Widecells Group PLC (LON:WDC) Chief Executive Officer João Andrade caught up with DirectorsTalk for an exclusive interview to discuss why they are focussing on the stem cell industry, their new laboratory in Manchester, the launch of CellPlan & their very strong Board
Q1: I know Widecells is focussed on supporting the stem cell industry but can you provide us a bit more information about how you’re looking to achieve this and why you’re focussing on this market?
A1: Well, the main reason why I focus on this market and I started Widecells is because stem cell technology has been around for more than forty years now and there’s lack of information, even within the healthcare community, unfortunately, about the benefits and possibilities for treatment for patients worldwide using stem cell technology. Because this technology is available we know which hospitals and treatment centres are performing these treatments, we know the medical teams that are involved in this treatment as well, we have built services and solutions to allow patients from all over the world to access this technology with lifesaving potential.
Q2: In Manchester, you’re developing your own laboratory, both to support advancements in stem cells technology and for storage. Now, in your results, the accounts show capex investment of £360,000, is this what a stem cell bank would usually cost to set up?
A2: I have to say that we’ve been very fortunate with the selection of the location for the uses for stem cell technology because what we have found at the University of Manchester Innovation Centre, which is a premium location, is clean rooms that were available. We made this investment to upgrade the clean rooms and also to re-equip the whole lab so that we can process and store stem cells for period of up to thirty years and also to support stem cell research companies.
Now, regarding your question about the usual investment for stem cell bank, normally it would be around £1.5-£2 million in the UK. I must say that for the quality of the facilities that Widecells have set up, the quality management system we have, which we share with the University of Manchester, we have a really high quality standard facility. We can operate with the best stem cell research companies in the world and provide reassurance to parents who will be looking to store stem cells with us, that they will be stored in appropriate conditions for period of thirty years. So, it was a great investment opportunity and the money we raised at the IPO would normally be the necessary funds just for the stem cell bank itself, whilst with the same money we’ve built three different divisions and we are now at the point where we’ll start commercialising our product.
Q3: Now, CellPlan is obviously a total novel product and the fantastic news there is that you’ve already signed up a leading stem cell storage facility through which you’ll roll this product out. How is the lead up to the launch going?
A3: So, we are just taking the final steps to launch the product and what I mean by the final steps is just finalising all of the aspects of our marketing approach. That includes our e-commerce website that we have developed in such a way that we are able to explain the benefits of storing stem cells but also all the details of the insurance policy itself and all of the services that we are including in CellPlan including a app with medical opinion service and a medical concierge service as well. So, we have the ability, through our platform, to receive the applicable details, to conduct the health questionnaire, to collect payments and also to issue the insurance policy digitally. So, this is something that we have developed since the IPO and then we are finalising all of the aspects of the digital marketing approach from our side and the marketing approach from our partner the cord blood bank BioVault in the UK so that we can start to offer CellPlan to new clients that are looking to store stems with BioVault and also to our existing clients that have already stored their baby’s stem cells but do not have insurance to cover the costs associated with treatment. So, we are almost ready to launch the product and Widecells Group should have news very soon.
Q4: Aside from your strategic product offering, Widecels Group obviously have a very strong Board behind you including the recent appointment from the former Director at Apple Education. Can you talk us through them and what their responsibilities are?
A4: Since I started Widecells I always had this vision of before getting our products to market, to do something that perhaps slightly different from what most start-up companies do which is going straight to market, testing the product and then refining them and in the healthcare industry, things normally don’t work like that. We test our products first, we need to refine our quality management and we need to have high profile members in our team so that we can gain trust from partners and from clients globally because what we are bringing to the table is a global proposition.
With that in mind, we spent most of the time product development and for that I always look for the best so for example, when we were half way through the process of developing CellPlan, the insurance plan, we had been fortunate to have Dr Marilyn Orcharton on board. She is the founder of DenPlan in the UK, the largest dental payment specialist plan, a company she started in the early 80’s and was sold last year for around £200 million so she came on board as Non-Executive Director but she also helped us with the development of CellPlan, anticipating potential problems and if we have a very robust product it is because Marilyn is on board.
We have Dr Peter Hollands, which is one of renowned stem cell specialists in the world, he has enabled us to identify this laboratory at the University of Manchester and also to develop a plan where we could have a high quality standard facility for a minimum investment in comparison to the average in the industry globally. He has also opened doors for us to start doing our first contract research project such as the one we have in place at the moment, that is already starting to generate revenue with a Californian medical device company.
Now, more recently, one of the projects that we have, perhaps, advanced around 10-12 months is the WideAcademy division. WideAcademy is where we want to provide accurate scientific and medical information, not only to the healthcare community but also to potential clients who are looking for stem cell treatments or also to store their baby’s stem cells. Again, what I was looking for was someone that had very good understanding of what’s called the adtech space and could take advantage of the difficult marketing tools that are available today so that we can have curated content so that we can reach doctors all over the world, within different specialties and also potential clients. Someone like Alan Greenberg, who has done that for Apple Education, where one of the podcasts he developed reached 3 billion downloads just last week and I think it’s an unbelievable opportunity. So, looking at the thing we’ve brought together, it’s an all-star team and we are in a mission to make stem cell treatment accessible and affordable globally and we are all involved in this mission and that’s why they’re on board.