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From start-up in the attic to international success story
Translating medical research into commercial success is something Dr Peter Wrighton-Smith knows all about.
The founder and chief executive of Oxford Immunotec was named entrepreneur of the year by the BioIndustry Association last month.
In the 11 years since he started Immunotec as a spin-out from Oxford University, it has grown into an international firm with 200 staff based in Abingdon, America and Japan.
It develops technology to measure how the body’s immune cells, known as T-cells, respond to certain diseases such as TB and exports to more than 40 countries.
Dr Wrighton-Smith, a former pupil of St Edward’s and Magdalen College School, said: “It’s intensely satisfying to look back and see what the company has achieved.”
The 39-year-old went on to Oxford University to study for a degree in engineering, economics and management, and doctorate in medical engineering.
It was a “fantastic discipline to teach you how to think clearly”, he believes.
And it was a “series of happy accidents” which saw him end up where he is now, starting when his university tutor introduced him to his former boss and role model, Paul Drayson.
He went to work for former science minister Lord Drayson’s biotech start-up PowderJect Pharmaceuticals as a senior projects director in business development, and finally became managing director of subsidiary PowderJect Diagnostics, which specialised in disease diagnosis.
During his time there, PowderJect morphed into a global vaccines business with more than 1,200 employees.
Watching Lord Drayson’s progress inspired him to go down the entrepreneurial path himself, he says.
University spin-out facilitator Isis teamed him with Prof Ajit Lalvani, who then worked at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and was researching TB and the immune system.
Immunotec started life in Dr Wrighton-Smith’s attic but it quickly gained enough funding to bankroll a move into a unit on Littlemore Science Park.
Since then, it has relocated to Milton Park and is growing fast, with the bulk of its turnover coming from export sales.
He said: “When I joined PowderJect, it was instead of becoming a banker or management consultant like most of my peers were doing.
“It was a phenomenally successful, fast-growing company, and a great learning experience.
“What I learned was that you don’t have to be limited by the degree you take at university in terms of what you can do in life.
“What we all need are role models to open our eyes to the possibilities out there.
“I was very lucky to have Paul Drayson as a mentor and be able to chat to him about the way things were going.
“I hope I can do the same for someone else, one day in the future.”
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