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Nottingham drug discovery and chemistry firm has sights set on continued expansion

Founded two decades ago by an academic duo, Charnwood Molecular is today a rapidly growing synthetic chemistry firm.

It started out, as many business ventures, from humble beginnings.  But today, bioscience firm Charnwood Molecular is providing cutting edge medicinal chemistry services for clients across the globe, with drug discovery just one of its areas of research.

Launched as a “spin out” from Loughborough University in 1998, the firm has seen rapid growth in the last three years.  Its lab space, a hive of activity, has tripled and staff numbers have doubled to more than 50.  The company, based at BioCity, says its reputation is built on excellence in chemistry, with its scientists providing cutting edge research.

But while the growth of the firm is thanks to the research it conducts, bosses say key business appointments have been what has helped it reach the next level.  Professor Steve Allin, founder and CEO, explained: “We operated for a number of years at (Loughborough) University and in about 2003, because of the expansion in what we do, we took on an extra facility in Loughborough.  We continued to grow and in 2012 got our first lab here in BioCity. We’ve continued to grow and that’s been based on, over the last three or four years, recruiting key leadership personnel.  They’ve helped us drive the business into new markets and new high quality services.  On that basis of moving into those markets, because we produce very high quality product and high quality services, but keep an eye on costs, we have been able to carry on growing.  Growth has doubled in the last three years and we have had support from BioCity on that.”

The company now does business in the UK, Europe and the USA, serving global chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.  And its continued growth, both in terms of numbers and floor space, is evidenced in its turnover.

In 2016/17 it stood at £2.6 million, increasing to £3.5m in the last financial year. Its predicted turnover for this year is £4m.

Dr Robin Wilkes, Director of Business Development, said: “When I joined one of the the questions I got, particularly in the US, was what is your USP? Why would I work with you? I get 10 companies a week offering the same types of services.  When we pared it back down, it really came back down to how we work, how we communicate with people and, indeed, the people we have got here.”

Prof Allin added: “I think there is a niche we are starting to exploit in the UK as well. There are other contract research companies like ourselves, there are specialist scale up companies, but there are not many that do both of those things.”

The company’s development is almost a mirror image of the pharmaceutical industry in the UK, which has undergone a degree of downsizing in recent years.  Charnwood is now doing a lot of work with smaller spin out companies, much like its own beginnings, and it sees its Nottingham base as an incubator for those types of projects.  Working with these types of companies and having a bigger team means the process of its chemistry services has been personalised.

Dr Wilkes said: “Even the very small projects, to a company like ourselves, really matter because we see them growing into the future.”

Dr James Hitchin, Head of Medicinal Chemistry, added: “All the people who work on the projects , we name them to the clients, so they know exactly who those people are and have direct access to them.  By having the same people throughout the process, not only does it give greater ownership to those people and empowers them to play a bigger role, it also means the client has greater continuity and can reach out to those people and talk to them about the problems they are facing.”

The last three years have seen one of the company’s biggest periods of growth with staff and investment in new facilities.  That expansion does not look to be slowing down, as the team look to recruit more chemists and add to the business team.  They say the personalised approach is now embedded in the company and will not be sacrificed as growth continues – and that will be vital as the company looks to the future.   The split of where it operates varies from year to year, with about 50 percent of business recently being with UK clients, 30 percent with the US and 20 in Europe, but it is always looking at different areas where it can provide its services.

Professor Allin said: “There are still opportunities for us to expand in new markets in Europe and the US, based on our gathering reputation. It may be we look at other services to support the chemistry.  I think as a management group, part of the challenge for us is to look at landscape and see what we might add in terms of additional services to keep the interest in the company at a high level and how it might add to the services we’ve already got.”

Visit Charnwood Molecular’s website here.

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