Kathryn Chapman relishing challenge to grow Babraham Research Campus
Dr Kathryn Chapman is relishing the challenges she has taken on as she steps into the new role of director, science and entrepreneurship at Babraham Research Campus.
The new opportunity means she is responsible for driving the growth of the campus as a world class research and innovation centre delivering its vision “to be the best place in Europe to start up a life sciences venture”.
The strategy to deliver this goal is, of course, up and running. The campus is one of the most successful bioscience locations in Europe, which co-locates early-stage bioscience enterprises with the world-leading discovery research taking place at the Babraham Institute. This unique bio-alchemy takes place on 430 acres of parkland, which is home to more than 60 companies, 2,000 employees and 300 academic researchers.
Kathryn’s focus is on identifying and delivering the support that companies need across all stages of their journey to strengthen the collaborative culture of the campus and maximise its impact on healthcare, economy and society for Cambridge and across the UK.
A scientist by training, Kathryn’s PhD is in the genetics of osteoarthritis. Her research career spanned the University of Manchester, Harvard Medical School, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and GlaxoSmithKline, generating transgenic models for drug development and disease modelling. Prior to joining the Milner Institute in 2016, she spent 10 years at the NC3Rs working with 40 pharma companies in the US and Europe in various cross-company data-sharing initiatives to improve scientific and business processes in drug development.
As deputy director of the Milner Therapeutics Institute, Kathryn optimised the dynamic partnership between pharmaceutical companies and academics at the University of Cambridge and associated institutes.
“I’d been working at the Milner when I saw the post at the Babraham Research Campus advertised on the university’s new Connect: Health Tech platform,” she says of how she heard of the opportunity. “The Milner was a co-location of start-ups, academics and industry, and the environment was electric – and the role at Babraham had all those ingredients on a larger scale.”
Kathryn continues: “The Milner is exciting as it’s concentrated on one floor of one building and everyone is working together very collaboratively.
“The Babraham Research Campus has had great success, and people are now back in person initiating new collaborations. The difference is one of scale, it’s on another level at Babraham, there’s 60 companies, the institute, the size of the site… there have been some challenges post-Covid but now people can meet across buildings. How to amplify that feeling across the whole site as it grows is the challenge – and the opportunity, I think.”
“The role that’s been created shows vision and leadership, and the mission is to do more to support companies across all stages of growth. Previously there was lots of support for start-ups but then there was a gap – and what’s needed is to offer that level of support across all stages of growth, and this role enables us to do that.
“The support starts really early so it will involve accelerating everything on the campus – careers, research, start-ups and scale-ups for all industries.”
The remit also includes overseeing the Accelerate@Babraham accelerator, which launched in 2018 and is now one of the UK’s engines that propels start-up bioscience companies into the wider market.
“There’s been a really high success rate out of Accelerate@Babraham,” Kathryn notes. “I’ve spoken to half of the 20 companies that have been through the programme – and each said the experience had been life-changing and transformational, and springboarded them, changed their lifestyle, and they’d put everything into it. Many of the start-ups have stayed on the Babraham campus.”
Had the accelerator lost any momentum in the past couple of years?
“It’s not that Accelerate@Babraham has lost momentum, but the landscape across the UK has changed and if you look at the Bioindustry Association’s website there are now 76 accelerators and incubators in the UK, so the landscape is really different. We need to recognise that and capitalise especially on the Cambridge ecosystem – to give support to and signpost and connect the entrepreneurship taking place here.
“Covid has had an impact as it’s difficult to get teams on-campus too, so those two factors mean reinvigorating it post-Covid but there’s still the same number of start-ups – and excitement.”
Founded and developed at the Babraham Research Campus in 2018, Accelerate@Babraham was created out of “a desire to support and nurture early-stage life science ventures attempting to navigate this tough and fast-moving sector”. Successful ventures get free access to the campus’ bio-incubator facilities, including communal equipped laboratory space and flexible workspace, and receive mentorship from a glittering array of Cambridge-related life science success stories. The programme is supported by strategic partners including AstraZeneca, Eisai and Lifearc.
“There’s usually around 30 applications,” says Kathryn, who started in November. “The launch is on January 24, then the companies arrive to bootcamp in April or May.
“We did a subtle strategic review so things have changed slightly. It’s now a written application process and then an interview, then we take the applicants through their 12-week training and they meet Jonathan Milner, Andy Richards and others. They have mentorship throughout the programme so they can use everything they’ve learned and give a powerful pitch. It’s at that point, rather than the start, that they have insights about what their experience of the process is – it’s the right time for the companies, they take it all on board and then pitch to investors.”
Kathryn is looking forward to the new year’s challenges.
“A lot of technology platforms are going to open up the druggable genome in 2023. We’re in the phase of getting to grips with the landscape but in three to five years we expect to see a lot of new therapeutic molecules – antibodies, nucleic acids, new chemical entities – going into early clinical development. That’s a longer-term process not necessarily something that will happen in 2023. It’s an incredibly exciting time to join the team.”
Details here for the first Accelerate@Babraham programme of 2023. Applications open on January 24.