Educated Guesses, Lofty Aspirations & Hard Realities: CellResearch Corp’s Ivor Lim on succeeding as a biotech in Asia

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The transition from bench research to bedside application seems very straightforward at first glance, but it is not until the first steps are taken that one realises the numerous hurdles that must be overcome in order to achieve this.

At Phar-East 2018, we bring successful bio entrepreneurs, pharma executives, top investors and more together from across Asia to share their perspective on what it takes to succeed in this burgeoning and lucrative market.

One of those experts joining us this year is Dr Ivor Lim, Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of CellResearch Corp, a biotech company holding 41 patents in regenerative medicine and recently considering a NASDAQ listing. Prior to the conference in Singapore this 28th February to 2nd March, Ivor shared some of his insights on their journey and how they have overcome these challenges in translating from bench to bedside.


Q: What inspired you and your team to found CellResearch Corp in 2002?

Ivor: CellResearch Corporation was founded in 2002 as Professor Phan and myself had collected numerous scar and normal cell specimens for research and needed a vehicle for cost recovery as we were shipping these samples to collaborating laboratories around the world for free. Other labs were also asking us if we could do certain parts of their research for them- so we thought contract research would be another business front.

It was only in 2004 that we stumbled upon stem cells in the outer membrane lining of the umbilical cord- thus they are called Umbilical Cord Lining Stem Cells.

Q: Please share with us one of the most challenging aspects of running a biotech company in Singapore, and how your team overcame it.

Ivor: The most challenging aspect was funding! We had an amazing discovery that could possibly be used for many translational treatment applications but a lot of work and research was required and people- doctors, scientists, and commercial biotechnology entities- had to be convinced. Funding was also required to fund the patent applications and the day to day running of our original, very small, office and our very first member of staff Edwin Chow who is now our COO.

Initially, our current CEO Gavin had put in funding to kick-start the company, but over the next few years the obstacle was overcome by my working harder in my private practice clinic.

It all took quite some time and finally people started listening to us. I found myself putting on a salesman’s hat which I had never worn before- nor knew I possessed. Memorably, I once met the president of a biotech entity at Hong Kong airport. We shook hands and he looked dead me in the eye and said: “You have 10 minutes- pitch me.” This company became one of our early adopters, but the reality was that I had done the same pitch so many times before to so many different people that everything I had to say was already seared into my brain.

Very fortunately by 2011, 7 years after inception, we got into the black as funds started coming in from our licensees.

If success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm I must say that I know full well what that means!

Q: What’s your proudest moment working in CellResearch Corp?

Ivor: I have had many proud moments at CRC, but one highlight was when our patent was granted by the Intellectual Properties Office of the United Kingdom. This was in 2008 and the first time our patent had been granted-it was fantastic to think that we were finally being taken seriously and on an international stage! To date we have had the patent granted in 43 territories around the world.

Q: How does your background as a plastic surgeon affect your perspective and approach in running the biotech company?

Ivor: Prof Phan and I are both plastic surgeons so we are both fastidious of detail, obsessive-compulsive to a high degree, and very, very patient. We are also eternal optimists who are highly competitive. Between us we are also always hatching new ideas for potential therapies and uses of Umbilical Cord Lining Stem Cells.

We understand each other as we share these characteristics, but have also been fortunate that we can get our ideas across to our CEO Gavin who is well versed in finances etc., who has done an amazing job running everything else at CRC.

Q: What’s next for CellResearch Corp?

Ivor: The next big clinical thing is our USFDA trial which is starting at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus where we will be using cGMP grade Umbilical Cord Lining Mesenchymal Stem Cells called CorLiCyte® to close chronic diabetic wounds- a terrible morbidity in diabetics which might lead to limb amputation.

The USFDA has a new application called Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy (RMAT) which allows for expedited approval as they now realise that crucial cellular therapies should be fast tracked for clinical use once efficacy has been proven.

The next big research thing is the generation of new cGMP grade products derived from Umbilical Cord Lining Epithelial and Mesenchymal Stem Cells as their protein secretions.

The future of Medicine is cellular therapy and CRC is readying itself for this.

The next big business thing is that we will be doing an IPO.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring bio entrepreneurs looking to start a company in Singapore?

A: Honesty is the first requirement. Ask yourself: Is the technology I have worth pushing out to the world? Talk to doctors, talk to scientists, get ideas, and get inspired. Very often, we will think that what we have is more significant than it really is, and this is a sad truth, but indicative that you are an optimist!!

Next talk to a business person- you will need to understand things like business plans etc., and quickly learn that a business cannot run on just love and fresh air (although companies need a lot of that as well).
We were most fortunate to have Gavin as one of the original three partners for CRC who knew all these non- scientific things and was always ready to explain things to us. He was able to give the business perspectives on how and what to move ahead with, as well as what not to do to minimise loss.

Faith in your technology is very important.  If you have something precious, you must spread word of it with evangelical zeal. And become used to adorning your head with hats you are not accustomed to wearing. This comes back to love and fresh air- you must LOVE LOVE LOVE your technology.

Patience. Rome wasn’t built in one day. Chart your course, keep moving, and don’t give up.


Ivor is one of 120+ speakers participating at Phar-East 2018. Visit our website for more information:

About Phar-East 2018
From humble beginnings as BioMedical Asia in 2008, BioPharma Asia has attracted close to 20,000 attendees over the last 10 years. Established as a true one-stop shop for all things biopharma, our 2018 program is rebranded into Phar East 2018 to explore innovation in clinical trials, manufacturing, supply chain, market access, partnering, pricing, and more without restricting itself on the type and nature of therapeutic products. Visit our website for more information:

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