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A graduate’s story

Q Chip was founded in 2003 as a biotech spin-out from the School of Engineering at Cardiff University. The company develops sustained release injectable depot formulations and was the brainchild of Professor David Barrow.
In 2005 Q Chip took up office space at Cardiff Medicentre.

“We had got to the point where we knew what our business was about and where we wanted to take it,” says Dr Dan Palmer, Q Chip’s Chief Science Officer. “During this time we had taken a fledgling technology and developed it in to a robust platform that had the potential to attract significant investment and provide substantial benefits to the life sciences arena. It was just a matter of finding the right base and the best sort of environment in which to kick-start the commercialisation process.”

The business looked at potential locations across South Wales including industrial units and conventional office spaces. “But it was important to us to be close to the centre of Cardiff; maintaining links forged with the University and also enabling potential investors to easily reach us,” Dr Palmer says. “As a minimally-funded start-up business it was also critical that we could establish a working laboratory with minimal cost and time. Cardiff Medicentre ticked the boxes for all of these.”

When Q Chip moved into Cardiff Medicentre it was a team of five: the business’ three founders as well as Mark Barry (CEO), Jo MacPherson (Chief Science Officer) and Professor David Barrow. They were joined by engineer Rob Davis and Dan Palmer who was at the time Q Chip’s only chemist.

Its first office was set on the mezzanine level which overlooks the building’s atrium – or “the street” as it’s known internally. “The office space worked well for us, providing the flexibility and space we needed,” says Dr Palmer. “It was also great to be able to take collaborators and investors to the shared meeting rooms.”

Cardiff Medicentre’s location on the Heath Park Campus was very useful. “We were able to interact with many groups based at Cardiff University and University Hospital of Wales and we built a lot of collaborative projects, many of which are still on-going.”

The founding Q Chip team at Cardiff Medicentre in September 2004

Q Chip’s first products – qPCR assays for molecular diagnostic products - were designed at Cardiff Medicentre. These were designed for point-of-care use, enabling users to perform complex and powerful diagnostic tests outside of the laboratory. Markets for these products ranged from hospitals and veterinary uses through to forensics and defence applications.

At this stage Q Chip was developing its technology and establishing its client network and so it needed to be able to combine the manufacture of final products with R&D. The space, flexibility and infrastructure at Cardiff Medicentre made this possible.

By 2007 Q Chip had developed its range of products and the company was enjoying a stream of new client wins and international recognition. “We were gaining interest in markets outside of the UK, establishing a number of projects with USA-based companies and we even shipped products as far as Japan,” Dr Palmer says.
The team of five had become nine and although the company had outgrown its original space, it wasn’t quite ready to leave Cardiff Medicentre.

“We needed additional space to build both the technical and business development teams,” says Dr Palmer. The company was busy developing its diagnostic products while also making moves towards the drug delivery sector. It needed a different type of space; somewhere which would allow it to conduct its own scientific processes as well as deal with the administrative side of the business. Q Chip chatted with Cardiff Medicentre’s management team about taking up a laboratory as well as extended office space.

“We work closely with our tenants so understand their changing requirements,” said Dr Mark Bowman, Director of Innovation at Cardiff Medicentre. “It’s great to see companies like Q Chip working hard and grasping opportunities. The team had a great attitude and understood perfectly how to get the most out of the incubation process.”
The company’s new space was a 1,182 sq ft laboratory and a separate 284 sq ft office unit. The laboratory space was equipped with specialist benching, a sealed laboratory grade floor, and included a separate partitioned analytical area. The laboratory unit also benefitted from a sophisticated air conditioning unit.

Q Chip's bespoke laboratory space at Cardiff Medicentre

“One of the nice things about Cardiff Medicentre is that the space is so convertible and we were able to take up new units as we grew and needed them,” says Dr Palmer. There is a very good provision for science there at Cardiff Medicentre, so we were able to change an office to a lab and back again quite easily.”

The expanded Q Chip team at Cardiff Medicentre in April 2008

In 2009, six years after moving into Cardiff Medicentre, Q Chip “graduated”. The company’s fifteen-strong team moved into its own specialist premises on Newport Road in Cardiff and doubled in size in two years.

Q Chip's facility on Newport Road in Cardiff

In 2011 Q Chip opened its first overseas base in the Netherlands to supplement its thriving Cardiff lab. The company’s links with Cardiff University are stronger than ever with successful partnerships existing between it and neuroscientists, bioscientists, pharmacists and chemists in the Welsh capital.

Q Chip's facility in the Netherlands

“We are an international business based around microspheres with applications in drug delivery, diagnostics and cell therapy,” says Dr Palmer. “We develop a range of precision products 40 to 2000 micrometres in diameter. A number of materials including pharmaceuticals can be encapsulated in the spheres and injected in tiny, but precise, amounts.”

“Our time at Cardiff Medicentre played an important part in our growth,” Dr Palmer says. “As a small company in the health sector, we could interact with other tenants and share ideas and experiences. Cardiff Medicentre describes itself as a business incubator, and it was an ideal one for us.”

A graduate's story (pdf version).

 
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