A robot arm holding a test tube with a strand of DNA inside

In Conversation: Life science sector advisers

With the life science sector growing substantially in the East of England, Exemplas Trade Services (ETSL) welcomed 2 new Trade Advisers to the team that delivers the Department for International Trade contract for the East of England.

We sat down with both Richard England and Susannah Poulton to find out more about their international experience and how they plan to support life sciences companies within the region.


Hi Richard, what previous experience do you have, both within the life science industry and trading internationally?

I spent the best part of 8 years working with medical endoscopy equipment for a company called Olympus, probably better known for their cameras, but they are a global player in terms of medical technology and without doubt the market leader in terms of medical endoscopy.

I have also worked extensively in the pharmaceutical arena, with clinical trial development, pharmaceutical packaging, with companies that do anything from foetal heart monitors to blood pressure units. Extensively this work has involved helping those companies to sell their products and services in new markets, so selling across borders has been what I have been doing for a long time.

I also worked for the Welsh government for over 10 years doing something very similar to my new role here, helping companies to sell their products overseas. I would go into businesses, do a diagnostic of their finances, check to see if they had the right people in place and enough resources. I’ve built up a huge book of contacts around the world which is invaluable when helping clients to export.

It sounds like you’ve got a wealth of experience! From your previous roles can you give any advice on entering potentially difficult export markets?

I helped several Welsh companies in my previous role to enter the Brazilian market which is a traditionally difficult market to get into because of the taxation and regulatory controls that they have in place. One solution for those companies was to provide them with a partner within the market who would part assemble components shipped over from the UK, it would then become a “made in Brazil” product. That process negates a lot of the problems related to getting a product into the market, it can be done reasonably cheaply and there are some excellent companies that are able to provide that service.

The great thing about it is that if the product is manufactured in Brazil, then it opens the doors to other Latin American markets because the rules and systems become much simpler and they have trading agreements in place with lots of their neighbours.

What is your primary focus for the next year?

One of the things I’m going to be looking at in the next 12 months will be block chain technology. I’ve been living in Switzerland for the last 3 years and it’s prevalent in the financial service industry there, but they are also looking at the ways of using block chain technologies to reduce costs within the supply chain. One of the things that I’m going to be looking at very closely is whether the technology can be utilised in any shape or form to reduce the costs of clinical trials, because that is the holy grail for pharmaceutical development. If that technology can be centred here, in the life science sector in Cambridge, then that puts another feather in the cap for the East of England as the life science hub.

Which international markets are growing within the sector?

From Britain’s point of view, the biggest growth market is the United States and North America in general. I personally think that’s very positive because the US loves to buy British products.

China is another obvious market, but it can be considered as risky because there are some issues relating to IP protection.

I think it’s also important to look at the growth of Latin America and Africa. Africa in particular has massive potential for the UK as an export market because we’re part of the Commonwealth and I think that’s underestimated in terms of our trading. The likes of Ghana and Nigeria are not traditionally easy markets to deal with, but because of the growing middle classes in Africa, they want first class healthcare and Britain can provide it.

Are there any particular trends in the life science or medical sectors that you think are going to emerge?

The major trend that I’ve looked at from the pharmaceutical and med-tech sectors is bringing healthcare back into the home. So where possible, keeping people out of hospitals and treating them in a home environment, that’s what the healthcare sector wants to try and provide for the future.  Whether it’s care for the elderly, after surgical care or people with diabetes, you can treat these patients at home, so they don’t need to be into hospital. This will help to save costs in the industry.

New ETSL life science advisers Richard England and Susannah Poulton
ETSL life science advisers Richard England and Susannah Poutlon

Hi Susannah, can you give us a bit of an overview of your international trade background?

I have worked for ETSL to deliver the contract for DIT in various roles in the East of England for 6 years. During my time at this organisation I’ve led trade missions for companies in a variety of sectors and provided digital communication and translation support in the form of events across the region. I also spent the last year working for Innovate UK to lead trade missions for Autonomous Vehicles to Detroit and Agri-Tech to Canada.

Prior to my roles here I was the innovation lead for a technology company. This role required me to work in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait, and has given me a fundamental understanding of how early stage innovation works in these markets.

Does your past experience in technology cross over with the life science sector?

Yes there are some similarities as neither are straightforward sectors. Due to complex regulations that vary from country to country, exporting both life science and technology products and services are often time-consuming and costly. In the life science sector different types of clinical trials are needed for each market you plan to export to. The USA is very different to China for example, as China sometimes asks for the clinical trials which have already been done in other parts of the world to be redone using a Chinese demographic. This can be very expensive.

That being said, the rewards are very high for companies that have invested to meet these regulations, allowing them to begin selling in the market.

It doesn’t sound like an easy win in either market.

No it’s not an easy win at all. I worked with a nuclear company in my previous role that was selling electronics that needed to survive in a nuclear environment for 70 years without being replaced. They had to be really sure that these products had been tested correctly and would survive in these extreme environments.

What are you focusing on this year?

My remit will be working with life science, pharmaceutical and med-tech clients of all sizes in the Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire area. Throughout this year I’ve been attending as many interesting and relevant events as I can, using these as an opportunity to network and meet overseas DIT colleagues and service providers that will be useful for my clients.

For me in this industry it is all about signposting my clients to the right people and the right support. Working for ETSL to deliver the DIT contract allows us to tap into DIT’s network of overseas colleagues and the help of UK Export Finance, but it also gives us the ability to refer businesses to our partners within ETSL which include Enterprise Europe Network, Innovate UK and Ellenbrooke.

Have you started working with any clients already?

One client I’ve already had success working with in my short time as a Trade Adviser is CMR Surgical. The company started 4 years ago and make medical and surgical robots for laparoscopies, which is very small keyhole surgery into the abdomen. I have worked with them to secure funding streams from DIT and introduced them to relevant colleagues around the world who can support them to conduct clinical trials in chosen markets. The company now employ 300 people, which is remarkable considering not long ago they were working from a kitchen table in Cambridge with a wooden robot arm! They are still looking to break into their first export market, undergoing market research to find the most suitable country to sell into, however the progression they have made in a short space of time is phenomenal and illustrates the opportunities available to life science companies should they wish to find them!

That’s impressive growth for a short space of time! What countries do you see growing within the sector?

In terms of growth there is no doubt that China can bring enormous rewards. I agree with Richard that it is risky, but I really feel that for brave, innovative UK companies who are looking to capitalise on this opportunity, the growth for these businesses will be immense.

I think there will be significant growth in the GCC and Africa too. In the Gulf regions the prevalence of adult obesity and type 2 diabetes is also among the highest in the world and Africa has seen the middle classes increase substantially, causing a high expectation of better and more affordable healthcare. There is a real need to combat these issues and I think this will open up many opportunities for UK life science companies.

If you’re a life science, pharmaceutical or med-tech company interested in finding out how we can support your business internationally, get in touch with us here.