BiotechBikers group rides have some great spot prizes and Jennifer Harbottle was the recent winner of some prime Hunt Bike Wheels swag. A conversation with her shows this new kit will be put to good use on the road!
BiotechBikers: Jennifer, what kinds of cycling do you do and how did you get started?
Jennifer Harbottle (JH): I started mountain biking when I lived in Scotland. Being in the northeast of Scotland and having all the Scottish trails nearby, it made sense to start mountain biking, especially because the people I knew were into it, so you just get carried on the ride.
But then I moved to the south of England and I realized that my mountain bike was feeling very sorry for itself. I did continue to do a little bit of mountain biking but progressively, didn't do quite so much. Also being in Cambridge, I realized, there was a massive cycling community and the roads looked ideal, loads of people I knew were into road biking and, because I was commuting to work and it was about 10 K each way, which isn't a great deal, but obviously if you're on a mountain bike it does seem a bit longer.
So, all I needed was the pandemic to give me that extra push. I invested in a road bike and I absolutely love her. I don't think I could love an inanimate object as much as I could, but I do. She is my Purple Mistress.
I got the road bike towards the beginning of the pandemic in June, July time and it was a bit of a transition going from downhill mountain biking to road biking so I had very bright pink studded pedals on her start with. I did get a few funny books, but that was fine by me, it was just getting to grips with something a little bit different.
Because it was during the pandemic, I was just cycling by myself because of lockdowns, everything else, and because I was still quite new to Cambridge, I didn't really know anyone else to cycle with. But then this year that's when I discovered cleats and oh wow what a difference that makes. Actually, the other thing that delayed the whole pedal switch was also the fact that its a pandemic meant there's nothing in stock, so I did have to wait a few months so that was my excuse.
I spent the winter just getting to grips with the bike and commuting every day and it meant that when it came to this year and the beginning of the season, I could join a club and start to joining some rides and it just took off from there. Right now, it's very much life on two wheels.
BiotechBikers: When you were mountain biking in Scotland were you competing as well?
JH: No, it was very much social and it was with my partner at the time and yeah it was just getting to grips with cycling and a very different contexts being outdoors because it took a long time for me to actually get on a bike because I’d always been a hiker and I just didn't have the balancing skills or anything. Although I'd been on a bike when I was a kid, it was never actual proper cycling, it was just pedaling a little bit to go and see a neighbor and that's about it. So it was learning this whole new thing and I just fell in love with it.
BiotechBikers: On the biotech front, what do you do in the biotech space and what was your advent into the area?
JH: In terms of my career, it's not the most standard way to get into gene editing technologies but that's where I am now in the context of cell and gene therapies. I actually started off studying nutrition and dietetics, so I trained and qualified as a clinical dietitian, did various placements in hospitals and realized that I was really interested in sort of all the underlying mechanisms that underpin nutrition, health, disease and, more specifically, cancer. I was very inspired by the oncology wards and then went on to do a master's in molecular nutrition just get a better grip of nutrigenetics, nutrigenomics, all that sort of those aspects, and just to see whether I was actually interested in the science because I'd never held a pipet before I was like, do I actually want that? Or is it just the idea of it that was attractive?
And I fell in love with it. That was when I moved to Aberdeen and then carried on and did a PhD in human nutrition, but really it was more cell biology and I started dabbling with gene editing.
But it's only after that, when I joined the first biotech, because I went straight to industry after my PhD, where we set up the gene editing platform and I was just immersed in CRISPR technologies. At this point, it was very much getting to grips with CRISPR-related things. It was quite broad and we had a very big project on the go. It was very fast paced and I think, really, it was tougher than my PhD. It was very condensed and a great learning experience. I was also doing some R&D on the side within this and I came across base editing, which was very, very new. So I was probably one of the only people in the UK at the time to be dabbling with this very specific derivative of CRISPR that was more precise.
And the perfect job came up at Horizon Discovery in Cambridge. I leaped onto it and I've been working there ever since, building up the platform and driving the commercialization aspects of base editing technology. It's called pinpoint and it was a very small project when I started, I was one of the first to be employed, and now it's become a whole entity in itself, the company has really built it out so it's great to see that go forward.
BiotechBikers: Are you working to address certain disease areas with the technology, or is it therapeutic-agnostic?
JH: It's pretty agnostic mainly because it's the actual gene editing technology and it divides into two main groups, which are the technological developments of it, because you can just keep on improving and developing it, changing it, especially for freedom-to-operate; but there's also the other aspects of therapeutic applications, which is a little bit more of my focus really, and for that it's more proof of concept and we're looking more at cell and gene therapy at the moment, and especially the CAR-T aspect. It can be used for so many different things. Scientists are creative! We'll see where it goes!
BiotechBikers: What are your next goals that you see for yourself in terms of big challenges.
JH: With the cycling, because I’m still fairly new to it, I realize how much I've progressed just in the last few months, just by cycling miles and miles, as much as I can. Going out, joining sportifs, going abroad to cycle, as well just exploring new areas. Trying hills, like proper hills? Because I've cycled mostly around Cambridge and, although I’ve done hill climbs on a mountain bike, it is very, very different to doing long rides, so I want to do longer distances, more hill climbs and, well, just enjoy it. I think, because I am still quite new to it all, I want to try a little bit of everything, just to see which one I prefer. At the moment, I do prefer the idea of distance - trying Audax and longer rides but not necessarily bike packing, still traveling quite light.
BiotechBikers: And then on the biotech side of things, do you have any immediate goals or aims that you're hoping to achieve, within the next year or so?
JH: That's a difficult question and I'm still working that out. I realized that I really enjoy a lot of the lab work and actually doing that tangible thing. I'm advancing the science, I'm driving this towards better medicine, precision medicine, and improving healthcare and hopefully we can eradicate crude treatments such as radio therapy and chemotherapy and such, and if we can really make a difference, that to me is really important, but the same time, I really like to communicate it and having that external communication, so that people can understand what we're doing. I'm trying to integrate more of that into my role as well, rather than just hiding in the lab.
What happens at a BiotechBikers in-person ride? Aside from meeting new people, getting a ride in, and enjoying the post-ride pastry of your choice, there are also some random prizes up for grabs. On the recent Cambridge BiotechBikers ride, Katie Miller was one of two winners of a Tour of Britain / Women's Tour Hospitality Package, courtesy of our friends Sweet Spot Group. Katie opted to enjoy the upcoming Women's Tour as a VIP in October. No stranger to competitive racing herself, Katie shared some of her cycling and biotech-focused activities when we caught up with her during training for the upcoming Ironman 70.3 World Championships in St George, Utah.
BiotechBikers: What kind of cycling do you do and how did you start doing it?
Katie Miller (KM): I was a runner by background. I'm not that good at running but it was easy to do in the lifestyle that I had. I could pack a pair of shoes and off I went when I used to travel quite frequently for work. A bunch of friends said, 'Gosh, you should really give triathlon a go' and I thought, 'Well, that sounds kind of fun. I don't know what it takes but, swimming, biking... I've got a bike in my backyard which I haven't really used for much more than a mile or two, but that seems quite fun'.
I did my first sprint triathlon in 2015, having picked up a pair of goggles the night before, put on my bikini and off I went, competing against a whole load of people, having no idea what I was doing, riding my mom's old commuter bike, and I was absolutely hooked on the sport.
I showed up in Cambridge (UK) after having done a full distance Ironman and locally, there are some cycling groups, and I thought, 'You know, I can cycle on my own, but I bet it would be quite good to get involved with more folks', so I showed up in my tri bike. It turns out that maybe triathlon full aero bars are not the best for like a group ride. But I absolutely love it.
To me, cycling is my bread and butter. I really enjoy the competitive side of it, but also, the cakes and the coffee shop stops and those types of things. It is now, by far, one of my more favorite ways to escape.
BiotechBikers: Do you still race triathlon as well and is the cycling just one component of your training?
KM: I still do triathlon. I'm competing in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in two weeks as an age grouper so, competitive but maybe not as competitive as pro level. Certainly, my strengths, for the triathlon, are swim and bike but then I do a fair amount of cycle racing as well. I haven't gotten into TT races but do long distance sportives. For example, in July, I did a cycle across Wales (Wales in a Day 2021), it was 185 miles from Caernarfon down to Bristol.
Next year I've got some like long-distance races I'm doing, like Monster Tri, where you swim across Loch Ness, and then you basically cycle 1000 K into Windsor castle, and then you do a 50 K run at the end on the last day. I've never done one like that!
BiotechBikers: As BiotechBikers, most of us have something to do with the life sciences industry. Could you give a bit of background as to what you do in the healthcare space and how you started out?
KM: I did my undergrad degree in math. I've always been a little bit interested in the science aspect of things, how data numbers plug together. I started out working for a software company actually and really enjoyed trying to figure out how to impact the other side of it, so not necessarily clinical stuff and understanding how everything's tied together, but at if you've got the right infrastructure and tools available, you can really revolutionize the way that we care for patients. The wealth of data that we can provide to do analysis on improvement projects, data research, all of those types of pieces became my bread and butter probably seven years ago and then from there, I started working for Cambridge at Addenbrookes hospital in their program management office looking at the slightly even more technical side of the infrastructure.
To me, it's all about how we continue to keep systems running and tied together smoothly, so that so that the life sciences side can truly live on top of it. How do we make sure that the data is secure, it's shareable, it's accessible, it's up to date, if we've got enough space for it, and how do we also adapt the tools to make it efficient, because if you've just got a database for folks to manually enter things, it's probably not going to be used as well. That's really my background: I came from math, started working for a software company, I thought it would be really great to travel, found the true benefits of making a difference in a hospital and seeing the difference to patients and from there, went to working directly for a hospital.
BiotechBikers: Do you have any particular goals or outcomes that you're looking to achieve in the next little while, on the work side of things?
KM: So for me, there's a whole host of wider community and shared data that we want to look at and how we actually do that? I want to try to help make sure that what we're putting in place is something that we can continue to maintain. How do we share with the University? how do we share with [Royal] Papworth [Hospital] who's right across the street from us? How do we get data so that it's at people's fingertips, but then also, as we look at the cancer and children's hospitals coming on campus, how do we make it in a way that digital underpins what we do in a maintainable and affordable way, recognizing it's the NHS, and we have to be a little bit strategic with it.
Cambridge, UK: 30 June 2021
One Nucleus, the non-for-profit Life Science membership group headquartered in Cambridge exists to support growing Life Science businesses on their journey, including facilitating their business networking. BiotechBikers is a fast growing, informal global networking group in the Life Sciences space bringing together those with a social interest in cycling and biotech.
Dr Mark Farmery, founder of BiotechBikers commented, “Authentic and robust personal relationships are pivotal in successful collaboration and deal making. By engaging people around a shared passion for cycling, our hope is that BiotechBikers can be something positive, offering a novel way to keep contact, build networks and catalyse new partnerships.”
Tony Jones, CEO of One Nucleus expands further “If the pandemic has done anything, it has reminded us all of the importance of collaborative spirit and relationships in advancing translational research creating new medicines. Success in this industry is a contact sport and One Nucleus is a staunch believer in the people factor in doing business. For this reason, we are delighted to be collaborating with BiotechBikers in bringing Life Science executives together in a manner complementary to the current One Nucleus approach.
As a first action, BiotechBikers are arranging a ride in Cambridge to coincide with the middle evening of next week’s ON Helix Digital conference from 18.30 BST.
We’ve supported Qhubeka since we founded BiotechBikers. The mission is all about social mobility through sustainable access to bicycles in Africa - a hand up not a handout - and is the purpose that drives Team Qhubeka NextHash, Africa’s only UCI WorldTour team.
We’re encouraging all BiotechBikers to get behind this unique and special movement during the 108th Tour de France and support the #QHandUp campaign - raising funds for 108 Qhubeka bicycles to change the lives of 108 children in Africa 🖐
How can you put your hand up and support this great cause? Simple - join the BiotechBikers Strava club and get riding. Between the Grand Depart in Bretagne today and the end of the Tour on the Champs Elysees on July 18, we will donate 10 EUR to the campaign for every new member that joins the club. We’ll also donate 5 EUR for every 100 km ridden by the club during the Tour. More club members and more kilometers means more Qhubeka bicycles!
Join our Strava club here.
Read more about the campaign here.
The very welcome signs of spring are breaking out here Stockholm and we’re looking forwards to warmer weather and more cycling outdoors. With vaccinations progressing and lockdowns easing internationally we’re hoping that the balance is starting to shift, and we can start to emerge from the shadow of COVID-19. There’s still a long way to go and it’s important to stay safe and vigilant. BiotechBikers advocate the fair distribution of vaccines and supports the WHO’s COVAX vaccine equity program.
Our community has grown rapidly over the last few months and continues to bring together BiotechBikers from all over the world, across roles and disciplines, from universities, biotech and pharma companies, investors, and service providers. In early April we welcomed BiotechBiker 100, André Bongartz, and, to mark the milestone, we were thrilled to send André a gift pack, courtesy of local Swedish bike shop Cykeltjänst. As of today, 143 BiotechBikers have signed up to our LinkedIn page. We have also started a closed Facebook group and recommend following for additional updates, insights, and banter.
Our parallel events at BIO-Europe Spring attracted participants from North America, Europe and Asia and the water-cooler hangouts brought everyone together after smashing it on Peloton or in the hills of Watopia on Zwift. A recent highlight was our first Special Edition with Doug Ryder, Team Principal at UCI WorldTour pro-team Qhubeka Assos. The idea behind our Special Editions is to host a monthly event with a high-profile guest who has an exciting, inspirational or motivational story to tell or a themed session to grow and develop the community. Next month we welcome Luisa Grappone, aerodynamic engineer and product specialist at Hunt Bike Wheels. Luisa has a Masters degree in aeronautical engineering, has been part of the ESA space program and worked on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, before changing gears and moving to the cycling industry – we’ll hear a fascinating story, delivered with amazing enthusiasm. Events are being planned for June and July and will post updates soon.
New partners, sharing the BiotechBikers vision of connecting people, building robust relationships, promoting an active lifestyle and supporting the causes we care about joined us in February. We are incredibly happy to welcome Chas. Hude, Cord Communications, Ubiquigent, and ConneKTia International to the BiotechBikers family. Reach out if you want to get involved.
Finally, we are massively excited to announce a new partnership, through SweetSpot Group, with the Tour of Britain and The Women’s Tour – Britain’s biggest professional cycle road races. We look forwards to announcing both online and physical events connected to this partnership over the next few months.
Let us know if you like what we are doing or if you have ideas or suggestions for developing our community, and keep telling your friends and colleagues about BiotechBikers.
Keep safe, stay connected and join the ride!
It's been a busy start to 2021 for BiotechBikers with exciting developments on all fronts. We started January by building on our partnership with EBD Group and collaborating with new friends Global Genes to set up a virtual group workout at Biotech Showcase as part of the Rare Beyond the Square program. Around 40 BiotechBikers joined either Zwift or Peloton sessions and cooled down at a Zoom hang out straight afterwards. The event captured the essence of BiotechBikers, with riders joining from all over the world, making new connections, and all for a good cause.
Building on recent momentum we pulled a small team together to work on developing and growing BiotechBikers. We're dedicated to keeping the concept simple, social and casual, creating the best possible environment for networking and spontaneous meetings. Our focus right now is building this unique community. We'd like to encourage all BiotechBikers to invite friends and colleagues to join events, be part of the group and follow our newly created LinkedIn page.
Our next event is February 20th and will run as parallel Zwift and Peloton sessions and a virtual hang out straight afterwards. In March we are organizing two sessions as part of the BIO Europe Spring program. We'll update soon with timings and join-up instructions.
We understand that everyone is working hard and that the pandemic challenges us all in different ways. Our hope is that BiotechBikers can be something positive, offering a new way to keep contact, build networks and have fun!
- Mark, signing off from sub-zero Stockholm