Last year just before the Christmas break, I reached out to Tia Lyles-Williams after reading an aspirational article about her commitment to uplift underserved communities and bring about positive change in the life science industry. I’m inspired by her forward-thinking ideas on how to democratize our bio-industry and give equal opportunity to people of color, minority groups. It was a pleasure to interview Tia for this episode of Talk is Biotech!™ — a show of the most ambitious, creative, and thought-provoking bio leaders on the scene right now. Read the highlights from the interview below.
Tia Lyles-Williams is the founder & CEO of LucasPye BIO (LPB) and HelaPlex, which are both subsidiaries of Goffman Bougard, LLC. She is on a mission to make drugs accessible and affordable for more people by bringing about a life science industry driven by responsibility, empathy, and equality.
“I started all three of these companies based upon my 20 years of experience, but I want to make a change in the industry in reducing drug prices and make them more accessible,” stated Tia Lyles-Williams.”
“Drug prices are out of control, and the companies that produce drugs are typically built in affluent neighborhoods. I strive to democratize this industry so that biotech and pharma companies are not limited to a few sections of society."
Harnessing the success of the biotech industry to empower underserved communities
A new McKinsey report says that biology could contribute to the manufacturing of over 60% of physical inputs and lead to cures for over 45% of the diseases ravaging our world. The study also predicts the biomanufacturing industry is poised to become a $4 trillion industry.
Biotech R&D and manufacturing are some of the fastest-growing, profitable, and impactful industries in the world. Tia believes that the industry could and should do more to help communities in need of its growth opportunities.
“It’s true that it takes $2.5 billion to develop a biotech drug, but these drugs bring in billions more when they hit the market. The majority of that money is just sitting at the top and isn't trickling down. For instance, the salary of a manufacturing operator in the biopharma industry today is $38 K to start out.
“I’m trying to make this industry more accessible to underserved communities. I want people in these communities to get an opportunity to work at a corporate job and make a minimum of $50K, which is the lowest salary at our company. I want them to generate wealth and just be able to pay what I call “life resources.” These are things that are necessary for a comfortable life such as health benefits, access to a real grocery store, and being able to afford private transportation such as a car.
LucasPye BIO - a leading biomanufacturer
“LucasPyeBio is a contract development manufacturing organization (CDMO). Biotech companies that make biologic drugs outsource manufacturing of their drugs to us for either preclinical studies or clinical trials. Once the drug is approved for commercialization, we can manufacture it at scale.”
“LucasPyeBio is one of seven biologics manufacturers companies that can do both viral vector and gene therapy manufacturing in the US. Additionally, we're one of just four that can do an adherent cell manufacturing of the viral and gene vectors.”
The company has recently been recognized as one of the top CDMOs in 2020 by Pharma Tech Outlook magazine and as one of the top 20 most innovative companies to watch in 2020 in Business Worldwide Magazine's annual list.
Helaplex - Democratizing Biotech
HelaPlex is a commercial co-working space for life science startups and virtual biotechs. Along with LucasPye BIO, HelaPlex will play a critical role in accelerating the assets of life start-ups and biotech companies into the global commercial market.
“HelaPlex aims to support four types of biostartups: biologics R&D, medical device, health tech, and med-tech. And the reason why those four were chosen is that they can all work together. HelaPlex aims to accelerate the proof of concept and preclinical work for early-stage companies. “The resident companies can build a minimum viable product. So we're going to have a small-scale cGMP manufacturing facility where biologics drug companies can actually produce material themselves for their animal studies. There is no extra cost to use these prototyping services; we have modern equipment, including 3D printers, and our own digitization and automation suite powered by Scispot.io.”
Each resident company gets a dedicated project mentor and access to a plethora of uniquely designed courses and webinars. These resources will help the companies learn about the commercialization process of their products and so that they can fully grasp what's required from a regulatory and financial standpoint. HelaPlex also plans to organize demo-day-style business pitch competitions for their companies.
"HelaPlex is a combination of shared lab space, subject matter and regulatory consulting, in addition to investment support. I believe it is really powerful because currently if you go to incubators, all you get is shared lab space with basic equipment, but the guidance piece is missing, the whole nurturing piece and regulatory support are missing."
HelaPlex strives to accelerate the commercial development of life science assets by biostartup communities in Philadelphia while simultaneously de-risking investment for their respective financiers, i.e. angel investors, venture capitalists, and private equity investors.
HelaPlex@ -- Biotechnology-as-a-service
HelaPlex aims to manage services to other real estate vendors and helps them transform their space into a fully functional life science coworking space. This service is called HelaPlex@, and it will help every step of the way from the procurement and maintenance of the lab spaces to ensuring compliance and safety of these labs by providing training to employees.
Empowering bioentrepreneurs to create cures faster and more efficiently
“Helaplex's whole mission is to bring down the barrier of cost and access for life science startups. Doing so will bring down the cost of those assets for the patients that need them. That is the whole mission.”
With its “biotechnology as a service”, HelaPlex provides access to needed resources, expertise and money to help discover, develop and manufacture new life-saving drugs that can be brought to market quickly and cost-effectively. HelaPlex’s partnership with Scispot underscores its commitment to empowering bioentrepreneurs. HelaPlex will enable and embolden the most promising bioentrepreneurs to convert their assets into the next multi-billion dollar companies.
HelaPlex has the potential to become a launchpad for tens of thousands of biotech companies that strive to develop cures our world needs.
Advice for aspiring bioentrepreneurs
Tia speaks the truth when she says that to become a successful bioentrepreneur, you need 3 key qualities:
1. Patience - Biotech is a long-term commitment. It takes time to learn and make things work. For instance, it takes over a decade to bring one life-saving biotech drug to biotech.
2. Knowledge - Be a lifelong learner. In this rapidly evolving industry, you cannot rely solely on your classroom training and your job experience to stay equipped with all the necessary skills and knowledge to stay ahead of the curve.
3. An Open Mind - Early on in your career, learning by doing different things is the fastest way to acquire new skills and find out what you are most passionate about. As Tia puts it, never say “no” to new experiences even if it is outside your immediate responsibilities.