In the world of drug discovery and scientific innovation, every success story is a testament to the individuals whose passion, expertise, and dedication drive research forward. To provide you with an inside look into the minds shaping our journey here at Excellerate, we’re excited to kick off our “Meet the Team” series, offering a glimpse into the professional journeys, unique perspectives, and the passions that fuel their contributions to the world of drug discovery.
Today, we begin with our Chief Scientific Officer, Nick Holliday, setting the stage for a series of interviews that celebrate our excellence in the CRO pharmacology field.
“Share a brief overview of your professional background and experience in the research/drug discovery industry:”
“I started out as an undergraduate neuroscientist, but became more and more interested in molecular pharmacology during my PhD and postdoctoral studies in London. I then had the chance to start my own academic lab at University of Nottingham as part of a well-known research group interested in receptor pharmacology and signalling. Over that time, we had a number of collaborative interactions with industry colleagues on preclinical assay development, and while I loved aspects of the academic research and teaching, I wanted to get much more involved in applied pharmacology and drug discovery and expand my horizons. That’s when I joined Excellerate in 2019, alongside a part time university role, and since then I’ve led projects across a wide range of drug targets and mechanisms, and therapeutic indications.“
“What initially attracted you to join Excellerate?”
“I was excited by a new challenge, and Excellerate was (and is) a unique CRO environment to bring the best practice and innovation in pharmacology into solving real life drug discovery problems and progressing our clients’ projects. Initially it was an opportunity to work with friends and company co-founders Steven Charlton and Viral Patel, in building a special company. And despite being the wrong side of 40, I’ve actually been able to learn a huge amount since joining from great new interactions from fantastic industry scientists over the past 5 years.“
“Describe your role at Excellerate in a few sentences?”
“I do a bit of everything (though no one would let me in the lab these days)! I have an active oversight role across our project portfolio and have overall responsibility for how we tackle projects and the quality of work we deliver. As CSO I need to look both ways – externally we build relationships with new and existing clients through honest straightforward interactions, mutual trust and an excellent understanding of their requirements, timelines and how to maximise the chance of success for their projects. Internally I need to manage how those expectations translate to our young and highly motivated team and support them in delivering the science. I am thinking all the time about new projects, technologies, and business opportunities. As a company director there are wider management responsibilities, and I have found I enjoy the general entrepreneurship in building a business much more than I thought I would if you had asked me 20 years ago!”
“What excites you the most about working at Excellerate/within drug discovery research?”
“You see loads of great science and ideas, and work with fantastic people as a team. When I was an undergraduate, I loved reading widely about science, and then as an academic became quite focussed in one area. Coming to Excellerate was refreshing in being able to step back, think laterally, and cover all sorts of targets, mechanisms, and disease areas. And it’s super-fast paced – as a company we can take decisions quickly, and we never have to wait 6 months for a grant application!”
“What’s one significant achievement or contribution you’ve made during your time here?”
“Excellerate has now been established long enough (since 2016) to see earlier projects we were involved with reach clinical trials, and that is always exciting to see. But we also had the ambition to be a drug discovery training hub for pharmacology, and to give young scientists in particular the opportunity to develop the skills needed in the industry. To see the extent to which members of our team have gone from strength to strength over the years, and progressed their careers inside and beyond Excellerate, gives real satisfaction.“
“What do you think sets Excellerate apart from others in the industry?”
“Being a smaller specialist provider in pharmacology makes us agile and responsive to clients, with an amazing team that gives real scientific input into projects as well as delivering the high-quality assays and analysis. Naturally we are a commercial operation, but what really drives me is the science, working collaboratively across disciplines and the contributions we make to our clients’ ambitions. I hope that is the ethos that comes through as a company – certainly we have been able to grow rapidly just through word of mouth!”
“Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work? Tell us about them!”
“I’m pretty passionate about music, and now my daughters are teenagers have an excuse to sneak into Nottingham’s Rock City without sticking out too badly as the bad dad dancer. Playing piano, guitar, and bass with varying degrees of ineptitude relaxes but reminds me not to give up the day job. I also have an ambition to climb all of Scotland’s 3000ft mountains (the Munros) before my knees give out.”
“What’s your favourite science-related book, movie, or podcast? Why do you recommend it?”
“On the neuropharmacology theme, I remember Awakenings (Robin Williams, Robert de Niro) as a movie having an impact on me at university, telling the story of the discovery of L-DOPA as a treatment. Another 1990s lesser-known film I recently rewatched and would recommend is Gattaca (Ethan Hawke, Jude Law) – it’s a great movie but also has lots of interesting ideas about the “brave new world” impact of genetic profiling, even before the human genome was sequenced. Anything by Christopher Nolan, and I’ll let you know how Barbie goes on Friday.“
“What’s one fun or surprising fact about yourself that your colleagues might not know?”
“The closest I’ve ever got to celebrity is that Borat came to my seventh birthday party (he was also 7 at the time, and not wearing a mankini as far as I remember). There is hill farming background in our family, so I can build a decent dry-stone wall, and I’m lethal with a scythe.”
“What advice would you give to aspiring young scientists looking to enter the drug discovery research field?”
“Never lose curiosity about the science. Find out as much as you can about how drug discovery actually works before applying for a first job, and don’t be afraid to talk to people as well as trawl the internet. And all academic and industry jobs and careers will have their ups and downs, learning to be level-headed and resilient will help you meet the challenges.“
To learn more about how the team at Excellerate Bioscience can support your drug discovery program, please get in touch here.