Why we should avoid R&D becoming a pain in the AS (Analytical Science)

Every now and then I get asked how we came up with the Lab Timeshare concept which has recently received quite a bit of media coverage including in Lab Bulletin and the Bradford Telegraph & Argus. When asked about the concept, I feel the urge to go into story telling mode… so here we go…

In June 2005 the company I worked for ceased operations. That company had been developing a revolutionary drug manufacturing technology based on Supercritical fluids. The technology still works and only a few days ago a new patent was granted for a product enabled by that technology, it was only the company that ceased to exist.

So how is it that my former employers are now no more than a section on the CV’s of some very bright scientists, and a ruefully remembered tax loss for the investors?

It shouldn’t be so.. a team was in place, further products planned, the knowledge and the science were there, a commercial scale plant stood ready for installation. Then the cash ran out and the company closed.

When faced with a business issue I recall one of my early mentors saying to me “what you’ve described is a symptom of a problem, now tell me the cause”

Perhaps uniquely, cash running out is a symptom and a cause. So why did my employer run out of cash? One of the reasons was because we loved science, and a new technology brings the opportunity of double the science.

Firstly you have the Research work – you need pilot plants, test rigs, laboratory space and so much more, and then you have to analyse what the test systems make, so you need a whole second scientific endeavour – Analytical Science.

Not only did we pour cash into our core Research and Manufacturing. We also poured cash into laboratory space, support overheads, analytical scientists, and a myriad of other systems which, in the clear light of a redundancy notice, I now see we didn’t absolutely need. We could have sourced work much more cash effectively. Our strategy added around 45% to our staff numbers, and the lab space we needed, which translates to adding about 60% to our cash outflow.

I often wonder how much extra time some of that 60% would have gained us – another 3 years perhaps? And of course that would have been in time as well as cash, but also in management effort, shifted from the lab set up and running work, back onto our core technology.

That is one of the reasons we introduced Lab Time Share. A way for start up businesses and established companies to focus on their business while we do the science. As the Business of Science gets more and more challenging, I’m convinced that well aligned but disparate groups, all working to their own agenda, but with a shared scientific goal are the way forward.