Ian Garland: The biotech boss battling C. difficile

A Day in the Life: The head of Acambis gravitates between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Cambridge in the UK
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Just where do you live when your business is based in two university towns separated by the small matter of the Atlantic ocean? Ian Garland, the boss of Acambis, has dealt with the problem by basing himself in Surrey, convenient for Heathrow when he needs to get to Cambridge, Massachusetts, but it does mean it is a two-hour drive to his office in Cambridge, England. Hence the 6am start.

Mr Garland, who lives with his partner and her three children from a previous marriage, aims to be in the car and out of the house by 6.30am in the hope of avoiding the worst of the early M25 traffic. "The drive gives me time to listen to Five Live – I like the combination of sport and news," says Mr Garland, who confesses to being an Arsenal fan with a liking for golf and snooker.

"If it starts to get repetitive, I might switch station to Classic FM – I find it very calming, which is good for the M25. I'll also use the hands-free to leave messages because, of course, most people are not in at this time."

Has he not thought of simply moving the whole business to the US? After all, that's where the company's operations are based and from where most of the revenues come, not least the $425m (£218m) from a 10-year contract announced at the end of last month that will see the company supplying its ACAM2000 smallpox vaccine to the US government. But Mr Garland demurs: "We have a very good profile in the UK for a biotech company, a good investor base and a good brand with investors. The danger with moving that to the US is we would have to start building that again from scratch."


Mr Garland aims to be at his desk by now, although the traffic doesn't always afford him that luxury. He kicks off the day by catching up with his temporary finance director (chief financial officer Elizabeth Jones is on maternity leave) before reviewing any press coverage of the company and its portfolio of vaccines, and checking the share price. He will also sit down with his PA to discuss his schedule and deal with correspondence.

The first formal business is to spend an hour talking to the company's brokers at JPMorgan Cazenove, following on from the recent cash call that raised £40m. This was a fair achievement given the current market conditions, representing the largest such fundraising by a biotechnology group in the UK for two years. Given this sort of support from investors, it looks like the two-hour drives are here to stay for a while.

"We're one of a small number of biotechs that have a healthy runway and cash position. If investors don't like your story, you'll struggle. Fortunately, for us, they do like our story and I was really pleased with the fundraising."

Future meetings with fund managers are also discussed and the never-ending search for new investors. The theme continues as Mr Garland follows the call by settling down to work on the presentation he is giving at a Goldman Sachs-sponsored investor conference in California next month. In the room with him will be the vice-president of investor relations and a representative from the company's PR firm, who will review slides with him and discuss the "key messages" Mr Garland wants to get across.

12 noon

Lunch is taken early, with Mr Garland's small head-office team. He prefers it to be productive, so they discuss business developments before Mr Garland calls Mike Watson, his executive vice-president for research and development, in the US. "He gets in early, often by noon UK time. We will review the pipeline and he will give me an update on how it is going. We also talk about C.difficile vaccine and our flu vaccine."

These are important pieces of work. Clostridium difficile, to give this particular little horror its full name, is a leading cause of infection in hospitals. On the subject of vaccines against it and other conditions, Mr Garland is almost evangelical, but with good reason. "We have the only vaccine in human study. Currently, C. diff is estimated to cause 360,000 infections in the US with another 50,000 in the UK. It costs healthcare systems $7bn [a year] and there are thousands of deaths. The reason we are here is to protect people against things like that."

The influenza programme is equally important, because the vaccine Acambis is working on should protect against type A flu – the one that could, will one day, cause another pandemic – regardless of the particular strain.

Acambis's research suggests the particular antigen being targeted has stayed with the virus throughout the 20th and 21st centuries unchanged. Antigens targeted by current vaccines alter every year, and so there is a certain amount of guesswork involved in the creation of any year's vaccine. The scientists don't always get it right. "Our vaccine could be used as a complement to existing vaccines, giving people a base level of cover which could then be topped up with the yearly vaccines," Mr Garland suggests.


The call is a lengthy one, given the importance of these projects, and it is not long before Mr Garland is on the telephone to the US again. This time the conversation is with the Centre for Disease Control, and focuses on the all-important smallpox contract, updating on progress and discussing any issues arising. He will then debrief the US-based team responsible for winning it.

This is then followed by what Mr Garland calls a "town-hall meeting", a term taken from the US that could more directly be termed a general staff briefing.

When he is in the UK, where there are only 10 staff or so, the more than 190 US employees – including those at the manufacturing facilities in Canton, Massachusetts and Rockville, Maryland, attend via video-link. "I run through what is happening in the business and take questions from people. It helps to be able to brief them on things that they think they need to know about, and there is a prize for the most difficult question. It's also an opportunity for me to thank the UK team for the successful financing and the US team for the contract win. It is important that their work can be recognised publicly."

This is followed by a call with Sanofi, the drugs group which partners with Acambis for three of its vaccines, and a wrap-up of US business.


Mr Garland is back on the road, but continues to talk business with the use of his hands-free. He hopes to arrive back at around 8.30pm, when he will sit down for a light supper and feed his Koi carp. These came with the house when it was bought, but Mr Garland has become smitten with them. "The person who owned it before us thought it would be unfair to move them or to separate them, so we kind of inherited them. I didn't think they'd be very interesting at first, I expected them to just swim around, but it's amazing how they interact with you. They will swim up to me when I go out there, looking for food. It really is very rewarding."

The CV

Name: Ian Garland

Position: Chief executive, Acambis

Education: Went to a comprehensive in Surrey before taking a foundation course in accountancy. Trained as a chartered accountant with Roffe Swayne.

Career: 2007 – present: CEO of Acambis. 2004 – 2007: chief financial officer of Arrow Therapeutics, a company engaged in the discovery and development of novel anti-viral products and oversaw its acquisition by AstraZeneca for $150m (£76.8m) in 2007. 2003 to 2004 – CFO of Amarin Corporation. 1999 – 2003, president and chief operating officer of Celltech Pharmaceuticals, responsible for all US activities, including marketing, manufacturing and supply chain management. 1995 – 1999: Had finance roles at Medeva, which was later acquired by Celltech, and at Pepsi Cola, based in the US. 1988 – 1995: worked at KPMG, specialising in the pharmaceutical sector, following qualification as a chartered accountant.