Beyond the crisis: Interview with Biotherapy Services CEO, Janet Hadfield

Article written by Lauren Harris, Director of X4 Life Sciences.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Janet Hadfield, co-founder and CEO of Biotherapy Services and a highly accomplished healthcare professional (MBA) with over 20 years’ experience in the global business and healthcare arenas.

Biotherapy Services Ltd. is a clinical stage, pharmaceutical biotechnology company developing and delivering novel autologous therapies for complex and chronic wounds, and most recently they have started a new venture with their mobile wound care unit and Covid-19 testing hub.

From learning about Janet’s phenomenal journey through Covid-19 and the importance of bravery, to what she thinks makes a great leader, this is an interview not to be missed.

Your career journey into the healthcare sector is very impressive, what attracted you to the industry originally?

It’s about caring for people and trying to make a difference. I was adopted and my adoptive mother is the most caring and wonderful person, she gave me a break in life, and I want to repay that. She said something very special to me “I choose you out of a whole room of babies because you have two different coloured eyes” and that made me feel so special. That’s the genesis of what I do and why I do it.

Can you pinpoint people that have influenced you in your career?

I have always led from the front. I was a confident child, came from a tough background and knew I had one person to depend upon and that was myself. With that, I was fortunate to meet someone like Jim Book, who headed up the largest healthcare company at the time which was Johnson & Johnson.

At Johnson & Johnson we spoke about the 4 values, first and foremost absolute commitment to your patient, next is your commitment to your doctors, nurses, mothers, fathers – whoever uses your product and then to your community and finally to the employees. And those are the 4 key principals that have guided me throughout my career. They say once a J&J person, always a J&J person, which is true because I’ve always carried those principals with me and made them relevant to the people that I work with.

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

I have so say that in my career, working in a male orientated environment, they are wonderful to work with. You must find the right people that will help you with your own agenda along the way.

When I speak to people and mentor them, I tell them that they must be bold and brave. Those are the 2 words I love. I did my MBA in my 40’s and it transformed my life. There were 3 girls amongst a large group of men, but so what.

I was appalled when I heard about a scientist who said that women aren’t good scientists because they want to go and have a family, but actually that’s not true, there’s many women who juggle complexity in their personal and work life all the time – women do it very well because we can multitask.

I don’t mean to sound clichéd but what I do encourage women to do is to find good mentors, people who will support their agenda and help them in their career. Women also need to have a very clear pathway as to what they want, that’s very important because if you don’t know what you want then how on earth are you going to get there. Two facets that I always talk about to people is a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose – they drive human nature no matter whether you are male or female. You must find a balance within that.

We underestimate ourselves because we’re used to walking one step behind. Why? A lot of it is self-confidence. Men have great networks; they play rugby together etc. and we women tend to work in isolation until you get to a certain level and realise the importance of reaching out.

Again, coming back to the point of being bold enough and brave enough through this crisis, I reached out to the head of the PAG, Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock. I’m not afraid to reach out to these people because ultimately, we could be helping them. I also reached out to Yvonne Doyle, head of PHE and through that, I got our company registered as a laboratory site to send back data. We’ve tested over 1,000 people now and if I hadn’t of been persistent, then that data wouldn’t have been transmitted to the government.

What values you try to instil in your team?

The key for me is compassion, dedication and a totally fair environment, which is totally non-discriminatory. The key values always come back to doing the right thing for the patient.

We will be the first treatment that is CQC regulatory and we were the first ones to be defined by the MHRA as a medicinal product. I had to transform a small company, so when I took this company on to develop wound care, I met and worked with the top scientists in the field, that’s what you’ve got to do.

Don’t be shy about reaching out to them because they want to be reached out to. You must be brave enough to do that. I then honed the technology, applied it to the wound care area and in 2017, MHRA and NICE said to me, “this looks like a duck, this swims like a duck and actually this is a pharmaceutical product.” I thought wow, I’ve never been in pharmaceuticals in my life as I’ve always worked in medical devices and I was very fortunate to have Ian Rees from the MHRA who heads up innovation to have look at what we were doing, and to look at the data and results we were getting in complex wound care.

It paid off as we treated 15 patients with 18 wounds, and we salvaged the limbs of 14 out of 15 patients with this treatment and that’s what made me bold. We’ve now got our patent into our NHS and NIHR sponsored trial and are on a great trajectory to take a simple idea and turn it into something much bigger. We were able to take great technology and translate it into the clinical practice.

What are some of your key leadership lessons?

You must be brave enough to hire people who are much more intelligent than you. I learnt every day from every single person on my team.

Be brave and honest. I use the analogy of de-icing Mont Blanc – you don’t de-ice Month Blanc with a single hairdryer, you get it with a lot of people around you with flame throwers. It’s about collaborating and networking, but not networking to boost egos – it’s about what you want to achieve and having that purpose in the back of your mind and thinking “what do I want to get out of this conversation?”

Back in March, I become infected with Covid-19 and it gave me an opportunity to think about what this country needs. I started a small project and knew that the only way to stop this crisis was to test as many people as possible. That now has grown in parallel to everything I am doing on the wound care side of things and it’s now got its own identity.

One of the key reasons I started this was because I could have infected my whole team. I got tests from different suppliers and used them to test on myself – I was the lab rat. I was then able to identify the tests that were rubbish and those that worked because I knew I had antibodies.

How did you find communicating to your team a complete change in direction when it was so unknown at that stage?

So hard. I was really quite ill, and I wouldn’t let my team know that apart from the Operations Manager. I was so scared I may have given her Covid-19 but kudos to her because she stepped up to the mark and helped me move my entire company. We had no income coming in and we had to furlough 8 out of 10 people. I furloughed myself because I was ill and that I think was the worst decision I made. In hindsight, it became a very discombobulated time for me. But again, having a sense of purpose, a team and responsibility, I knew I had to find another mechanism to put bread on the table for 10 people.

In this period, I also linked up with a charity that have these fantastic mobile clinics and I’ve started the first mobile wound care clinics. We’re taking wound care to the community and we’re also going to make sure, because they’re all so vulnerable, that they are all tested.

We’re at real cross-roads right now where we have an opportunity on the wound-care side with our mobile wound care unit and we’re going to have a testing hub as well on the CIC. That again comes back to having a motivated team. I have to say that that’s when you see the substance of these individuals.

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