How drugs and vaccines are made

Tea & Talk
Publication Date

In Episode 2 of our ‘Tea and Talk’ podcast, the CEO of Novabiotics, Dr Deborah O’Neil discusses the efficacy of creating drugs, how the vaccine development process works, current efforts being made to produce treatments for COVID-19, and how the current pandemic has affected our approach to global production and collaboration.

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Episode transcript

Please note transcriptions are automatically generated so may feature errors.

Rebekah: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the RSE’s Tea & Talk podcast series. A program inspired by the coffee houses of the 18th century, where great thinkers would come together to discuss ideas and matters of the day.

I’m Rebekah Widdowfield  and I’m Chief Executive of the RSE, which is the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and is Scotland’s National Academy. Our mission is to advance learning and make knowledge useful. And as part of that, I’m having series of conversations with some of Scotland’s leading authorities on a whole range of topics, starting with exploring different perspectives on the coronavirus pandemic. The conversations are all with fellows of the RSE who are keen to share their expertise and experience.

This week, I’m talking to Dr. Deborah Neil, who’s the Chief Executive of NovaBiotics, a biotechnology company, focused on the development of drugs to tackle infectious diseases. 

So we’re not in a coffee house. We’re both in our own homes, which explains the occasional dip in sound quality. But I’d encourage you to grab yourself a drink of something, sit back and listen to one of Scotland’s leading experts talk about things that matter.

So Deborah welcome and thank you for coming along today. I wonder if to kick us off, you can tell us a little bit about what NovaBiotics does. 

Deborah: [00:01:22] Hi Rebecca. Absolutely. So NovaBiotics is a biotechnology company focused on the design and development of new anti-microbial therapies. So we’re developing antibacterial treatments for drug resistant and difficult to treat bacterial infections and also some antifungal therapies for life threatening and also some less serious fungal infections and also some potentiators of existing antibiotics so that we can extend the utility of the treatments that we have for these diseases even with the options that we have just now. 

Rebekah: [00:02:01] And, and how do you decide what diseases to focus on within that? Cause there’s quite a range of diseases that you’re obviously looking at and different types of diseases. 

Deborah: [00:02:10] That’s a great question. I think it’s the market need and the clinical pull, if you like, so where the unmet need is in medicine, and you’re absolutely right there’s a bewildering array of infectious diseases, but we’re focusing on the ones that there genuinely aren’t effective or wholly safe solutions. So for example, with our antibacterials, it’s the drug resistant infections that the current armory of antibacterial therapy just aren’t addressing or assumed to run out of their utility, if you like.

And then for fungal treatments there’s so few that are available anyway, there’s such an obvious unmet need there. So it really is where there are gaps in the markets, if you like and gaps in the clinical armory of medicines that we’re focusing. 

So they’re not the easy wins, but they’re the, I think the more meaningful, drugs to be developing an infection definitely.

Rebekah: [00:03:08] Well, that was what was coming across to me then when you were speaking, I was thinking actually, this is really hard stuff. You’re really at the hard end of the most difficult diseases and the ones that are I’ve proved, you know, really difficult to treat. 

So presumably there’s a balance of successes and failures in that.  And how do you work in that sort of environment? Do you just have to accept that not everything is going to work or, you know, how’d you deal with that? 

Deborah: [00:03:31] Definitely. And we’ll probably talk a little bit later on, I guess, our approach to developing the therapies, which derisks them working, even in the most challenging of infections.  So this informed drug design, smart immunology approach, and absolutely, and drug discovery, you have to accept that not everything’s going to work and programs and drugs can look very promising even all the way until fairly late stage clinical trials. 

Obviously the issue that you have in the space that we’re in as well is often, there’s not that many patients. So it takes time to develop them and needs them the logistics of the program as well as the medical or clinical challenge, let’s say, can add other layers of complication, but at the same time, I think if you have a therapy that you know has all the evidence of safety that you have all the evidence of efficacy and regardless of how challenging the disease is, provided, I think the pathway to get into that point where you’re ready to test it in patients the chances of it working or not, are probably equal.

So it’s less of a shotgun approach, more targeted. And I guess the challenges for us in the drug resistant infections that we target are not so much whether the drug has efficacy anyway, it’s more the extra layer of problems that the bacteria by being resistant to other drugs creates anyway. So less, can you get the drug to the target pathogen? And obviously you can derisk a lot of that by doing some very good science preclinically before you get to that point. 

So, absolutely. I think that the whole program tailored around the specific challenges of the condition and the medical need, but also in our case, the specifics of how tricky let’s say the pathogens that we’re trying to kill are.

Rebekah: [00:05:28] And I mean, I know you moved very swiftly to repurpose one of the drugs you’ve been working on, Nylexa, to think about how you could use it for COVID-19. I mean, I mean, when did you sort of know that that could help, I mean, it’s obviously COVID-19 is a very complex disease with a huge number of both primary and secondary effects.

So, you know, when did that start sort of becoming part of your thinking that you had a drug here that had potential use? 

Deborah: [00:05:53] In early March when the data started to come out around, I guess, the pathology of this disease and what the virus was doing. And you’re absolutely right, the kind of direct and the indirect consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection. A lot of what we heard, and some of the publications around the secondary bacterial infections really resonated with our cystic fibrosis drug programs. So NovaBotics has two cystic fibrosis programs that are targeting the infections associated with CF and CF is a — still classed as a rare actually, although it’s not that rare there are 70,000 people in the world that have it — genetic condition, it affects every tissue cell organ in the body.

But the main cause of pathology, the main cause of morbidity and mortality is the lung disease that’s associated with CF. So our two Lynovex programs address the infections that CF actually predisposes you to within the lungs and the airways. And also the physiology, let’s say the excess mucus and the inflammation. And from what we’ve seen in our lab test, also what we’ve seen I think more dramatically in our clinical trials, there are various aspects of the chest disease, if you like, in CF that have elements that are similar in COVID as regards to the inflammation. In the most vulnerable of COVID patients who have secondary bacterial pneumonia, we know that Nylexa’s active ingredient, because we’ve developed that for CF, is very active in resolving those infections and works alongside antibiotics to boost their effects. 

That just led us to thinking why wouldn’t we want to have a look at this in patients who have very similar issues to what we’ve seen in CF, in our CF program? We’ve trialed this drug in some, you know, very sick patients, patients going through what they call an acute exacerbation. So a real flare up of the respiratory infections in CF. 

The drug itself is interesting, the active components of Nylexa is already repurposed; it’s been in clinical use for more than 30 years. So, we have a lot of safety data, which is another reason why, you know, for COVID that that body of safety data supports us moving this along as quickly as we can. But I guess an anti microbial immunomodulator, because what, what we know about what it does to the airways in CF patients, as regards resolving the inflammation should hopefully benefit COVID patients where we’re seeing you know, in some cases, this hyper inflammatory response, which we still don’t really understand. And if Nylexa is able to target in parallel the pathogens and also the inflammation, that’s got to be a good thing. And again, on a background of ethicacy in a disease, that’s not too similar, but not too different and also with all of the safety data behind it.

So we’ve moved very quickly from, I guess, joining those dots in March to the point where we are now, where, you know, we’re in practical terms, only weeks away from hopefully being able to test this in patients. 

Rebekah: [00:09:26] Cause like, cause that was what I was going to come on to ask is, I mean, it sounds like you, you know, actually the advantage of having a drug that’s already been worked on for a lot of years has already been tested in many ways, has got to the advanced clinical trial stage. But so you talked, you said earlier about moving along as quickly as you can. So what are the next steps and what needs to be done before you can start sort of testing it in patients with COVID or using it I say to help patients with COVID?

Deborah: [00:09:51] Sure. So the last pieces in the puzzle are really the formal green lights from the MHRA and also ethics and just finishing building the clinical team who will actually be at the frontline to test this. It’s been amazing having, you know, developed some of the candidate therapies through to mid, to late stage clinical trials, just to see how differently the whole processes worked. And the fact that we’re at this stage so quickly where we just have those final pieces of the puzzle to put into place. So it’s been a real eye opener to see what can be done when things have to be done in the way they are. And the focus definitely has been, which makes perfect sense, on repurposed therapies for the first time ever.

I guess we’re in a position where we have to go from zero to a treatment and or vaccine when we still don’t know everything about this particular pathogen. The ability to be able to test repurposed medicines that we already know a good deal about, even if it’s just the safety aspect and also evidence of efficacy in related conditions or conditions, at least that give a rationale for potential efficacy in COVID. So, for example, there are some repurposed, you know, you’ll have heard about the antivirals therapies and that’s an obvious place to start; they’re not just repurposed in the sense that they’re in development for another condition, the first drugs to be trialed were already approved medicines. So very much de-risked at least from a safety perspective and a history of clinical use. 

The next wave of candidate therapies being tested, are at the stage, really where Nylexa is so they have been in clinical trials, but for different indications and there are asthma therapies, other anti-inflammatory therapies that are being tested. And again, with a solid basis of a rationale for why they were working in Nylexa and that probably shaved two or three years, to be honest at normal pace off of the drug development program. So being able to go straight into patients safely now, and hopefully do two or three clinical trials, and fast-track getting this where, you know, whichever drugs look promising can then be deployed hopefully as therapies.

There’ll still be a lot to do. And that’s another subject, in terms of to be viable they don’t just have to work and be good science. They have to be scalable, readily available. You know, we may need billions of doses of whatever solutions look promising and all that’s to come after clinical testing.

But again, the industry’s working in a way that it never has, to try and get to that point at least while we’re closer to some solution that can change the trajectory of the disease. 

Rebekah: [00:12:50] And I think that’s something we’ve actually seen right across the piece, this sort of pace of innovation, wherever that’s in the sort of sector that you work in and the sort of life sciences and biotech or, and in public services and things that I guess might have in the past been thought, well, they couldn’t be done, or they couldn’t be done that quickly. That sort of innovation. 

I mean, do you think these sort of changes in the drug development process, do you think these are a sort of short term response to a crisis? And then, you know, post-crisis, we’ll go back to the way things were? Or do you think there’ll be some longer term changes to the way the drug development process works coming out of what we’re going through at the moment?

Deborah: [00:13:26] I think that there will be some longer term changes and a lot of what we’re going to learn from this pandemic will be embedded in the industry. And I think when processes are just accepted, you never really question why things take as long as they do, I guess, in my sector, why drugs are as expensive as they are, why the process is so complicated and lengthy.

I think what COVID is showing us is it doesn’t actually have to be. And that there’s no compromise to patient safety or the quality of the potential therapies or vaccines that are being developed. So it will be very hard if not impossible to justify going back to the old ways. So I’d be very interested to see how much becomes embedded, how much sticks and you know, whether we’re looking at maybe — I’d like to think we’d be more than 50/50 the old way and the new way, and that, you know, the process will have changed forever and be closer to what we’ve seen in COVID than the old way of doing it. And not just, I guess, from, from my side of the fence, but even interacting with the bodies who they’re responsible for regulating the process.

You know, they seem to be absolutely thriving working in the way that they’re able to now. And I guess they’ve never been as focused on one particular thing at the moment, but it genuinely seems to be working, even though it’s all happened out of necessity. So that, that’s really interesting. And that’s what gives me hope that at least a lot of what we’re seeing now will actually stick for the future and not just, I guess, the process, but the whole concept of if, if another pandemic happens and there’s this call to arms, so to speak; and as you say, across every sector that we can be as responsive and move very quickly to innovate, to collaborate, think of different ways of finding solutions and that, you know, in many ways the learnings of that, if you like, will, will be broader. And a lot of that will, will stick for the future as well.

Rebekah: [00:15:40] I mean I was just reading the other day about some of the stuff that the world health organisation was putting out as well about ethics. So not losing the ethical dimension, but thinking about how you do it in a way that actually is proportionate and, and weighs up the sort of, the different risks around it.

I mean, the other sort of dimension that has been, I think, this sort of collaboration, whether that’s collaboration between businesses or collaboration between businesses and academia, and businesses and government, I mean, how has your company been working with others? You know, from academia or government or other businesses?

Deborah: [00:16:12] So for us, it’s more been collaboration with government. That’s, you know, still an ongoing process. I think it’s fair to say that the government is in uncharted territory as it comes to deciding on the best and most effective way to mobilise, you know, potential solutions as regards therapies.

So, you know, that has been our main form of collaboration and, and really trying to get, I suppose, central onboarding. Of Nylexa as a potential candidate to be tested centrally with some of the other promising drugs that have been flagged as things that should be investigated. So that’s been very new for us. And again, I think we’ve learned a lot for the future in terms of, it’s a different kind of collaboration for us and yeah. Interacting with different stakeholders, different different bodies. So yes, whole new skill sets. Definitely. 

Rebekah: [00:17:15] But again, I guess that’s something that this sort of collaboration will continue sort of post-crisis.

I mean, it’s been, as a lay person there seems to be a lot of focus on a vaccine and you know, caveats about whether we’ll find one and whether it’s a silver bullet, anyway. There has been obviously some dialogue around treatment, but maybe less so, and I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about that balance between vaccines and treatment and I guess how the two interact and the interplay between them.

Deborah: [00:17:43] Absolutely. It’s such a great question in the whole anti-infective space: even if you can vaccinate against something, is it better to do so rather than treat? Whether that’s a bacteria or a virus; you know, with viruses, we all know how crucial and game changing vaccination strategies can be. But again, we’re in uncharted territory here; we don’t know a fraction about, you know, this novel virus that we would normally know as a, as a platform to move forward, to develop an immunisation strategy. 

I’m an immunologist by training and it fascinates me as, as much as it frightens me, probably in that, you know, with all the things that this virus is doing. You know, you talk to some of the frontline doctors who’ve been seeing, a raft of patients with, with various outcomes, right from the beginning and, you know, the common thing is, you know, we’ve just never seen anything like this before. And we really don’t know how, or understand, I should say how the immune response responds to this virus. And, you know, how that knowledge base that you normally would before going on to develop a vaccine. It’s, it’s brilliant that there are more than a hundred being developed at the moment at various stages and very different strategies. So, RNA viruses that encode for just a fraction of the virus enough to hopefully cause the immune response to recognise that that is a pathogen or part of a pathogen and develop antibodies against it.

Other strategies as well; you know, it’s good to hear that there are glimmers of positivity coming from some of the programs even this week. one of the vaccines being developed in the US but I think anybody in the vaccine space at the moment would also admit there’s such a long way to go. And some fairly big N numbers in terms of studies, to be confident that you’re going to get protection across a broad range of people. And in fact, the globe. 

And then there’s the question of, if we get a vaccine or vaccines that look promising, how do we scale them in time? How do you then roll out a strategy that looks to cover at least 80% of the global population so that we have global herd immunity, if you like, or sufficient protection to almost go about life as normal.

And there’s a lot of pressure because you know, the vaccine is just not guaranteed. the challenge to develop one is unprecedented, the timescales, the lack of knowledge about the virus and the scale required of the actual product at the end of it. So it’s crucial with that risk in mind that we look to, to therapies as well.

So I suppose, hopefully a change in mindset that we don’t have to, not quite completely lock ourselves away, but restrict what we’re doing and just focus on life before a vaccine and life after vaccine and thinking that that’s going to get us all completely back to normal, because we just don’t know how effective is going to be, how long it will take to get the coverage. Even if, you know, by the end of next year, we do have a vaccine. So therapy strategies that let’s say derisk what will happen and the consequences of you being infected with SARS-CoV-2, and developing COVID and knowing that, you know, the effects of that will not be as serious because you can have a therapy that, that mitigates the consequences of that are equally as important and potentially something that could be rolled out ahead of a vaccine and potentially used alongside a vaccine. So there’s also less pressure to roll out the vaccine globally in a very short space of time, because the logistics of that are just going to be beyond challenging.

So there are dozens of trials or programs ongoing at the moment, looking at therapies. And as we mentioned before, not just the big recovery trials and the studies looking at other antiviral therapies, these the slightly more innovative approaches and the next wave of therapies, looking at drugs like Nylexa.

And it will be interesting to see again, which of those are looking promising because they’ll have, you know, similar challenges around, you know, the whole viability aspect as applies to any virus that looks promising — any vaccine, sorry, that looks promising. Even a therapy will have to be readily available, simple to manufacture, scalable, cost effective, and something that we can deploy the world over.

So. It’s, you know, critical and it is happening that there’s a lot of activity in both camps. 

Rebekah: [00:22:55] I mean, that does seem sort of you know, actually I think what you’re saying very clearly is that we need them both. We need the sort of development of vaccines and we need the development of the treatment.

So, absolutely. I absolutely don’t want to pitch these against each other, but do you feel we’ve got the balance right at the moment? Cause, cause obviously there’s a huge amount of money that is required to develop vaccines and to develop treatments. Do you think we’ve got sufficient focus on, on therapies?

Deborah: [00:23:18] I think we’re a little bit behind to be honest on therapies. I think the therapies that were not the already licensed drugs for other viral infections, we’ve been slow off the mark in getting those going. And if you look at where some of the vaccine companies are at the moment, so, you know, data coming out from one — the very early kind of phase one data, but clinical data already coming out for one of the vaccines is admittedly pretty far ahead anyway, and then they have a lot of government support in the US, it’s a shame we don’t have at least a couple of therapies that are further along, have been in sufficient patients to, to, you know, allow us then to… as you say it’s then where do the resources go? What, what do we invest in? And at what point can we say a group of these vaccines potentially look good? These are the ones to focus on now and the same with therapy. So I hope in the next few weeks, not even months, we see that the therapy area actually catch up to vaccines. 

Rebekah: [00:24:26] So, I mean, I think what I’m hearing you say is really, we need all the tools in the box and actually that will help with some of the logistical issues as well in terms of, you know, if you’re not, if you’re not just relying on one vaccine, if you’re actually using whole lot of different methods. 

Could you maybe tell us a little bit more about the smart immunology approach that NovaBiotics uses? I mean, what does that mean and how does it work? 

Deborah: [00:24:47] Definitely. I think Nylexa is a classic example of this. So all of our drug candidates and our, our technology platform has been engineered from how the immune system deals with infection. So rather than using synthetic chemicals that ironically in the, at least in the antibiotic space tend to be produced by bacteria anyway, as part of a eons long bug war, if you like, where resistance is, is going to be guaranteed because it’s a mechanism for other bacteria to thrive. The body’s been pretty good on the whole with coming up with strategies to deal with infection. So peptides and small molecule platform have been engineered from the first responders in the body’s defense strategy against infectious challenge or even inflammation. So they’re not antibodies, the molecules that we have supercharged, if you like to do the same job as they do in the body, but as therapies are the ones that will be normally produced by the body almost instantly to an infectious challenge. And you know, a lot about the mechanism of action: they have a better safety profile. They are biologics in the sense that they might be synthetic molecules, but they are engineered against a platform which the body would use.

So we understand a lot more about how they work. They tend to ignore anything that isn’t a microbe. In some cases they also have, and this is true for Nylexa, these immunomodulatory properties. So they not only target the bacteria, the fungus, the virus, but they also boost the immune system, to be able to deal with that in parallel.

So it’s great. You know, we’re just jumping on what nature has been very clever and developed and, and we’ve evolved, probably because these systems have worked and have done really well. And it kind of fascinates me, that I suppose, smart immunology, the antibody revolution in terms of therapies, mainly for cancer and inflammation,  have transformed medicine in those areas, but for infection, we’re kind of a little bit behind.

And you could argue that while fighting infection is the immune system’s primary job. Obviously it has to monitor for cancer and other diseases, but we don’t seem to have utilised the immune system in the same way that we’re doing in engineering some aspects of how the body fights disease as, as drugs.

So that’s been NovaBiotics approach from, from the start. And I think in, in COVID and for Nylexa, the fact that we understand what the active molecule does so well, and it does have these dual anti-microbial immunomodulatory properties, these types of molecules, plus the known safety aspects of them should have, you know, a much better chance of success in the clinic. So it’s a different way of dealing with infectious diseases. And one of the key things about it is you mitigate resistance. So because we’re engineering drugs on how the body would fight infection, the endogenous versions of our molecules are completely agnostic as to whether a bacteria or any other microbe is sensitive to drugs or they’re drug resistant. They will, they will kill the pathogen anyway, and very importantly, they also kill it in a way that will not promote resistance for the future. And I think that that’s crucial. 

Rebekah: [00:28:34] And does that also impact in the likelihood of side effects as well, given that you’re using the body’s natural resources?

Deborah: [00:28:41] Definitely. So these, these resources will almost ignore human tissues and cells they’re programmed if you like, their only job and the only thing that they actually recognise is the microbe. So definitely that’s another key advantage of this approach that the specificity, and in the antifungal space in particular, this is really important because a fungal cell is more closely related to, to our own body cells than, than it is to a bacteria.

And one of the reasons that there are so few classes of antifungal drugs available is the challenge of that and the toxicity and, and getting the balance because none of the antifungals have no toxicity. It’s just dosing it at a level where you have that balance between efficacy and being safe versus any toxicity.

So that aspect is equally as important in developing the next generation of anti-microbials definitely. 

Rebekah: [00:29:42] So one thing about COVID, Deborah is that it’s brought to the attention of laypeople, like me, infectious diseases, and made us have to think about them in a way, you know, we’ve been privileged not to have to think about them. And I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about what you think COVID-19 has taught us about our approach to infections and infectious diseases. I think you’ve said before that these are diseases that kill between 14 and 17 million people every year. So even outwith COVID have a huge impact on people’s lives across the globe.

So what should we, what learning should we take from this experience? 

Deborah: [00:30:12] Definitely. I hope that, you know, this is something, you know, we were talking about things that will stick and, and will change forever post COVID. I think placing significantly more value on any therapy or vaccine for infectious disease should be something that we take into the future from this. You know, I guess we live in a world where we can vaccinate against lots of diseases. We can treat and in treat, you know, cure, lots of infections provided the target pathogen isn’t resistant, but the very bright spotlight that COVID has shone on this space is, number one obviously the need for vaccines against pathogens that we haven’t considered having to vaccinate before as regards to the SARS virus itself.

And then because of the risk of secondary bacterial infections in the lungs of patients that have COVID because ironically, the virus predisposes you to secondary bacterial pneumonia effectively. The risk of that is so great. And the number of deaths in Hubei province was so significant from bacterial infection that antibiotic use has gone through the roof.

So it’s not only putting a strain on supply chain. But the resistance issue is now going to accelerate because, you know, in hospitals we’re using more antibiotics in the COVID wards than, than ever. So definitely viral disease, the need to have better strategies and vaccines for them. And I guess looking more to the future and being ready for, you know, potential respiratory infection pandemics, but also bringing antibiotic resistance very much back into focus. And again, I just hope that the field changes, I think within the industry, there are signs that that is happening and unfortunately, it’s taken a pandemic for people to sit up and as you say, realise again, just how important and possibly how we normally just take treatments for infectious diseases for, for granted. 

Rebekah: [00:32:19] And do you think that will lead to some sort of changes in terms of actually investment, cause obviously drug development is hugely expensive as you were talking about earlier, and not always guaranteed to succeed, takes a long time often to trial things and test things out. But on the other hand, we’re seeing absolutely huge expenses associated with not having the treatments and the vaccines. 

So do you feel there’ll be some maybe shift towards a more what might be seen as a more preventative or at least an approach that builds our resilience for the future?

Deborah: [00:32:47] Definitely. I don’t think we can justify any more, the old, as you say, kind of cost justification for not having preventative measures. And I would, I’d be fascinated to see what other vaccination strategies come into play and, and you know possible changes in thoughts about other diseases that again are probably ones that we’re even more used to that, that now we think of vaccination strategy and prevention is, is important.

And even for the treatments, whether it’s for viral disease or bacterial disease, the world now recognising again that actually they are life saving therapies that the results and the cost of not having them is is just too great. And as part of the portfolio for any company with whole bunch of other therapies, they absolutely have to be something that is now, you know, at the forefront of companies’ portfolios. 

And, you know, we know there are changes afoot even with how these will be paid for, which is another question altogether, but governments recognising the importance of having access to these therapies as well. Ironically, that was all beginning to change just before COVID. So hopefully we’ll be in much, much better shape after this to, to really accelerate the changes there. And as you said, both from the investment community, policy on how we deal with infectious disease, preventing it and treating it should hopefully change forever for the better. 

Rebekah: [00:34:18] Thank you very much. And just a, maybe a final question from me. I mean, I think it also brings home the key importance of research and actually research then done in universities and developed, and you obviously took a decision at a certain point in your career that, you know, you’re an immunologist, as you said, you were working in a university and decided to take your research down a more commercial route. I was wondering if you could just maybe finally tell us a little bit about sort of what, what made you make that move and, and what advice you’d give to somebody who’s maybe mulling over taking a similar path. 

Deborah: [00:34:49] Definitely. Yes. I mean, I, I was, a seasoned postdoc, loved bench science, loved being in the lab, but there was a point where I guess that the concept that now is NovaBiotics; so looking at the molecules from, from the immune system and the initial response to infection, how those could be developed as therapeutics, that idea had been at the back of my mind, I guess, was always part of my academic research, but there came a point when I moved to Aberdeen and was at the Rowett where I realised that side project, as it were, was becoming too big.

And the only way to really see whether there was any value and any kind of clinical and even commercial potential for that idea and the drugs that may come of it was, was to do it full time. And for me, I suppose my mindset at the time was that the only way this was going to succeed, or at least to find out whether it would succeed was, was to spin the company out, was to jump with both feet, but it felt more like a small step because it was the obvious and the best thing to do; to test that research and, and, you know, transform it into something that was more headed down the therapeutic space. 

Part of that mindset was always, you can always go back and I would say this to anybody that’s considering it. What you will learn even from that process is, is so valuable. Something that you will always take with you, test what you can, if you’re able to spin something out. It’s a two way street. You can always go back and you may even want to, if everything goes brilliantly, back into to academic research, it’s, it’s, you know, the lines are blurred and, and you can only, I think, move into even the space that we are at NovaBiotics on, on a platform of very good science anyway.

It’s always easy to go back to just focusing on very good science and not the developments or the commercialisation of it. So, yeah, even though it was I suppose a big jump, it did feel like a small step to me. And I still get the best of both worlds because everything obviously that we do is underpinned by the good science it’s just now focusing on developing therapies from that.

Rebekah: [00:37:09] And I mean, obviously a hugely important area to be working in at the moment. 

So Dr. Deborah ONeil, Chief Executive of NovaBiotics, thank you very much for talking to us today and sharing your expertise on drug development and, and some of the implications that COVID has had for that. 

Thank you.

Deborah: [00:37:26] My pleasure. Good to talk to you, Rebekah. Take care.