, and with the inhabitants rising that’s solely going to worsen; we assist the agriculture sector be extra environment friendly, utilizing diagnostics, vaccines and coverings for animals to make for more healthy and happier livestock. I’m notably happy with the work that we’re doing to create a diagnostic to assist deal with trypanosomosis, which has a significant affect on the livelihoods of livestock keepers throughout Africa and South America.
However that is simply the tip of the iceberg – our stem cell expertise signifies that we may help firms create meat – “cultured meat” – however with none animals, opening up big potential for individuals who would possibly for moral causes need to keep away from meat derived instantly from animals. Our current funding in insect expertise is with a companion who can produce huge quantities of protein effectively and on the identical time within the course of, fertiliser, all from recycling meals waste. By being extra environment friendly, this clearly means much less waste, decrease emissions and a more healthy planet.
How is Brexit going to have an effect on the enterprise and what measures are you planning to take?
As an internationally centered firm that holds a lot worth in variety, we’re eager to make sure that any obstacles to working with us are saved to a minimal. The primary areas of concern could be in recruitment – we wish to have the ability to tackle the best-in-class individuals from wherever they’re. We all the time appeared far and vast for the most effective expertise – our senior geneticist got here to us from Chile through New Zealand and South Africa, and different colleagues come from throughout the EU and China.
One other space of concern is that scientists with whom we work have relied prior to now on the EU funding programmes, however we have strategically tailored by increasing our funding portfolio to UK and non-EU based mostly streams, and are well-placed to take advantage of these new alternatives.
How did your profession progress earlier than becoming a member of Roslin Tech – had been you all the time eager to pursue a profession in science?
Sure, completely. The 2 issues I cherished in childhood, and consequently throughout my faculty time, had been science and animals. I used to be extraordinarily privileged to have the ability to attend vet faculty, and whereas there, I realised I might need a wider affect by means of analysis into animal illnesses, slightly than working as a practitioner.
I used to be actually impressed by the improbable veterinary analysis ethos on the Glasgow College within the 1980s – that had a big effect on me; I used to be taught by a number of the main veterinary scientists of their technology, particularly in infectious illness. I did a brief locum in observe after my diploma however from there I went straight right into a PhD. My educational experience? Worm vaccines and diagnostic assessments. Whereas most individuals have a wholesome aversion to those creatures, by finding out them we are able to deal with a number of the most debilitating and deadly illnesses animals face.
My profession trajectory accelerated after I received my first lectureship on the (comparatively younger) age of 24 at Glasgow Vet College. The wonderful thing about lecturing is it permits the combining of issues that basically enthused me, the analysis factor and the flexibility to impart my information to others.
After that I moved to the Liverpool Vet College. My husband, one other parasitologist, was working in Manchester on the time. That was a improbable job – I used to be capable of mix analysis with observe on the Liverpool faculty’s world-renowned equine hospital. My analysis there developed to attempt to deal with a worm that was rising as the reason for extreme sickness in horses world wide and wherein drug resistance was changing into an enormous drawback. I invented and since commercialised a take a look at based mostly on that early work.
We got here to Edinburgh in 2004. I used to be very fortunate to have the ability to proceed my analysis on parasites, utilized areas akin to tackling worm drug resistance and creating vaccines. Latterly I used to be head of an enormous EU programme and it was throughout that point that I turned extra impressed by the translational facets of science, and what fascinated me was how you can deal with the hole between what science can create and what the agtech sector wants. So when the chance got here up at Roslin Tech to do this very job, I made the transition.
Ladies are nonetheless under-represented in science, expertise, engineering and arithmetic careers – what extra do you assume ought to be carried out to assist deal with this?
There needs to be a bottom-up and top-down method to this, and the duty falls partly on girls who’re already in senior roles. Ladies should be engaged in mentoring different girls to grow to be scientists; I’ve taken this function critically through the years.
One other subject is to recognise the breaks that girls would possibly take of their careers after they have youngsters, and sadly that always occurs to coincide with the crunch time in a scientist’s profession after they attempt to transfer from non permanent to everlasting employment. In a number of the work, I’m making an attempt to assist deal with this and mitigate the affect that may have on particular person progress.
What would you want Roslin Tech to appear like by, say, the top of 2022?
Science is a long-term intensive enterprise. For these merchandise that at the moment are simply hitting the market, for instance our cultured meat proposition, I see our expertise being a gold normal on this space by that point. I’m actually excited to see the uptake in our insect enterprise and anticipate this protein supply to be rather more broadly utilized in simply a few years.
I additionally anticipate we’ll have key partnerships exploiting our breeding programmes and genetics applied sciences and, clearly, as a veterinarian, I want to see our animal well being options coming nearer to market. Extra typically I hope we’ll be seen as a pacesetter of innovation within the agtech sector and an organization that takes this duty critically.
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