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Business spotlight: Biotech - a certain virus is creating a step change

21 May 2020: Biorbyt Ltd is a UK-based life sciences company that supplies various lab-based products to scientific researchers. For obvious reasons, Biorbyt is now also working on a diagnostic tool.

COVID-19 has affected us all in different ways; it has also had an impact on the products, markets and processes a company pursues. For the fleet of foot, recovery will revolve around the changes brought about by our new operating conditions. It is not so much that this terrible virus is creating opportunities; it is more the case that it is confirming what business direction we already knew we should be taking and accelerating action.

For Qun Yang, founder and Chief Operating Officer of Biorbyt, change is natural. She is attracted to business activities that make a difference and has already experienced significant career change.

Qun came to the UK from China in her 20s, qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Deloitte in 2003, then switched to a career in banking with Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank before co-founding Biorbyt in 2010. As a finance professional, the life sciences knowledge-base was missing; that is what her partner brought to the table. Now, Qun herself is completing an MPhil in therapeutic sciences at the University of Cambridge, where her company is also based.

The company has offices in both the UK and US, as well as research facilities in Wuhan, China.

“Diagnostics are a new area for us,” says Qun. “We are working with a Professor at Cambridge University to overcome the challenge of inaccurate COVID-19 testing. It will take a while because we have to go through clinical trials. However, we have the antibodies and we have the prototype so we are going to the next stage of developing our diagnostic tool.”

She continues: “This is a shift in strategy for us – it is in addition to our existing business; not instead of it. My course at Cambridge University has helped us formulate our new strategy.”

Qun’s background in accounting and finance has enabled her to figure out the economic and financial impact of the decisions her company takes. “Scientists don’t think about those types of things,” she says.

“I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur but the science came later. Meeting my co-founder was a stroke of luck,” she says. “Banking is exciting but it is still just numbers. I wanted to actually create something.”

Of course, revenue and then profit are the ultimate KPIs for any business and Qun is satisfied with the company’s year on year growth. But is it not all about financial growth. Qun is interested in recognition, in growing her team’s expertise and making sure they too are recognised for their achievements. There is a personal development success story here too.

“I like to see people grow with the business,” she says. “It is great to create opportunities for other people but the business still must grow.”

Ultimately, Qun likes to make an impact and fix things. That brings us back to the COVID-19 diagnostic tool Biorbyt is working on. But coronavirus is not behind the opportunity for growth per se. “If it were not this virus that would prompt this step change it would be another one,” she says. “Or it would be antibiotic resistance. We have all heard the stories about the potential for a superbug to kill us before climate change does.”

Nevertheless, it takes years to develop a vaccine, which is why investors have traditionally flocked towards sectors that show a speedy return, like telecoms and tech. Now, however, we are seeing for ourselves how important it is to invest in the life sciences sector.

Now it is the turn of life sciences to come under the spotlight. Governments, the investment community and the general public are all getting behind the life sciences sector. Qun concludes: “Now everyone knows what antibodies are.”