LCC is a highly innovative contract research organisation, producing chiral molecules that act as the ‘building blocks’ of drug discovery. The business was co-founded in 2014 by members of the Xiao Research group from the University of Liverpool, and since then it has grown, developed and evolved to bring on board major pharmaceutical and biotechnology clients that are seeking to expand their drug pipelines. Praetura joined as an investment partner soon after the business was established in 2014, and LCC has moved on to great heights since. We sat down with Dr Paul Colbon, co-founder and CEO of LCC, for a (virtual) coffee to catch-up on how the firm’s partnership with Praetura began and how he’s found the last 12 months
Tell us a bit about your background and your business and how much you have raised?
LCC was founded when we recognised the potential of the chemical technologies that our research group at the University of Liverpool was developing. Drug discovery is always going to be an essential part of life – 2020 highlighted that – and our compounds offer an important way of supporting the development of new drugs. However, while we had the ideas, research and technology, we didn’t have the business structure in place to successfully bring these to market. This is where the support of an investment partner has proved invaluable. From day one, we knew our business was going to be international and that our end goal was to supply major pharmaceutical and biotechnology clients across the globe. However, to get there we needed investment so we could build our product portfolio to a critical mass that would mean we would be seen as a credible player in the industry – both at home and overseas. Across the UK and China, we now have a team of more than 60 people and we’re producing between 100 and 150 new products a month. This growth wouldn’t have been possible without the £7.1m in capital that we’ve raised since 2014 from our network of investors. Now that we have the required critical mass, we’ve secured and successfully delivered multi-product orders to drug discovery companies in the US, EU and Asia, including several of the top-20 global pharma companies.
How have you found working with Praetura and do you see any differences between them and other VCs?
The team at Praetura has really gone above and beyond to support LCC over the last several years. One of the first things they helped us with was the development of our brand, and that has galvanised LCC behind a clear mission and company values, internally and externally. To build on that, Praetura supported the introduction of improved data analytics tools and helped us to implement a stronger go-to-market strategy. These technical improvements have benefited LCC no-end, but the key for me has been the support of the team on a personal level. Dr Andy Round has worked with us from the off and his knowledge of the life sciences sector has made him an essential sounding board for everything we’ve done. But more than that, the belief in our team and mission shown by Praetura reignited my own belief in the business and really helped my self-confidence during difficult times. I’ve always been a strongly self-motivated person – they realised this and that the most valuable things they could instil were support, guidance and self-belief. In turn, this allowed me to do exactly the same for my team.
What advice would you have for other entrepreneurs who have ambitions to scale?
My first business mentor told me “you can’t make money whilst you’re raising money”. While this isn’t quite a literal statement, raising significant investment is a full-time job and you’ll need one team focused on raising capital, and another on running the business. For this and many other reasons, my advice is to never try and go it alone if you’re raising external capital; you’ve a much greater chance of success if you do it as a team.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the business?
Our presence in China means we saw the impact of the pandemic earlier than most. This gave us time to implement a strategy of home working well ahead of the UK going into a national lockdown. As much of our work is done in laboratories, the impact of working remotely was significant. But like all British businesses in 2020, we adapted to the challenges and worked hard to make the most of the situation. Our chemists dedicated their time out of the lab to design work, planning thousands of new products that we’d be able to make as soon as we were back in the lab. We had already introduced a new cloud-based system in 2019, and that was slowly being integrated across the business. Naturally, this process accelerated once the pandemic arrived, but it was useful that we already had those foundations in place. If there’s been any upside to Covid-19, it’s that, somewhat counterintuitively, it’s brought our international team closer together. With everything moving to the cloud, we have found it’s created more direct communication between our teams in the UK and China.
What is driving growth of LCC?
Pharmaceuticals have never been more important. Covid-19 has increased public awareness and gone a long way to reminding people of their value. The UK is one of the leaders in this sector and continues to be so, as demonstrated by the industry’s response to vaccine and therapeutic development. In 2020, we saw a 300% growth in revenues and a similar increase in the number of key accounts spread across the US, EU and Asia. Capitalising on the future growth of the industry will mean forming key strategic partnerships with customers and the supply chain. Working collaboratively with our customers on their projects from an early stage creates a far more productive alliance.
What does the future hold for LCC?
Scale. We’re planning to continue what we do on a bigger scale: more R&D, more product lines, more business development, more customers, more threats and opportunities, more stress – but even more fun and personal development for every member of the team. The ultimate success story is when one (or more) of our products become part of an approved drug that’s improving and saving lives around the world.