Dr Richard Kelwick is a Research Associate in the Section of Structural Biology. Having recently been awarded a Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) Enterprise Fellowship, we asked him about his experiences so far of translating his research into the commercial world.
Could you give us some background on your career to date – what brought you to Imperial?
I received my PhD in cancer biology working in Professor Dylan Edwards’ group at the University of East Anglia. During this time, I investigated the protective roles of metalloproteinases in cancer. Upon moving to Imperial in 2013, I joined Professor Paul Freemont’s group in the Section of Structural Biology, where I have worked on a number of different synthetic biology projects. Moving forward, I’m aiming to apply my expertise in both cancer biology and synthetic biology towards understanding different aspects of exosome biology. In doing so, I hope to gain insights into how we can better manufacture and isolate therapeutic exosomes.
Can you explain a bit more about the focus of your research?
Exosomes are nanosized structures that many different types of cells produce. Cells produce exosomes, as well as other types of extracellular vesicles, in order to communicate with other cells in our bodies. This process probably helps us to stay healthy. Clinical trials have shown that certain types of exosomes have the potential to be powerful therapeutics for several different diseases – including cancers. Unfortunately, it is currently very difficult to produce and isolate therapeutic exosomes at the industrial scale needed to have enough exosomes to treat lots of patients. Therefore, my research is focused on developing technologies that can help pharmaceutical companies to manufacture and isolate exosome therapeutics. Improving exosome manufacturing will help to bring a new class of powerful exosome therapeutics to market, for the benefit of patients.
What initially sparked your interest in this area?
I’ve been interested in exosomes for several years because there is growing evidence that particular types of exosomes might be useful as therapeutics for a number of different diseases. Working in a synthetic biology group, at Imperial, has given me a unique perspective with which I believe we can better understand biology – that is, using synthetic biology methods to engineer biological systems. As a result, I began to build my own biotechnologies for isolating and characterising exosomes, as research tools. I took part in this year’s Techcelerate, which is a three-month programme for Imperial postdocs who want to build up their entrepreneurial skill set. As part of this, I learned that many international researchers and companies are also finding it difficult to isolate exosomes at scale, and so I’m interested in focusing my future research around helping to solve this problem.
Tell us about your Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) Enterprise Fellowship –what will you be working on, and what do you hope to achieve?
The RSE Fellowship will enable me to become more independent as a researcher. More specifically it will give me the time, funding and access to commercial expertise needed to explore the potential commercial impact of our exosome isolation technology. I’m actively exploring potential opportunities to form an exosome startup company. In five to ten years’ time, I hope that I’m still working on industrial translational projects that help to accelerate the development of exosome therapeutics.
In terms of Imperial’s research environment and culture, what has helped you the most in bridging your work with the entrepreneurial world?
Imperial is an incredibly entrepreneurial university, and there are many opportunities for students and researchers to explore commercial opportunities for their research. As a postdoc I am very fortunate to work with a highly supportive PI, Professor Freemont, who supported my entry into the Techcelerate programme. This was fundamental in helping me to explore potential future directions and the potential commercial impact of my exosome research. The programme as a whole was fantastic, and it gave me the opportunity to travel and meet with exosome experts across the UK, USA, Japan and Singapore. All of these people are leading researchers and/or industry leaders in exosome biology, and the insights we shared during these meetings has helped me to focus our future research. This has already contributed to a successful Confidence in Concept grant award application, and my RSE Enterprise Fellowship, which starts in October of this year.
Find out more about Richard’s research by reading his recent article for the Imperial Medicine Blog