Sitting down for a (virtual) coffee with LightOx, I was nervous. As a marketer for a business support organisation I speak to businesses every day, but LightOx is doing work at the forefront of cancer treatment, harnessing science and innovation as a tool to change people’s lives. Would I be able to get to grips with this game-changing organisation in just one short hour?
From the moment I joined the call, Sam Whitehouse, CEO and co-Founder of LightOx, proved my nerves were unfounded.
“If you’re not a scientist, the best way to understand what LightOx does is to imagine a Bonjela type gel, which can be applied to a cancer. The cancer is then treated through light being applied to the gelled area.”
With clinical trials starting in Liverpool early next year, the treatment LightOx is pursuing could be revolutionary for individuals living with oral cancers.
“The treatment has the potential to treat different types of cancers, including skin and cervical cancers, but the team wanted to focus on mouth cancer as there are currently no options available to patients who are living with the early stages of the disease unless they are aggressive or spreading, and in the case they are aggressive the treatment has a severe impact on the patients lives.”
The story of LightOx is connected to Pink Lane, where LightOx is based. Sam, who had previously started another successful diagnostic company based in the Centre for Life, was enjoying a drink at our neighbour pub, The Forth, when it was suggested the company were ready to take on an office to centralise its activity. After the fortuitous appearance of a North East Workspace team member in the street outside, a tenancy was agreed and LightOx was ready for its next chapter.
“What appealed to the team about North East Workspace was the easy-in easy-out monthly terms. As a start-up, working in a sector where one set of results, or a poor investment climate can mark the end of the business, it was one less thing to worry about. The office sits between key team members in Whitley Bay and Durham, and having the station over the road means it provides an easily accessible venue to meet potential funders, experts and partners from across the North East. We can do a lot by video, but I find that face-to-face interaction creates stronger relationships and trust.”
In my chat with Sam, it was clear he is incredibly passionate about his work, but not just because of its potential impact on the quality of life of thousands.
“I’m a scientist who doesn’t do science anymore. I’m motivated by the excitement and problem solving that comes with building a company, as you can very quickly see the influence you are having in those early days. People are often afraid to move jobs and start again – to rebuild a new company, but I tend to live in seven to 10–year cycles, once I start to lose that feeling of making an impact on an organisation, I’m thinking ‘what next’.”
“My advice to others who are starting out, is to be realistic about what you can do with your resources in the early days. Cash is king, so identifying ways to bring in money sooner is better – it’s all about survival at first. And surround yourself with good people. Good people are the key to success.”
With no existing competitors in oral cancer treatments, if LightOx succeeds in its quest for approval, the treatment could very quickly be adopted by healthcare providers as a solution for patients with the disease. But what else do the company have planned?
“Our vision for the treatment is that it will become an easy option, perhaps even provided by dentists, who could include it as part of the care they carry out in patients regular appointments. For people living with early stage oral cancers, they can have the peace of mind actions are being taken to treat and monitor the tumour as part of their regular check–ups.”