Meet the Avacta team

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Avacta Group Board of Directors
Alastair Smith

Alastair Smith

Chief Executive Officer
Biography

TMAC Programme Accelerates: Clinical Trial Planned for Early 2020Alastair is the founder of Avacta, a biotech start-up with around 80 staff in two sites in Wetherby and Cambridge, and has been responsible for leading the management, strategic development and fund raising for the company since IPO on AIM in 2006.

Since 2012 Alastair has raised over £50m for Avacta to develop and commercialise Affimer® proteins. Avacta is focused on novel immunotherapies for cancer and will be in the clinic with its first programme in 2020.

The company is also building a revenue stream through licensing of Affimer® proteins to replace antibodies in diagnostics and research products.

Alastair has a degree and PhD in Physics from Manchester University and, after working in the US for a period, took up a position at Leeds University in 1995. At the age of 38 he was awarded the Chair of Molecular Biophysics and grew, over ten years, one of the leading biophysics research groups in Europe. He left his academic career in 2007 to focus full time on building value for Avacta shareholders.

Tony Gardiner

Tony Gardiner

Chief Financial Officer
Biography

Tony joined Avacta from AHR, an international architecture and building consultancy practice, where he has held the role of Finance Director since 2011.Between 2007 and 2011, Tony was the Chief Financial Officer of AIM listed Fusion IP plc, an IP commercialisation company, which was subsequently acquired by IP Group plc in 2014. There, he played a key role in supporting the Chief Executive Officer in growing the business and oversaw all finance activities as well as directly supporting life sciences and health technology companies in Fusion’s portfolio.Tony has also held senior finance roles within Eversheds LLP, KCOM Group Plc, Eldon Electric Ltd and Hickson International Plc.

Eliot Forster

Eliot Forster

Non Executive Chairman
Biography

Dr Forster brings over 25 years of experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, most recently leading Immunocore as Chief Executive Officer to become a world-leading immuno-oncology biotech, raising over £230 million in equity and non-dilutive funding as well as securing partnerships with AstraZeneca and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The early part of Dr Forster’s career was at GSK and then he went on to hold a number of senior roles in Pfizer where he became Head of Development and Operations for the EU and Asia, a role in which he was responsible for drug development activities across multiple geographies and was involved in bringing several drugs to market, including Celebrex® (celecoxib) and Relpax® (eletriptan).  Since leaving Pfizer, Dr Forster’s roles have included the Chief Executive Officer of UK-based Creabilis.

Dr Forster holds a PhD in neurophysiology from Liverpool University and an MBA from Henley Management College.  He is Chairman of the MedCity project that promotes the Life Sciences in the London/Cambridge/Oxford “Golden Triangle”. He is an Honorary Visiting Professor of the Pharmacology and Physiology Department at the University of Liverpool, a Board member of OSCHR (Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research) and the National Genomics Board.

Mike Owen

Mike Owen

Senior Independent Director & Scientific Advisory Board Chairman
Biography

Dr Owen was Senior Vice President and global Head of Research of the Biopharmaceuticals R&D Unit at GlaxoSmithKline and was responsible for initiating and rapidly growing GSK’s robust pre-clinical and clinical therapeutic antibody pipeline during the last decade through in-house development as well as through acquisitions such as Domantis. He left GSK in 2010 to establish Kymab which is developing biotherapeutics using its novel transgenic mouse platform. Dr Owen is an immunologist by training who had a highly successful scientific career at Imperial Cancer Research during which he was elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation and a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.  Dr Owen is also an independent board member at Zealand Pharma and non-executive director of Ossianix Inc. and Blink Therapeutics. He sits on the scientific advisory board of Kymab and also advises the private equity CRT Pioneer Fund and HS Life Sciences.

Trevor Nicholls

Trevor Nicholls

Non Executive Director
Biography

Trevor Nicholls has over 35 years of commercial experience building international businesses in the life sciences sector. As Chief Commercial Officer and Executive Vice President of Affymetrix, he was responsible for global operations including sales, marketing, product development and manufacturing, overseeing 600 staff across 8 locations worldwide. In this role he grew product revenue from US$249 million to US$330 million in two years with the launch of a large number of new products including major instrument systems during that period. In addition, he has over 14 years of technical marketing and sales experience in the life science reagents and instrumentation sector, holding a variety of senior commercial roles in Amersham International (now part of GE Healthcare).Dr Nicholls is currently Chief Executive Officer of the not-for-profit CAB International, an intergovernmental organisation owned by 47 member countries whose mission is to improve lives worldwide by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. He is also a Non-Executive Director of hVivo plc, the pioneer of human challenge models of respiratory disease and Conidia Bioscience Ltd a UK biotech company that develops, manufactures and sells tests to detect microbial contamination in fuel. He was also founder and CEO of Oxagen, a spin-out company from the University of Oxford where he successfully raised approximately £50 million over three venture-backed financing rounds and secured major commercial partnerships. Prior to that he had also worked in consultancy with McKinsey.Trevor brings great experience in commercial and corporate strategy, international sales and marketing and building life sciences businesses.

Senior Management
Amrik Basran

Amrik Basran

Chief Scientific Officer
Biography

Dr Amrik Basran has over 14 years’ experience of both the biotech and pharma industries. He completed his degree and PhD at the University of Leicester and has a background in protein biochemistry/engineering. He then spent 6 years as a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Biotechnology, Cambridge University isolating novel bacterial pathways involved with the metabolism of illicit drugs and high explosives. In 2002, Amrik then joined Domantis, a start-up biotech company based in Cambridge developing domain antibodies (dAbs), a novel antibody fragment technology. As Director of Protein Sciences, he was responsible for characterising the lead dAbs from early discovery for their suitability for drug development, supporting pre-clinical evaluations and tech transfer to CMOs. Domantis was acquired by GSK in 2006, after which he became Head of Topical Delivery (Biopharm Discovery Unit), supporting the development of biotherapeutics across the GSK portfolio. The group focused on discovering and developing a wide range of therapeutic antibodies, dAbs and proteins for delivery into the eye, skin and lung. This included developing formulation and delivery strategies for biotherapeutics for Phase I clinical studies. Amrik left GSK in 2012 and joined Avacta in 2013 as Chief Scientific Officer to develop the Affimer® platform for therapeutic use, focusing on immuno-oncology where there is a high unmet medical need for new novel drugs to improve the long-term clinical outcome for cancer patients.

Jose Saro

Jose Saro

Chief Medical Officer
Biography

Applying Affimers

Dr Saro brings over 20 years’ experience in the pre-clinical, translational and early clinical development of oncology assets, spanning small molecules, biologics and drug conjugates.  Dr Saro joins Avacta from Roche where he held the role of Senior Translational Medicine Leader at the Roche Innovation Center Zurich in which he focused on immuno-oncology and the development of combination products. Dr Saro led the translational research and entry into human studies of tumour antigen targeted cytokines and tumour targeted T cell engager bi-specific antibodies and their combination with checkpoint inhibitors.

Prior to his position at Roche, Dr Saro was Executive Director Oncology Global Development and Medical Affairs at Bristol Myers Squibb, based in Paris, where he led and contributed to many oncology clinical development programmes, including Sprycel, Ipilimumab (Yervoy anti-CTLA4), Nivolumab (anti-PD1), anti-PDL1, anti KIR, anti LAG3, Brivanib, MEK inhibitor and Elotuzumab.

Previously, Dr Saro was Executive Director of Translational Medicine and Early Clinical Development (Oncology) at Novartis.  Prior to that, he held senior positions at Eisai, and Wyeth.

Dr Saro has also experience of the small biotech environment, having spent several years as Vice President Oncology Clinical Development at PharmaMar, an oncology focused biotech. There, he was Head of Clinical Research & Development teams, comprising approximately 45 people, located in both Madrid and Boston, MA.

Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson

Chief Technology Officer
Biography

Matt studied Genetics & Microbiology at the University of Sheffield and stayed on to complete a PhD in Molecular Biology with Dr Anne Moir investigating novel surface proteins of the B. cereus endospore. As part of his PhD, he completed an EMBO short-term fellowship at the Pasteur Institute in Paris with Dr Michele Mock looking at the same proteins in B. anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax. After completing his PhD, Matt took a Postdoctoral position in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University with Professor George Salmond. The focus of the project was characterising a novel toxin-antitoxin phage resistance mechanism discovered on a cryptic plasmid in E. carotavora.

Matt joined Abcam in 2005 as a development scientist producing and characterising antibodies. His career at Abcam developed as the company grew to become the leading provider of research-grade antibodies in the life sciences market. He held several roles over his 8 years in the company, culminating in the post of Head of R&D.

His experience at Abcam includes building an imaging team for ICC and IHC, being responsible for managing the antibody characterisation group, running a team responsible for process improvements and QA, project managing a team of developers implementing a new LIMS system and management team of the Product Development & Manufacturing facility.

As Head of R&D, he built and ran a research group with interests in recombinant antibody/binder technologies, alternative detection methodologies, immunoassay development and antibody characterisation. His other responsibilities included contributing to M&A strategy, licensing deals and technology scouting. To support this, he completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Intellectual Property Law at the University of Bournemouth in 2012.

Matt Vincent

Matt Vincent

Vice President, Therapeutics Business Development
Biography

Dr. Vincent is a senior executive with over 25 years’ experience in multiple areas of biotechnology and life science. He joins Avacta from Arisaph Pharmaceuticals where he led corporate development and therapeutic innovation strategy delivering around $100m in license revenues in the past three years. Prior to Arisaph, Matthew was Director of Business Development at Ocata Therapeutics where he had responsibility for all commercial affairs including product licensing and divestment, asset acquisition and complex commercial negotiations as well as the eventual acquisition of Ocata by Astellas Pharmaceuticals. Matthew’s experience also includes developing therapeutic product profiles for regenerative medicine and immuno-oncology, pricing/reimbursement and regulatory strategy. From his previous work as a lawyer and patent attorney, he has experience in worldwide patent portfolio strategy and IP diligence, regulatory affairs strategy, private and public financing and patent litigation.

David Wilson

David Wilson

Commercial Director, Reagents & Diagnostics
Biography

David brings to Avacta over 25 years international experience in business development, marketing and sales management in the in-vitro diagnostic medical devices industry, having held senior commercial and Board level positions in global corporations, angel and venture capital funded start-ups and a sector specific trade association. Following a 12 year period at Genzyme Corporation where David led the international sales, marketing and business development functions for the Diagnostics Products division, he joined US/Israeli start-up Molecular Detection as Vice President Commercial Operations to lead the commercial development of a molecular diagnostics technology platform applied to the rapid, accurate detection of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Building on his experience supporting the development of early stage businesses and technologies in the in-vitro diagnostics sector, David joined London/Boston-based specialist life sciences consulting firm Alacrita and led the development of their diagnostics consulting practice, providing both strategic and operational support to early-stage diagnostics companies entering new markets. More recently, as Head of International Sales for US-based Asuragen Inc., David led a team developing and delivering the international commercial strategy for a specialised genetic and oncology molecular diagnostic product portfolio. He is currently a Board member for two early-stage diagnostic businesses developing novel point of care diagnostic testing platforms, and has served on the Executive Committee of the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association (BIVDA). David has a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry and Microbiology from the University of St. Andrews and a MBA from the Open University Business School.

Emma Wright

Emma Wright

Group In-House Counsel
Biography

Emma has 20 years’ experience in advising on, drafting and negotiating commercial and intellectual property contracts. She joined Avacta in 2014 from Walker Morris Solicitors, where she headed the Life Sciences and Pharmaceuticals Group. Emma has previous in-house experience at Smith & Nephew. She was also a member of the Legal and Regulatory Committee and Adjudication Panel of the Association of British Healthcare Industries. Emma has a wealth of experience in commercial contracts relating to research, development and commercialisation in the life sciences sector, including cross jurisdictional research and collaboration agreements; supply agreements; manufacturing and outsourcing agreements; and multi-jurisdictional intellectual property licensing.

Commercial Team
Chris Miller

Chris Miller

Director, Business Development for North America
Biography

Chris originally joined Avacta Analytical as European Business Development Manager for services in September 2011, then was promoted to Commercial Manager – responsible for all services-related sales and operations. He has since moved to Avacta Life Sciences where he has responsibility for business development on the west coast of the US (he is based in San Diego, CA).

After studying Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Strathclyde, Chris began his career as a production manager at Motorola before deciding to further his scientific training. He returned to the University of Strathclyde and completed an MRes in Biomedical Analysis, successfully combining his scientific training and management experience as a Bioanalytical Study Director at Tepnel Pharma Services (now Hologic GenProbe) for 3 years before leaving to pursue a career in business development.

Prior to joining Avacta, Chris sold functional pharmacology and human tissue research models worldwide for Biopta, the foremost company in the field.

Dan Gare

Dan Gare

Senior Manager, Business Development
Biography

Dan joined Avacta from Abcam where he was in charge of Business Development for their custom rabbit Monoclonal antibody service for Europe. This involved developing bespoke reagents for many of the worlds leading pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Prior to this Dan was responsible for the Discovery automated IHC stainer at Ventana, part of the Roche Diagnostics Group, so has extensive practical knowledge of the technique.

Before commercial roles Dan studied and worked in academia including positions at Imperial College, London and Cambridge University.

Fran Mullen

Fran Mullen

Senior Manager, Business Development
Biography

Fran is responsible for business development for Avacta Life Sciences on the East Coast of the US. Prior to joining Avacta, she was a key account manager for Abcam, supporting pharmaceutical and biotech companies with a portfolio of antibodies, assays and proteins. Before this, she sold custom peptide synthesis services in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of the US for CPC Scientific and AnaSpec, Eurogentec Group. Fran has a BS in Biochemistry from Towson University in Maryland.

Michael Vinegrad

Michael Vinegrad

Marketing and Communications Manager
Biography

After obtaining a BA (hons) in history from Nottingham Trent University, Michael undertook a career in marketing and communications, initially with the NHS. Michael worked on a number of high profile campaigns with the Department of Health including suicide prevention, mental health stigma and dementia. He moved into the life sciences industry working for Bioventus and Smith & Nephew. Here he helped to significantly grow their digital presence and delivered a number of international campaigns, including the world’s first global social media channels for medical devices. Michael joined Avacta Life Sciences in 2014 to lead the marketing and communications function.