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How being small helps one business react quickly

Being small is helping GlycoForm to manage risk effectively

After a successful career spanning more than 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry, David Scales, 56, decided it was time to change direction. Rather than remain within "big pharma", Scales opted to move into the biotechnology sector in 2000 and work with smaller companies. And in July last year, Scales was appointed chief executive officer at GlycoForm Ltd, a company that specialises in synthesising complex sugars and incorporating them into other molecules, especially proteins. Since a protein's ability to have a drug-like effect is often dependent upon it having the right complex sugars as part of its make-up, GlycoForm's technology has obvious value in drug development.

"GlycoForm is a small company with only 10 scientists," says Scales. "But that team is the best in the world at what it does – and the reason I wanted to lead the business." Since joining, Scales has set about refocusing the company's scientific projects and has raised additional finance – no mean feat in the current funding climate. Although in common with other companies that operate high-tech laboratories, running costs are high. "We don't have the buying power of large companies and so it's difficult to get much of a discount on laboratory consumables," explains Scales.

However, that problem was solved for GlycoForm through its membership of OBN, an Abingdon-based network organisation for bioscience companies (www.obn.org.uk). OBN's purchasing scheme allows member companies to pool their orders and achieve meaningful discounts from suppliers. "We predict that over the year we will save in excess of £10,000," says Scales. "Not much in big pharma terms, but for small companies that can mean the difference between survival and closure. There's no doubt that OBN's purchasing scheme is really important for our business."

Looking to the future, Scales intends to maintain this prudent approach to cash while the company develops its technology. An income stream from licensing that technology to large pharmaceutical companies will then follow. And that revenue will, in turn, be used by GlycoForm to develop its own potential drugs. The future therefore looks exciting for GlycoForm, but what about the risk?

"Job security in large companies is no longer what it was even a few months ago," observes Scales. "As a small business we can react to new opportunities and take decisions quickly. That makes us able to manage risk more effectively than many large businesses." Wise words: in these difficult financial times, small really might be beautiful.

Glycoform Ltd (01235 820463; www.glycoform.co.uk)