Operating Partner, Advent Life Sciences LLP (April 2024)

Ian has over thirty-five years of international experience in management and transactions within the life sciences sector. He is currently Chairman of Bioventix plc, a Board Trustee of LifeArc, a leading UK medical research charity. Ian is also an Operating Partner at London-based Advent Life Sciences LLP, a leading life science venture investor. Ian previously spent eight years as CEO of the privately held antifungal drug development company F2G Limited and before that was CEO of the oncology R&D company, Chroma Therapeutics Limited. Prior to that he was Senior Vice President, Business Development at UK biotechnology company Celltech Group plc.

Ian has worked extensively in licensing, M&A and market development in the UK, Europe and the US and holds a BSc (Hons.) from University College London and an MBA from Boston University.

Key milestones in your career journey to date?

  • Securing a place at UCL to study physiology and being awarded the top prize in year one as a result of the combination of excellent tuition and my determination. Particularly proud of this since my schooling was at an average comprehensive.
  • Joining Amersham as a keen young graduate enabling me to work globally and build a commercial toolkit which has been invaluable throughout my career.
  • Moving to Celltech with a worldclass team of entrepreneurs (Andy Sandham/Peter Allen/Peter Fellner et al) leading business development for Europe; moving to the US in 1989 and setting up the first commercial office in Boston, Mass; 15 years of leading M&A activity as well as licensing and manufacturing deals.
  • Making the leap to early stage, investor backed biotech in 2004 as CEO of Chroma. Navigating through the tough funding climate of 2008/09; ultimately selling off the assets and closing it down in 2012.
  • Joining Advent; and becoming CEO of F2G, a portfolio company, in 2013; leading the £150m fundraising and orchestrating the move of the company to the US by 2021.

Who has had the greatest influence over your career?

  • There have been so many generous mentors who have supported me throughout my career: you know who you are!
  • Peter Fellner and Peter Allen during my days at Celltech and Chroma.
  • Raj Parekh, General Partner at Advent.

What top three attributes make an outstanding and relevant leader in today’s world?

  • Resilience and the ability to dust yourself down and move on.
  • Asking for help from your network.
  • Recognising the value that a good team will make to a company; built through asking, listening and applying EI.
  • Innate leadership; get out there and connect with the ecosphere.

Describe your approach to identifying and developing high performing teams

  • Recruit well using an executive search partner with an outstanding network who understands the culture of the organisation.
  • Create a sense of purpose through communicating a clear plan, strategic direction and end point.
  • Encourage diversity within the team, balancing academic achievement with experience.

How does your company meet the challenges of leading a multi-generational workforce?

  • LifeArc; The challenge has been to drive through substantial strategic and transformational change, moving from a government funded organisation (MRC) into a self-funded £1.5bn investor focused on specialist areas of unmet medical need.
  • Using an array of communication channels and feedback mechanisms to consistently reinforce the new vision to long-serving colleagues as well as a newer hires.
  • Encourage teams to play to strengths across their diverse experiences.
  • F2G: age is not a barrier; with active valued colleagues aged from 70 downwards.

Tell me something about your company that you would like to share with the PIR community

  • Bioventix: established in 2004, we have created a highly profitable, cash generative antibody reagents diagnostics business through an innovative model based on royalty streams on product sales.
  • It remains a lean, flexible, responsive business, one of the best kept success stories in the sector, generating 70% margins with a £250m market cap.

How has your company created a more diverse culture in recent years; and what do future challenges look like?

  • An appropriately structured Board will lead to greater balance and diversity across the organisation.
  • Ensure value-add across all teams who have been carefully selected against cultural markers such as transparency and collaboration.

The provision of flexible working and employee wellness support are increasingly important in the retention and attraction of key talent. How are these being managed by your company whilst ensuring that productivity targets are met?

  • Measuring productivity through flexible outcomes that do not necessarily involve presence on site.
  • Encourage self-management of teams to create their own boundaries; taking on board how the work gets done; recognising labs do not have the same level of flexibility to work to a hybrid model as those in the office.

What will be the biggest technological transformation in your sector over the next 5 years?

  • AI will create greater convergence between technology and life science; albeit very early days for impact on drug discovery.
  • Development of wearable devices and apps which encourage responsibility for managing your health through your phone.
  • Continual development of robotic surgery; like CMR Surgical, now a multi-billion £ company.

What is your hidden talent or something that might surprise others about you?

  • I play jazz on the piano for relaxation.
  • Circumnavigating the UK on a sailing boat with Andy Sandham.

What advice would you give your 23-year old self?

  • Don’t look back and enjoy the journey.

Words of Wisdom?

  • Best Advice I was given:
    • Don’t take it personally!
  • Advice I’d give:
    • Hang on in there; cycles change, ebb and flow; live through it.
  • What I wish I’d known:
    • Setting realistic timelines; how long it takes to get a drug through the clinic and the inevitable attrition rate.