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Inside The Bradfield Centre Podcast Episode 43: Hakim Yadi, CEO & Co-Founder, Closed Loop Medicine

James chats to Hakim Yadi, CEO & Co-Founder, Closed Loop Medicine, a Cambridge Angels portfolio company. We cover Hakim's career path, the problem Closed Loop Medicine solves, building a team during COVID, and their plans for the future.

James Parton:

Welcome to inside the Bradfield Centre, where we tell the stories of the company's partners and staff that make the Bradfield Centre community so special. I'm James Parton, the managing director of the Bradfield Centre. Joining us on today's episode is Hakim Yadi, who is the CEO and co-founder of Closed Loop Medicine. So Hakim, thanks so much for taking the time to come onto the show today, very much appreciated. Why don't we start off with a little bit about you? Could you give the audience a little bit of your background, your education and how you came to be performing the role that you're performing today?

Hakim Yadi:

James, it's a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for the invitation. My background ... Well, I guess I was one of those odd or fortunate, I don't know which is the right word, kids who always knew what they wanted to do. I've been fascinated by the natural world from a very young age, whether it was in the garden looking at bugs, watching David Attenborough. That led me on to Reading undergrad biology degree at the University of Bath and joined a really interesting program there, which allowed me to spend a year working for a pharmaceutical company during my undergraduate degree. And whilst I'd grown up just outside of Cambridge and been at school in Cambridge, I'd never really got to see the Cambridge ecosystem at large.

I was fortunate enough to join the company Celltech, which then became UCB, based at the Granta Park Science Park, just out outside Cambridge and near the Babraham. And got the bug for industrial research, pharmaceutical development and the ability to positively influence human health and disease. And became fascinated by a particular topic during my research at UCB, all around women's health and trying to understand some of the intricacies of the immune system, because I had read and learned that certain autoimmune diseases go into remission during pregnancy.

And so I started on a quest to find a PhD that would allow me to investigate that and did what you normally do. Start looking through the literature and looking all around where both in the UK and internationally I could find somewhere to do that after I'd finished my undergraduate degree. And they say the world is a very small place. The place I actually found was a stones throw from the Granta Park at the Babraham, where there was a scientist, Francesco Colucci, studying the role of natural killer cells in pregnancy. So I was fortunate enough to get a PhD sponsored by the MRC at the Babraham and got to know the Cambridge ecosystem from there really. And being up at the Babraham was quite a privilege in that not only did you have some amazing scientists testing great bench research, but also a lot of startups, sort of growth companies, and got to learn about the opportunities that the commercialization of life sciences can enable.

And so I went on a journey of wanting to get involved in more of the commercial side of life sciences, joined PA Consulting in Cambridge, the technology consulting firm. That took me on a journey of innovation health and the ability to try and think about how you bring different areas of health, life sciences, technology, and development together. From there, moved on to the Northern Health Science Alliance, where I worked at sort of the interface of the NHS and industry and policy, and saw firsthand some of the big challenges facing the health system. And that's what led me on to co-found Closed Loop Medicine.

James Parton:

Right. That's really fascinating. I'd like to just go back a little bit and just kind of unpick that transition from being a researcher to, I guess for want of a better description, getting that entrepreneurial bug and wanting to kind of move into industry and ultimately become a CEO of a company. Because here at the Bradfield, we work a lot with teams coming from the university that are researching and are thinking about how they do that conversion into like an entrepreneurial career. So, what was the kind of spark for you? Was it that desire for impact and to see something through to market? What was the real kind of driver for you to make that transition?

Hakim Yadi:

I think impact is an important word, because bench science is fascinating but difficult to see any immediate translation into human health. And I guess I was probably impatient, wanted to do something that would be able to see a direct impact. And so there was definitely a sort of a push and a pull into the commercialization of life sciences, and being at the Babraham was able to get to learn about what it takes to commercialize a life sciences asset. I took part in the BBSRC Biotech YES program and had an amazing experience of trying to form a fake company as part of that process. And just tried to immerse myself in as much as possible of what it takes to start a company. What I can tell you now, from my experience of co-founding Closed Loop Medicine is, everything I thought I knew you could times it by 1000, because you really can't learn it from the back pages of business journals. You got to do it.

James Parton:

Yeah. Maybe we'll come back to that point in a second, because I'm sure there's a lot of insights that you could give to the listeners on that in particular. But why don't we just pause a second and talk a little bit about Closed Loop Medicine in particular. So, can you explain what you do and why you do it and the kind of problem that you're trying to solve?How did you kind of spot the gap in the market for the opportunity?

Hakim Yadi:

Yeah. That's an interesting story for me is that before Closed Loop Medicine, I was running something called the Northern Health Science Alliance. It was an organization that brought together eight NHS teaching hospitals and eight university medical schools all across the north of England. So Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Durham and York. And in the southeast of the United Kingdom we're very fortunate to have a very vibrant sort of cluster environment, both around Cambridge, London, Oxford, sort of the so-called golden triangle. And a number of years ago now the north of England was looking to say, "Well, how can we maximize the strength of our clinical academic research?" How can we create an environment that begins to form a cluster that will attract in the best researchers, the best industrialists, the best innovations to improve health outcomes? Because as we know, the north of England has some challenging health outcomes, compared to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Hakim Yadi:

And so we set up the Northern Health Science Alliance to be a broker between policy makers, industrialists, innovators, and the amazing clinical academic research going on up in the north of England. And what we saw and what I certainly saw, was so many siloed interventions, a drug, a diagnostic, a device, an app, all sort of aiming to be able to help alleviate pressures in the NHS, improve outcomes for patients. And sort of sat there at the crucible of these hospitals and universities thinking about what actually needs to happen is you need to be able to bring these different modalities together. Actually, does it matter which one helped the patient? What you want to do is get the patient to the best possible outcome that he, or she can can reach. And so the idea from my side was all around how do you bring drug, digital, device, data together?

Hakim Yadi:

How do you bring the different and wonderful innovations under a single prescription to enable a physician to prescribe and a patient to receive an integrated care package off a single script? And I was very fortunate to reconnect with one of the innovators in Cambridge, Dr. Andy Richards, who I'd worked with and got to know during my PhD. And he connected me with my co-founders of Closed Loop Medicine, who all brought different expertise around digital, drug development, clinical. And we formed Closed Loop Medicine with the idea of trying to bring these different modalities together. Finding ways to start from the grassroots and think through what does it take to co-develop these different modalities. And so at Closed Loop Medicine, what we are developing is single prescription combination products that link existing therapeutics with digital health, or software as a medical device.

James Parton:

Okay, interesting. So you're not actually developing new medicines and going through that kind of medical trials piece. You're actually working with what's out there, making it a more holistic approach?

Hakim Yadi:

We've got an amazing array of existing therapeutics that were developed at a time when we didn't have this wealth of information and data to be able to feedback from patients in clinician. And many of those drugs have not been optimized. They were, and are still prescribed at the wrong dose, the wrong amounts. They need to be optimized to be able to help human health. So you're absolutely right, James, we're working on existing drugs that we know work but can be optimized by the addition of real world insight, data collection through software as a medical device, to be able to optimize the dose of that therapy at an individual level. True precision medicine. James Parton: Really interesting. So you are hiring a lot of data scientists, I guess then, to look at that and break down that data and make it applicable?

Hakim Yadi:

It's a really interesting question you've asked there. The hiring that we've had to do spans so many different elements of medical technologies, life sciences, drug development. So we've built a team of people who understand both the life sciences world and complying with all the standards that you have to there, as well as medical devices and software. So we have a real melting pot of expertise that we brought together, because most people will have worked on drugs, others will have worked on devices, others will have worked on software. Very few have been able to cross the boundaries, and so we're hiring across the spectrum to bring the right people together to create combination devices.

James Parton:

So how large is the company right now?

Hakim Yadi:

We closed our latest financing at the end of last year and been recruiting steadily over the last few months. We're now about a team of 30.

James Parton:

Right. Okay. Interesting. And you're based in Cambridge, which I guess is understandable based on the kind of story that you've told.

Hakim Yadi:

Well, we're sort of interesting in terms of where we're based. When we formed the company and we had to think of somewhere to base it, my co-founder Paul Goldsmith had done his first company at the Babraham. I had done my PhD at the Babraham at the time. We had a number of connections linking back to the Babraham and so it felt a natural place to be able to set the company up. And we got fantastic support from our seed rounds with the Cambridge Angels. But as we've grown, and particularly during COVID, we went virtual for a very long time like many other people. But we've now got a base down in London where the majority of the staff are when we do use the office, but Cambridge is our home.

James Parton:

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James Parton:

So, you touched on the challenges of being a CEO and you've mentioned there dealing with COVID and lockdown. Obviously, the timing of that is exactly when you were expanding the business and hiring a whole bunch of new people. So, walk us through some of the challenges that you had to wrestle with as the CEO, in terms of how do you recruit, how do you handle remote working? And I guess for those new people to the company, how do you build that sense of a common culture and a common team?

Hakim Yadi:

I think every company, every executive, every CEO probably had very similar challenges during COVID. I don't think anyone's going to point back and say, "We got that exactly right," because we were all learning as we went, feeling in the dark. Not knowing how long it was going to go on for, not knowing if we were doing the right thing. But, I think for us, it came at a really tricky point in time where we'd literally just taken an office. We were just starting to build a semblance of culture and the relationships within what we call the historic office environment. And then suddenly to flip and go into the cloud and go fully remote, it was hard to maintain that sense of culture. And we did do a lot of great activities that allowed us to do that over the course of the pandemic.

But, I think you're right. One of the biggest challenges has been bringing in new people who had never got to meet anybody, who'd never got to experience the vibe and the culture. They'd only got to experience it through Zoom and Teams. And now what we've done now that the restrictions have lifted is to be able to take some new space, to be able to not not have an office again but, as someone put it to me recently, a point of nucleation. Somewhere where we can come together, use the space for the creative brainstorming work, where you just need to be in person and you need to be able to roll up your sleeves and have those sessions. But also respect the fact that most people have after two years found out they get some of their best work, proper focus time, done working from home. And so, trying to find the best of both worlds, still don't think we've got it right, and we continue to learn.

James Parton:

Yeah. So you classify yourself as a kind of remote first company now, would you?

Hakim Yadi:

We're very much hybrid. I think we love the idea of still being able to have that in person time. There are just some things you can't do through video conference, so we're adopting a model that hopefully supports the best of both worlds. Giving people the flexibility to work from home and have that extra time to themselves, but also to respect the fact that may actually be where they get their best work done. But also, to be able to say that actually there's time when you need to come together, you need to bring the culture together of an organization. I think we've all learned it can be done online, but you can get so much more value about doing it when people are actually in person.

James Parton:

Yeah, absolutely. So what does the rest of this year look like going into 2023? What's kind of the product roadmap look like?

Hakim Yadi:

As I mentioned previously, we closed our last financing at the back end of last year. That's enabled us to bring in an amazing group of new people into the company to help with that product development. We've done a bit of a pivot and become more of a product led company and recently recruited in a chief product officer. And so gone through a process of really understanding what it means to build product as a life sciences and healthcare company. And the product roadmap at the moment is focused on our two main efforts, one in the area of insomnia and the other in hypertension.

These are two areas where the combination of both traditional pharmaceutical therapy with digital enabled care, will support patients get better outcomes through optimizing that specific regimen. And so for us, some of the big opportunities over the next year or so, are to demonstrate that drug and digital can be brought together as a single regulated product, that it can be reimbursed in the same way that traditional medicines are. And that we can generate clinical data from the ongoing clinical studies that we have going on, that this will improve outcomes for patients.

So it's a combination as with any early stage company of making sure we hit those proof points and generate the clinical evidence to support the mission and vision that we're on, of improving outcomes through combination products.

James Parton:

You've obviously got extensive experience working with the NHS in previous roles. Are the NHS receptive to this? And how does the UK differ to other territories you might be working in?

Hakim Yadi:

I think the UK is one of the best places to start a life sciences healthcare digital health company, in that we've got an amazing array of talent, both from the medical device, digital health and life sciences sectors. We have got the NHS and ability to work, collaborate, learn, and understand truly what the pain points are. And I think with any system, whether it be healthcare or otherwise, you need to be in a mode of understanding what the needs are, rather than pushing technology on the system.

I think we're also blessed by having a very flexible regulator. We've seen through COVID the MHRA really step up. And what we've seen as an early stage company, we've gone to the regulator early to ask questions, to learn, to understand. The same with the department of health and social care and NHS England, on what our roots for pricing and reimbursement are and that we've got the access points now in the NHS, through the academic health science networks and others that we didn't have before. So the UK's a great place to be able to do this. The challenge then comes in how we make sure we maintain that position, both for ourselves as companies, but also as a UK destination for health and life sciences innovation.

James Parton:

Yeah. Are you exclusively focused on the UK market, or are you working internationally? Are you seeing a difference in other territories?

Hakim Yadi:

So we are very much focused on this being a company that is going to deliver outcome improvement for patients wherever they are. We happen to be based here in the UK. We've already started clinical studies in the US, one which we ran in a decentralized way during COVID, which is quite an achievement during that particular period of time. And we've already started looking at some of the other, like the US, more digitally mature markets in Europe to understand what the right mechanisms and roots are for bringing such innovative combination, the single prescription product, into those markets. I think we're seeing quite a lot of pull from territories across Europe, and particularly the US. And for an early stage company it's about deciding where to put your energy.

James Parton:

Yeah. Yeah. You can get spread thinly very quickly if you're not too careful. That's been really, really interesting. Where can people find out more about Closed Loop Medicine if they want to follow up?

Hakim Yadi:

Well, if people want to find out more about what we're doing and the work that we're delivering on trying to improve outcomes through better dosing and this new combination approach, we've got a website www.closedloopmedicine.com. We're active on LinkedIn and Twitter, and would be happy to hear and talk with any other innovators from the Cambridge ecosystem.

James Parton:

Well, that's fantastic. Again, thanks so much for taking the time to come on today. Very much appreciated.

Hakim Yadi:

No, James, thank you very much for having me.

James Parton:

So thanks once again to Hakim for coming on today's show. The show was produced by Cole Homer of Cambridge TV, and you can listen to previous episodes by searching for inside the Bradfield Centre on Apple podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and Amazon Music, or by visiting bradfieldcentre.com. If you have two spare seconds, please give us a five star review, it will really help other people discover the show.

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