Jason Mellad, CEO of spin-out Cambridge Epigenetix, shares his tips and insight on commercialising University research

by Robert Ince

On 12 September 2017, we held the final event in our departmental roadshow series at the Department of Chemistry, discovering Cambridge Epigenetix and their pioneering research in the development of epigenetic sequencing.

Mellad —Chief Executive Officer at Cambridge Epigenetix— was waiting in the wings to deliver his talk to an active audience of postdocs, academics and students all interested in learning more about the path to technology development and commercialisation.

Founded in 2012 by Prof Shankar Balasubramanian of the Department of Chemistry, with a vision to improve healthcare through routine measurement of the epigenome, Cambridge Epigenetix is focused on developing best-in-class tools to make studying DNA methylation and DNA hydroxymethylation as easy as studying DNA sequencing. In the words of Mellad, ‘if your genome is a lightbulb, then epigenetics is like a dimmer switch: it controls how your age, your environment and your lifestyle choices affect the expression of your genes.”

Do you have a solution looking for a problem?

From the outset, Mellad made it clear that one must identify a problem before a solution can be leveraged into the marketplace.

Traditionally, researchers think of their research as a solution looking for a problem. Once they transition their mindset toward problem driven innovation, the direction of their solution will become more commercially accessible. Mellad expressed that once a problem is recognised, a market with unmet needs can then be identified and therefore validate the solution.

A lean start-up is a successful start-up.

During the talk, Mellad made reference to core principles of the ‘Lean Startup’ movement, the concept of being less wasteful and minimising one’s overheads while continuing to deliver large scale innovation. The Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups to get a desired product into customers’ hands faster. With the ability to start affordably within the founding laboratory, located at The Department of Chemistry, with access to core facilities and equipment, Cambridge Epigenetix was well placed to expand rapidly, yet organically.

Mellad also stressed the importance of evolving as an organisation and continuing to innovate within the marketplace. It is not simply enough to ‘rest on your laurels’, riding the waves of the initial idea that propelled you down the commercial road, but to break new ground and continue to be at the forefront of cutting edge discovery. Often, scientific ideas are quickly outdated and surpassed with ever expanding, ever evolving knowledge.

One day, we will make disease optional, not inevitable.

Jason Mellad, CEO Cambridge Epigenetix

The talk was warmly received with PhD researchers, academics and postdocs alike. During networking, Mellad, like an epigenetic dimmer switch, began to fade into the crowds of researchers looking to talk commercialisation.

It was great to see how CEGX has grown over time and to better understand the help that Cambridge Enterprise can provide to startups.

A postdoc researcher

According to Google Venture’s Tom Hulme, Cambridge Epigenetix has an incredible future. “We’ve seen how the commercialisation of genome sequencing has created incredible opportunities to improve human health, and now the epigenome holds similar potential. Cambridge Epigenetix is one of the few teams on the planet with the skills and experience to break new ground here.”

To read more about our roadshow, see our blog Professor Jim Huntington shares his commercial journey with University of Cambridge researchers.

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