Starting up with glowing potential
Scottish dental academic Dr Chris Longbottom was killing time in a Baltimore bookshop when a title called Glowing Genes caught his eye. It has a chapter on bioluminescent marine life that uses photo-proteins to signal to each other in the depths of the ocean. These proteins are activated by calcium ions – the same molecules released during active tooth decay.
Longbottom was instantly fascinated. At the time dentists had no way of diagnosing active tooth decay. Instead, they had to make educated guesses, which inevitably led to both under- and over-treatment.
Eureka: achieving a world first
This was back in 2008. And Longbottom presented his idea to LUX, a biotechnology company based in Edinburgh.
Adam Christie, a highly experienced pharmaceutical executive and a director of LUX, was intrigued by the project.
“Chris’s idea was a true light-bulb moment”, says Christie. “I went away and did my research and talked to some dentists. They were all intrigued by the potential. They told me it would be a “first” and could have a massive impact on reducing the number of patients getting cavities.”
LUX did the early development work in partnership with the University of Dundee and filed a patent application. But soon the company turned its focus to the oil and gas sector and by 2010 further development had stalled.
Hiring the right people is one of the most difficult things. For a new company, it’s make or break.
Adam Christie, Calcivis
Getting the team together
But Christie, who had over 20 years’ experience in pharmaceuticals and start-ups, knew the idea could be a blockbuster and treat a real unmet need. “So I went to the Lux board and asked that if I were able to get this funded, would they be interested in taking a stake in a new business in return for the IP.” They agreed.
“Over the next 18 months I put a company together, secured the investment and by 2012 I started the business,” says Christie.
He raised £1.2m in capital from Archangels, an Edinburgh-based business angels syndicate. “I’d already done a little bit of work with them, they’re one of the oldest business angel networks around. A very organised, professional group.”
With this money Christie could pay his new team. They were all experts from the pharmaceutical manufacturing, regulation and finance sectors who had initially joined as consultants. He emphasises the importance of these early hires. “Hiring the right people is one of the most difficult things. For a new company, it’s make or break.”
Looking to a bright future
Christie has raised £9.5m so far, comprising £7m in equity and £2.5m from European Horizon 2020 and Innovate UK grants. This funded a working prototype, a sales team and funding for the UK launch. The cash is also paving the way for the company to break into the all-important US market.
“The biggest opportunity in the dental market is the US. For us, we believe a conservative turnover estimate would be around £300m a year,” he says.
Christie is already getting “glowing” reviews from happy patients. “They love it. They can see glowing images of hot spots on their teeth where they are losing calcium. Then their dentist gives them a preventative treatment to avoid a potential cavity.”
Right now as he’s getting his team ready for US regulatory approval Christie says: “It’s an exciting time. But it’s also nerve-racking as we’re getting ready for US Food and Drug Administration inspections of our manufacturing supply chain. There’s a lot going on but it’s exhilarating.”