Biorbyt’s life science services generate international success and a Queen’s Award
Now brandishing a Queen’s Award for international trade, life sciences company Biorbyt is a global success story which recently added a new string to its bow – designing and building AI-enabled websites for existing and new customers.
The Cowley Road-based biotech company is a provider of essential products for labs in the industry, with a portfolio including antibodies, proteins and molecular tools sitting alongside many niche products not readily available from larger suppliers. Combining its own worldwide resources with strategic partnerships has leveraged the company’s success into the £3m annual turnover business it is today.
Biorbyt was founded in 2011 by Qun Yang and Tillmann Ziegert, and currently employs 13 people in Cambridge, plus 14 more in Wuhan, as well as having an office in St Louis, Missouri and a key distribution partner in Germany. The genesis for the company emerged when Tillman’s moved to Cambridge to work at Abcam, where he was head of sales and marketing.
“I came to study biochemistry for my PhD, at Southampton University, in 1999,” he says of his journey from Germany to UK citizenship. “That’s where I met Qun as well. I got a very good offer from Abcam to join the global marketing team. It’s a fantastic company, but I had lots of ideas myself for a wider service, so we set up a very efficient e-commerce and IT platform, along with a chain of products, including developing our own products in a lab in Wuhan.”
Biorbyt’s product range is extensive and growing.
“Primary and secondary antibodies is a big business for us,” says Tillmann. “Also, the small molecules range we sell in bulk, plus reagents such as proteins and Elisa kits which test for antibody levels in the blood.”
Elisa (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) kits are ideal for the quantification of target antigens in tissue extracts, serum, and cell culture, and are used to test for Covid-19.
The husband-and-wife team – with Tillmann as CEO and Qun as COO – “started off in our living room, then we had a shared facility in Waterbeach, and when that became too small we moved to Cowley Road, which has been good for us”.
Pre-Biorbyt, Qun had a successful career in banking. Having acquired a masters degree in finance and economics at the University of Southampton, she worked at Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank in London before leaving the sector in 2011 to start Biorbyt. She has a masters degree in entrepreneurship studies from Cambridge Judge Business School, as well as an MPhil in Therapeutic Sciences from the University of Cambridge.
She says: “The majority of overall sales are in the US, around 35 per cent, then 30 per cent in Europe, China has grown to 20 per cent from very little, and also South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Australia. Some goods are exported from the UK, while some are imported and then modified before being re-exported. We use wet ice packs which maintain the goods at 4˚C in a box.
“DHL was working fine during the pandemic, but lots of places were locked down which affected us – it was fairly dramatic because there was no one in the labs, but there was never no sales and business came back fairly quickly. No one was furloughed and in fact we hired two new people, but everyone was still affected.
“We have Tillmann who does the research and design, plus a laboratory in Wuhan to make some products. Sometimes, we buy products that have been developed by scientists, and we pay them a royalty fee for the design. We’re improving the labs in Cambridge and China. As well as offering Elisa kits for Covid, we supply the scientific community with other tools and services – for instance in AI and data – to apply our data platform to their business, and we now have six customers in that network.”
“We’ve built that database with exciting new scripts,” adds Tillmann. “It’s a great area for us and one that focuses on the website and IT infrastructure, which is used by the six clients.”
With expertise that is in demand and valued in the global marketplace, Biorbyt is looking ahead to further growth, uninhibited by the glut of threats to trade the life sciences sector now has to navigate through and around. One of those threats is Brexit, which is already mangling the farming, fishing and food sectors.
“Brexit is another disruption as well as the pandemic,” notes Tillmann. “It hasn’t been positive at all up until now. The certification requirements are causing delays in getting products to Europe, while a significant increase in paperwork and additional duties, including VAT, is creating uncertainty.
“We have a team in Europe who are very well trained, but Brexit hasn’t been good geopolitically. There’s some withdrawing going on which is not good for us as a global business, but we recognised this a while back and are able to deal with the challenges quite well.
“Fortunately, we’re not foodstuffs and everything still works, but it was a lot smoother before.”
The life science sector is one of the building blocks of the UK’s post-EU economy, and Biorbyt’s services lubricate the wheels of the industry. The Queen’s Award justly recognises the success of its founders in advancing the success of the life sciences sector internationally.