Glasgow-based life sciences firm Sistemic is growing fast due to demand for its innovative work in cell profiling and drug development.
Sistemic uses micro-RNA profiling to better understand biological systems. The work has applications in cell characterisation and quality control as well as drug discovery and development.
Chairman and CEO Jim Reid decided to invest in the company in 2009 after a presentation from four academics and industrialists. Sistemic’s unique approach to cell profiling quickly attracted interest from the cell therapeutics and drug development industries.
TalentScotland spoke to Jim Reid about the company’s activities and future plans.
How was Sistemic founded?
We knew there were a lot of people researching and publishing in the area of micro-RNA (ribonucleic acid) profiles. But they were focusing on two very specific areas: diagnostics and therapeutics.
The company founders put to us a different approach. They suggested using micro-RNAs as a way of looking at what I call the perturbation of a cell: what happens to it when it’s treated with a drug, or comes into contact with a chemical.
At present there are no good ways to characterise stem cells satisfactorily and ensure the quality is as good as it should be. We thought the use of miRNA profiling, using our SistemQC™ approach for this unmet need, was a very interesting concept that would give us a novel intellectual property.
How has the firm developed?
We started to see that we could use our work to study the positive and negative effects of drugs, but also as a method of profiling cells themselves.
Today our clients are split almost equally between these two activities, and between Europe and the USA. We hope to expand to Asia soon. We have several Scottish clients, including Edinburgh’s Roslin Cells, Fibromed and the University of Glasgow.
Why did you choose Scotland as a base?
I’ve worked for big pharma companies in Switzerland, Holland, France and Ireland, but it was always my plan to come back to Scotland – partly for family reasons, but also because it’s an excellent business environment here.
We fund a huge amount of academic research in this country, and there’s a whole raft of technologies coming out of that.
How would you describe the company culture?
We aim to encourage innovation and free thinking here, to keep our research and development at the cutting edge.
I’m a great believer in the ‘hybrid’ model we have at Sistemic. We want to deliver on collaborative projects as well as progressing our own research. I think striving to be efficient and effective for outside clients can only drive up the quality of our own R&D.
What are your plans for growing the company?
Our aim is to bring in the best people globally. We now have six staff and we are still recruiting. We expect to end the year with ten or eleven.
Beyond that, we’re in the lap of the gods, but I would like to see us build a strong, sustainable business of scale here.
I’ve been in this game a long time, and I think Sistemic is a very unusual business with a strong proposition. People are crying out for better ways of developing drugs and controlling the quality of their stem cells.