James Campbell would like to see a better nexus between business and science in Australia to help the country commercialise the research achievements of its small but innovative biotechnology sector.

He told the audience at Entrepreneurs Geelong’s most recent In Conversation breakfast “that in the US universities value scientists with real world experience.”

In Australia, Dr Campbell says while that real world may be seen as the place of ‘the devil’s money,’ the country is a leading research centre, despite being almost insignificant as a market.

“Our politicians might say otherwise, but we don’t  punch above our weight in commercialising our research, ” he said, drawing on more than 20 years’  experience in the creation and/or transformation  of several Australian and international biotechnology companies.

The result of this experience is Dr Campbell’s passion to determine if an idea can be commercialised, while addressing the major challenge of identifying and managing risk.

He defines entrepreneurship as a mindset of seeing opportunities and determining where you can go with them. In his case that opportunity pointed to the goal of improving people’s health.

With a smile he summarises his career as “doing what has interested him, not working with a—holes and doing something which changes the world.

“Quite simply I like helping to build things and sell them for a lot of money,” Dr Campbell said.

That aspiration has most recently seen him appointed CEO and managing director of the ASX listed company Patrys, which is focused on the development of antibody therapies for major market opportunities in the oncology area.  

Prior to that the Geelong-born scientist was CFO and COO of ChemGenex Pharmaceuticals Limited where, as a member of the executive team, he helped transform a research-based company with a market capitalisation of $10M to a company which was sold to Cephalon for $230M after completion of clinical trials and regulatory dossiers in the US and Europe.

James Campbell earned his Bachelor of Science from Melbourne University before gaining his PhD at Deakin University. He returned later to Melbourne University to secure an MBA to hone his management skills. He retains his connection with Deakin sitting on the board of its Centre for Innovation in Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Treatment (IMPACT) among many other appointments.

There are three intellectual components to the decision-making that underpins his role as a senior executive assessing opportunities in the biotechnology sector says Dr Campbell.

“First is it should be a good innovation with commercial potential, second the intellectual property (IP) should be safe and third there should be a good economic structure to underpin it,” he explains.

But a rider to this response is “the need to look for an honest and intelligent founder.”

Looked at from the other direction, his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs,  regardless of industry, is to “record what you have done and employ good management.”

While biotech companies are more likely to be headquartered in Boston or San Francisco and the much closer relationship between universities and business in the USA would make it easier to work there, Dr Campbell remains “passionately a Geelong person.”

Asked about the city’s potential for hi tech ventures, he says when it comes to managing such a business, hi tech is location-agnostic.

He acknowledges however an element of serendipity owing to the presence of some scientists in the area, which has seen San Diego grow into 3rd place for the headquarters of US biotech companies.

“Success breeds success. If people like Geelong it may well become a hi tech centre,” Dr Campbell surmises.