Dr Suzanne Saffie-Siebert is chief executive of Northern Ireland-based SiSaf Ltd and is one of the top developers and innovators in the animal health industry. She explains the trends and challenges within the biotech sector.
How did your career bring you to SiSaf in Northern Ireland?
I brought SiSaf to Northern Ireland in 2008. We were a young company at that stage and were therefore fairly mobile. My husband accepted a job as an executive producer with the BBC in Northern Ireland and I was happy to bring the company with me, through the support of InvestNI and the University of Ulster.
Name the three people to whom you owe your current success?
My father, Yahya Saffie, who from an early age became aware of my potential as a leader and not just a follower and supported my personal development.
The Dean of the School of Pharmacy at the University of London, Prof Alexander Florence, who motivated my entrepreneurial desire to create and develop novel products.
Hillary Clinton, who continues to inspire me as a notable businesswoman and leader.
What is the Northern Ireland bio-tech sector like to work in? Is there enough support from government?
SiSaf benefits from a robust local support network provided by InvestNI and the Northern Ireland Science Park. Northern Ireland has a strong legacy of biotech start-up companies, such as Almac, Warner Chilcott, Randox, Heartsine and, in the animal health sector, Norbrook and Giltspur Scientific. In recent years, the local business support agencies have largely focused on attracting hi-tech and IT companies to Northern Ireland. However, interest in SiSaf's technology has rejuvenated interest and a drive to support the biotech sector, the results of which we are seeing coming through now.
What has led to your new focus on animal health?
SiSaf has a technology platform with enormous potential. We didn't make our decision lightly. We are facing global challenges in feeding the world's population and we are using our technology to design improved vaccines for livestock. We are also exploring opportunities in the companion animal sector, particularly relating to solving problems in treating chronic skin conditions of dogs and cats.
Is it really that easy to transfer human health know-how to the field of animal health?
There are many examples of translational applications of human and veterinary technology – many people don't realise that omeprazole, used to manage stomach ulcers and gastric reflux in people, was originally designed to treat dogs – but the 'One Health' concept which has really developed over the last decade has seen medical and veterinary experts share experiences more readily, to the benefit of both sectors.
What trends – as far as corporate activity is concerned – do you expect to see the animal health sector in the near future?
The companies who will excel in the next few years will be the ones who embrace innovative approaches to drug and vaccine delivery, and that's where we fit in. Our technology will enable current and future medicinal end-products to be used with a higher level of confidence in safety, efficacy and cost-effectiveness.
Do you foresee any challenges with private equity funding next year?
SiSaf has a history of attracting funding from Belfast and London to Silicon Valley in the USA. Our patented drug-delivery technology is exciting and there is a strong market need for drug delivery platforms such as ours. I am confident investors will continue to recognise this and we look forward to taking SiSaf into the next phase of the companies development through this funding round.