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The Disruptors: Plants carry the answer to faster access to therapeutic drugs

PUBLISHED: 09:05 24 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:40 24 September 2019

A growing chamber at Leaf Expression Systems at Norwich Research Park. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A growing chamber at Leaf Expression Systems at Norwich Research Park. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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Using a new technology to add gene sequences to leaf proteins, Leaf Expressions is speeding up the manufacture of therapeutic drugs. For the latest installment in The Disruptors video series, chief executive Simon Saxby explains how the Norwich start-up is changing practice.

How did you use the invention and innovation to disrupt the market?

Conventional methods for producing biologic drugs and vaccines rely use large scale bioreactors, requiring expensive infrastructure and reagents. The process can take many months to establish, so that the cells are stable and consistent.

It became apparent that our Hypertrans® technology, which works in a completely different way by "infiltrating" the leaves of plants with the gene sequences of the products we intend to manufacture, had the potential to enable the manufacture of a number of different types of therapeutic drugs and diagnostic tools at a lower cost than the conventional methods allow.

This means we can help to deliver new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics to patients quicker and at lower prices.

Leaf Expressions chief exec Simon Saxby, who stresses the importance of Leaf Expressions chief exec Simon Saxby, who stresses the importance of "knowing the market and your competitors well" before launching a start-up Picture: Leaf Expressions

What were the challenges you faced along the way and how did you learn from them?

The main challenges are from customers who aren't aware that biologic products can be produced in plants. Once the products have been expressed in the plants, we use the same methods as the rest of the industry to extract and purify the products so that they are safe for use in man or animals, which reduces the concerns of the industry and its regulators like the UK Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA) and the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

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What has been the moment you are most proud of so far in your business's development?

Leaf Expressions'  Hypertrans® technology will Leaf Expressions' Hypertrans® technology will "help to deliver new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics to patients quicker and at lower prices," explains chief exec Simon Saxby. Picture: VTT Studio/Getty Images/iStockphoto

We have only been commercialising the technology through contract services for just over a year, so we were very pleased and proud when we met our first year's contract services revenue target and signed our first contract with a global company working in the healthcare industry. We were also proud to be a runner up in the South Norfolk Business Awards in the 'Excellence in Life Sciences' category earlier this year.

If you were starting from the beginning again, what would you do differently?

I would have started the business development activities much earlier than we did by recruiting an experienced business development professional, and invested in the sales and marketing activities earlier in preparation for the launch of the business and the facility.

What's your advice to someone launching a disruptive start-up?

Make sure you know the market - and your competitors well, and be able to succinctly capture what the USPs of your business.

What are your future plans?

To grow the business through investing in larger scale and regulatory compliant facilities so that we can produce both clinical and commercial scale quantities for our customers. In the longer term we may produce our own therapeutic and diagnostic products that will yield long term revenues for the business.

The Disruptors is a new video series highlighting the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge businesses shaking up their respective industries. Read more and follow the series here.



Want to tell us about how your business is disrupting its sector? Contact David Fieldhouse on 01603 772456.

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