‘Bill Gates is right, there will be further pandemics’ – Sir Greg Winter
Speaking at the opening of the new Bicycle Therapeutics headquarters at Granta Park, Sir Greg Winter, who has a Nobel Prize win in chemistry and is co-founder and director of the clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, expressed his delight at the progress the company has made since being founded in 2009.
Sir Greg was born in Leicester in 1951 but grew up in Ghana, where his father was a professor of French. He studied at the University of Cambridge and earned his PhD in 1977 at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, where he has continued his work. His focus on the development of antibodies for use in pharmaceuticals has been delivering medicines since 2002.
At the opening of Bicycle Therapeutics’ new premises last month, Sir Greg kindly set aside a couple of minutes to respond to questions.
How much time do you spend working on Bicycle among your many commitments?
“That is very difficult to work out. I’m on the board and the scientific advisory committee at Bicycle Therapeutics, which means reading and discussing papers, so probably half a day a week, but sometimes – for instance if it means going to the US – it takes up an entire week.
“I’m not management, it’s non-executive, and any decisions are made through the board.”
Would you agree with Bill Gates’ assertion that there will be future pandemics?
“Bill Gates is right, there will be further pandemics. There’s two ways to nip it [the danger] in the bud. One is to have vaccines ready, the second is testing, to minimise the spread.
“But testing is a Cinderella area in terms of funding, it’s very risky in terms of developing diagnostics. The aim would be to see if someone is infected, so you could pick out a biopsy on breath. It’s not impossible for Bicycle Therapeutics to have a role in some of these things but for us to do the development makes no sense at all, it costs a fortune.
“You have to focus on what you know. We can make molecules quite well, that is my area of expertise, but there’s a whole number of things – such as IP – that are beyond me.”
Is Bicycle Therapeutics solely focused on cancer?
“It is exploring areas outside cancer as well, for instance infectious disease, such as SARS-CoV-2. It would be a huge commitment for therapeutics – Bicycle Therapeutics should always be thinking ahead is my own view.
“Probably 90 per cent of our intellectual effort at least is on cancer. It’s not as if we’ve run out of approaches on cancer.”
How do you explain the incredible progress you’ve made – do you feel lucky to be working at a time when so many new technologies are being developed?
“I arrived at the right time in the right place and with all the right skills to develop these therapeutics. If it had been earlier, or if there were no DNA skills to acquire, I probably wouldn’t have done so much.
“I was pretty well trained, able to identify the challenges and feeling competent to do something... I had a good mentor who could see that I was the kind of person they wanted. In my own area I can make judgements, but for other people’s areas – such as for venture capital – it’s often really difficult to know if it’s a great idea or not.
“But I have to be careful what I say because I’m always worried it will be picked up by Nasdaq and I’ve said the wrong thing!”
More on opening speeches here.