With expansion plans to the US already underway, the success of the Cardiff-based medical technology firm reflects that with support from Welsh Government, Wales is an ideal springboard for ambitious companies looking to establish themselves within a global market.
When TrakCel started in January 2013, it already had the informal backing of one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical groups. TrakCel helps companies to monitor and record key events in clinical programmes for pioneering regenerative medicine, which uses a patient’s own cells to help combat life-threatening illnesses like cancer.
The technology manages the complex chain of custody involved from sample collection through logistics, manufacturing and final treatment. Every step is meticulously tracked and recorded. Within six months of TrakCel’s launch, a large pharmaceutical company had entered into a more formal agreement to adopt the technology.
Dr Akshay Peer, founder of TrakCel, explains: “Having such partners on board so early validates your technology and the need for your technology.”
This endorsement opened doors for the fledgling business, which has its roots in Swansea University, and it hasn’t looked back since. TrakCel now has 30 employees and it plans to grow to 50 next year when it establishes an operational presence in the US. The company already employs some business development resource on the East and West Coast. “About 60 per cent of our target audience is in the US, so we need some ground presence there,” says Peer. Moving from a paper-based tracking system to a digital record cuts time and cost, as well as removing potentially life-threatening errors.
For example, in phase one clinical trials, a new treatment may be trialled with 20 patients over two years.
“You can manage that with paper,” Peer says. But, the further a treatment progresses in trials, the more complex it becomes. “It’s not just the number of patients that increase, it’s the number of different clinical and manufacturing sites,” Peer says. “The level of complexity is huge.” For example, if bone marrow is required from a patient, it then has to be transported to a manufacturing site. When it’s on site, it may pass through a number of different teams – and it may even have to go to different sites. After the final product has been created, it is critical that the bone marrow goes back to the right patient. “If you get my bone marrow instead of your own, that could be potentially fatal and you could die, or have a really nasty reaction,” he explains.
Peer says Welsh Government has been very supportive – TrakCel has received both financial and business development support. “Luckily for us, Welsh Government really understood what we do and that we would be critical players in this industry. We are really grateful to them for that,” he says. “They fully believe in what we are doing and our ability to generate jobs and wealth for the economy. We now have 30 employees – these are well paid jobs too.”
Just as important as political goodwill has been the strong links TrakCel has developed with universities. “I did my PhD at Swansea University and have close links with the Institute of Life Sciences,” he points out.
Peer says that employees that have joined TrakCel from outside Wales are “pleasantly surprised” at the quality of life when they join the business. “They love it. Cardiff especially is a great city,” he says. “There are great sporting events, and music events, and you are not far away from London. The standard of living is really good.
“I enjoy climbing in Snowdonia, as well as visits to Tenby in Pembrokeshire, and the Gower for water sports.” As for the future, Peer believes the sky is the limit for TrakCel. “I believe we will be the technology platform of choice for most of the industry,” he claims. “Within the next five years I can see us growing to 300 to 500 people.” A lot of this growth will be in the overseas markets, but Peer adds: “Wales will always be our hub.”