In this episode of Molecular Moments, Chad Briscoe sits down with Neil Spooner, founder and director of Spooner Bioanalytical Solutions and senior editor of the journal, “Bioanalysis.” Based in England, Neil shares a bit of his background in LC-MS, his first taste of quantitative bioanalysis at Huntingdon Life Sciences, helping organizations understand their own technologies and the exciting challenges that bioanalytical groups face. They also talk about the increase in interest behind microsampling for pediatrics, using less animals for testing while getting better results, patient-centric testing for better clinical trials and results, solutions for keeping clinical trials open during the pandemic, and encouraging dialogue and collaboration with peers, clinicians, and patients to make the biggest positive impacts. Aside from consulting and bioanalysis, Neil shares his joy in using his science skills to make homemade cuisine, including cheeses, jams, and gin!

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MM_S3_E3_Neil Spooner_v2.mp3: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

MM_S3_E3_Neil Spooner_v2.mp3: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Chad:
Welcome to the Molecular Moments podcast in today's episode, we sit down with our guest, Dr. Neil Spooner, director and founder of Spooner Bioanalytical Solutions and senior editor of the journal Bio Analysis. Neil is a veteran of the bioanalytical industry who turned his pioneer work in the bioanalytical field into a highly successful and one of a kind consulting firm. Neil is a guy who chases his passions. He brings unique insight, experience and excellence to everything he does. I hope you'll enjoy our conversation. We're talking science as scientists do. So without further ado, here's another can't miss episode of molecular moments. Welcome to the podcast, Neil. I'm delighted to have you join me today.

Niel:
Hey, Chad. I'm honored to be here. I'm excited to spend the next 45 minutes to an hour with you.

Chad:
Fantastic. Can we start with you giving us a few highlights of your career in the bioanalytical field?

Niel:
Yeah, absolutely. I guess from when you were talking about bio analysis these days a few years ago by analysts used to be defined as being from an Alzheimer's background or a non Alzheimer's background, I guess those boundaries are blurring now, which is a fantastic thing. I am from the LC-MS background, and I first got into mass spectrometry towards the end of my degree, working on a VG double sector instrument if anyone knows what those things are. And after I'd done my PhD at the University of Liverpool, I'd heard about this. This new fangled thing called Alciere Mass and people were saying, this is something you need to get into, but there weren't very many around. So I did a postdoc at the University of Bristol using an early Finnegan T.S. Q70 with thermo spray on it, which if anyone's ever tried to do thermal spray, it's not an easy thing to do to get consistent ions. But from there, I was there for us a little bit more confident in LC, sms, and I got my first job in industry. Huntingdon Life Sciences in, I guess, that was nineteen ninety four. And so a contract research organization that's now part of the LabCorp Empire stayed there for a couple of years and learned how to use Psychs API three, as well as some other Finegan sector instruments for doing metabolite ID. But that's where I first got my proper taste of quantitative analysis, doing extracts and things, and met a bunch of lifelong friends in the analytical field there and doing everything from veterinary products, doing liquid liquid extractions in the dark because we had a photosensitive veterinary product. Having to do this liquid liquid extraction of tissues in the dark was always pretty challenging, and that's where I first met Russ Grant as well. If LabCorp got him involved in helping to carve up these pieces of meat and kidney and liver and things that we had to to extract.

Chad:
So you had Russ Grant doing the the work for you. Is that what you're?

Niel:
I know we work together. I think he came in telling me something like his brother in law or something was a butcher. So I said, I've got just the job for you. I've got some kidneys, liver, meat and fat that needs cutting op. And yeah, it was pretty ugly. There's a lot of blood. It wasn't very pretty, but I think that was kind of his first week at Huntingdon Life Sciences. He tells that story as well, so it's no no secret there.

Chad:
Yeah. Well, and now Ross lives near me here in North Carolina, so I might use that as an excuse to get together and ask him some stories from the old days.

Niel:
Yeah, he's got a lot of stories. He's got a lot of stories. Yeah. So, yeah, a couple of years. Hls interesting place to work, learns a lot there, learns a lot. Doing bench science, they're meeting a lot of good people and finding out that that type of contract research organization, as Wells was at the time, wasn't the place where I wanted to be. So I was busy just writing a lot, a lot of letters. And eventually Susan Fowles at SmithKline Beecham took pity on me, brought me in for interview and gave me a job. Smithkline Beecham in the UK at the time she actually, when I moved to the states, gave me a framed. One of my letters that she kept and framed and gave it back to me. So yeah, she was the one that I guess gave me my my first break. And I worked at SmithKline Beecham GlaxoSmithKline for for 20 years, spent three years in the U.S. from '98 to 2001 at the Upper Merion facility. And it was why we're in the U.S. that our first daughter was born. So she's a dual national. But the merger brought myself and my wife back to the UK, and our second daughter was born a couple of months after we returned to the UK. So she's not. Was a dual national and still holds that against us to this day, but worked at GSK for 20 years in various positions, mostly quantitative by analysis, also headed up a metabolite ID group, got involved in some projects, got involved in leading the implementation of of new technologies.

Niel:
How can we do bio analysis different rather than just doing it the same way? And that's where we got interested in micro sampling and dried blood spots basically coming from a need to do pediatric studies? And how how do we deal with really small samples from really small people? And we saw some work published by Kevin Bateman at Merck that he'd done with discovery and some other work, obviously elsewhere, and just got interested in dried blood spots and from then all the micro sampling technologies and and started to bring that forward. But after 20 years at GSK, they had a change of direction. They're no longer really needed the kind of role they was doing, and I got the opportunity to take redundancy and decided to set up on my own. So that was six years ago. Set up my own consultancy didn't really want to do what a lot of other consultants do in terms of overseeing outsourcing work from small to midsize pharma. I thought I can do that. I know how to do that. I'd been involved in outsourcing, work with preclinical and clinical work, been setting up contracts with Cros. I knew how to do that and I knew how to oversee regulated by analysis. But I thought maybe there's something in this technology piece that I'm really passionate about that I can actually make a living out of.

Niel:
And thankfully, for the last six years, I have been able to scrape through a living, helping different kinds of organizations, just understanding what patient centric blood sampling is, what micro sampling is, what it isn't, what the technologies are, helping technology companies understand their technologies and helping them move that forward. And yeah, not just working with micro sampling, but analysis. How do we analyze these samples that are now in a different format and how do we deal with the data? And also just looking at other technologies that may be in the future will challenge how we do analysis, you know, at the moment, the way we do analysis, collect samples, make plasma free sample ship sample, defrost sample, analyze it, get data. It is unchanged. And I think there's some benefits to maybe shaking up the apple cart a little bit on that one, and I think the technologies are coming through that in the next 10 years. Maybe we'll see something a little bit different there and a bit of a change in the way we do buy. Analysis that might make it more accessible might make it cheaper to do and not rely on the same old workflow. So that's kind of what I do now. That's hopefully a tour de force of where I'm coming from and a little bit of where I'm going.

Chad:
Thinking back, I want to talk a lot about what you're doing now because it's super interesting with the with the patient centric sampling and where that's coming from. But I wanted to step back a little bit and think about the the two thousands to 2010 kind of in there with with bio analysis and the regulatory evolution over those years. Because one of the things I've noticed is, I think some of the people that are just coming into bio analysis now that didn't experience some of the challenges of the evolving regulations of that period, maybe missed out on some lessons. Would you tell a little bit of a story from your perspective on living through that period, running regulated bio analysis groups in Big Pharma in Europe, and some of the lessons you think should be passed on to the people coming into the industry now?

Niel:
Yeah, I guess. I guess it's always a time of changing what we do. You know, it's the way by analysis is done now. I think it's less certainly within pharma. It's less of a defined science now. The binary analytical groups within pharma are much smaller. They have a lot of challenges. They have some really exciting challenges. You know, the different modalities, modes of delivery, kinds of molecule and the techniques available now are much, much greater than they were when I came through. And I think that's continuing to evolve, as are the regulations that have to surround this because figuring out how to regulate the validation of some of these new approaches, it's quite different to validating and LC-MS method. So yes, I think it's still changing. But I think the bio. Definition of a bio analyst in pharma is very different to the definition of a bio analyst in a CRO. I think the biologist in the CRL is much more like what the kind of training I came up through the bench by an analyst who is solving problems sometimes. But the main job is to get on through the samples and get the data out there. Whereas I think the bio analyst in pharma now is if they're doing an analytical job, they're much more of a problem solver. You know, how do we deal with this tricky technical problem with this weird molecule or this weird mode of delivery or wanting to measure free versus bound or different parts of a of a molecule? You know, there's a lot more challenging, but I think a lot of analysts that job scope in pharma has broadened a lot.

Niel:
Now they're now expected to do a lot of the activities that in the past the project would have had to do. So they're interacting with more people. And I think that's great. You know, they're maybe not learning their trade in as depth as we did, but they're learning a lot more about drug development, and they're finding it out a lot more about where their samples come from and where their data goes. And that was always a big bugbear of mine in the traditional analytical lab. In fact, I even had a boss who really didn't care where the samples came from or where the data went. He was just interested in the bit we did, which is so shortsighted, in my opinion. And you've got to know why these samples have been generated, what the disease is. Why are you doing this analysis and then have an interest in what's happening to the data and what it's being used for and making a difference to patients lives, you know, not just making a bottom line for your company. And I think the best pharma engage their CEOs in that kind of way as well, and they engage them in that because there is that big danger that once you outsource a function and some companies see by analysis as a commodity, once you're just putting that out there, there's this risk of just you pay your money, you get your data.

Niel:
And I think the best pharma company zero relationships are really that there are two way relationship where they bring the crew on board. And so I think the relationship is is changing. And whilst me from 20 years ago, dropping into a modern analytical lab would probably still be able to muddle on through in the bio analytical lab. I think the surrounding things have changed hugely, and I think that's for the best. I think this broadening of expertise and experience for the biological science is a good thing. And it's thankfully forever evolving. And so long as we keep on training our next generation bio analysts in in the basics of problem solving with analytical science, as well as understanding drug development and pharmacology, I think they're all important skills, so they have to know a lot, a lot more now. I think maybe there is less, less widespread respect of the in depth analytical expert. Now, though, they're going to be harder to come by in the future because it's harder to get that in depth training these days and the tools we'll use are going to become more black box like. And that's probably a good thing as long as they keep on working. And so long as an analytical challenge doesn't come up that maybe have to think of a different route.

Chad:
The best thing for us would be to have LC-MS as as turnkey as an automated analyzer in your in your clinical lab, and we're not there yet. But but certainly that makes sense for for drug development and moving forward in the industry. So it'll be interesting to see as we continue to move in that direction. But I feel like in the last 10 years where whereas kind of 2000 to 2010 was that slow shift in regulatory changes and things, I feel like since twenty ten, so much new science and new new things have come into it. Whether it's unique modalities in in the biotech field with different kinds of antibodies and proteins, we're using flow cytometry routinely and bioanalytical labs and now cell and gene therapy is has completely upended everything we ever thought about Bioanalytical and what our roles are. But also, as you alluded to, the your early work in micro sampling, which was the first I would say it was the first time that I saw some of your talks and came to know who Neil Spooner is. You were at one time kind of the dried blood spot guy making the speaking tour so defined for our. Audience, what is micro sampling, some folks might not know exactly what that is and maybe a little bit of a of a history of the micro sampling and how that became what I think it is today of patient centric sampling and COVID, as has driven some of that. So unpack that story for me, if you would.

Niel:
Absolutely, Chad. So the story just started with the need to just simply collect smaller samples for pediatrics. You know, there's this whole thing from the AMA and the FDA giving you six months extra on your marketing license to make six months more money of exclusivity. And that's worth a lot of money to pharmaceutical companies if they put in their pediatric indication. So suddenly, there was a lot of interest, and we're basically brainstorming how to do that, and that's where dried blood spots came up. And then we started thinking more broadly, we started thinking about non-clinical work as well. And why are we doing these rodent studies where we're having to run separate satellite animals, which are between 30 and 50 percent of the size, and the animal numbers are 30 to 50 percent of the numbers of the main study animals, and they're just there to measure the toxic kinetics. We're not measuring any endpoints, so we're ending up getting this toxic genetic data in a different bunch of animals to get in the actual talks at endpoints. And could we join those together by taking smaller samples? Could we use less animals? Could we use techniques that were less harmful to the animals and thereby get cheaper studies, fewer animals and get better data? So the more we thought about the solutions for nonclinical, there was the pediatric. Then we started thinking well. You know, maybe these formats of samples enables us to do things that we can't do with standard sampling if we've got a dry blood spot sample that's pretty stable and can be mailed and we can save money in that mailing.

Niel:
Can we move this blood sampling to a different place that's more convenient to the patient? So we really went through that adventure with dried blood spot sampling, but what we found was with a lot of scientific work that the quality of data generated by traditional dried blood spot sampling, while good for many applications for making decisions for the kind of decisions we needed in the pharmaceutical industry just wasn't good enough with the hematocrit effect. So we started having a lot of conversations outside with different vendors saying, You know, can you get us something that normalizes for this hematocrit effect? Can we collect a fixed volume or can we normalize in some other way? And it was through those conversations with people like James Roche at the time at Phenomena X, who then went away and scratched his head and came back to us with prototypes of the meter sampler. And it was at our labs that we gave him the paper. He was chopping them up and filled. Then if was working in the lab with him to show that the data was good enough that he took back to Phenomena X that led to them forming near Terex as a separate company, which is obviously now owned by Trajan and having similar conversations with other companies. And suddenly you got this explosion of new technologies that collected a higher quality sample and in different means, whether it be a finger prick, whether it be on the upper arm, but in manners that didn't require traditional venous phlebotomy and sort of opened all our minds to, OK, we can we can maybe move our blood sampling to a different place, and it doesn't need to be clinic centric.

Niel:
It can be patient centric. It can be. What does the patient actually need? You know that I think switched on lights for many in the industry, we these technologies kept the benefits of the dried blood spots, but built upon that and made it higher quality. Potentially higher quality data than plasma, but no one dare asked that question. And just getting that data in a simpler way for the patient. And you know, traditionally everything we've done has been based around the needs of the analytical scientists, the volume of the sample, the format of the sample, the tubes it's in, whether it's plasma or whatever. And suddenly we start thinking, Well, what is it that the patient needs and isn't? Isn't the patient needs at least as important, if not more important, than the needs of the bioanalytical scientist? And we're starting to see that shift in thinking that if you put the patient at the center, then maybe you can recruit clinical trials more quickly. Maybe you can keep patients on clinical trials for longer. And that's the really expensive bit. You know, it's really difficult to recruit and retain patients onto a clinical trial and by putting the patient at the center and thinking about that, rather than just pandering to the needs of the analytical scientist, maybe we can run better clinical trials that are quicker and cheaper and give better quality data.

Chad:
So, Neal, you founded, I believe you were the founder of the patient centric sampling interest group and a wonderful group. I'm honored to be a part of it. You do welcome all comers, anyone who's interested to wanting to be actively involved. One of the efforts you had been working towards is a clinical trial to demonstrate some of the benefits to the patient with more patient centric sampling. Can you talk about that trial and how that process has gone?

Niel:
Absolutely, Chad, and thank you for mentioning the patient centric sampling interest group because it is a big passion of mine. Know it's a group that's free for anyone that's interested in progressing these technologies. It's free for them to join. No one has to pay. It's just reliant on people putting in their time and resources to make things happen. And one of the things we're making happen is running across organizations is a clinical trial. We were hoping to start it about now, but with the latest COVID wave in the U.S., we're putting that back because it will unduly influenced the clinical trial. But the aim of the clinical trial is to understand something that to all of us is common sense, but there's actually no data to prove it. And that is whether home sampling versus in clinic sampling helps recruitment and retention on the clinical trial. So we've basically been able to design a clinical trial. We're measuring a marker of alcohol consumption, but we're actually not interested in that at all. That's just a way of attracting people in without dosing a drug to anyone. And, you know, putting ourselves at an insurance risk as an organization that has no money. So they get some data about themselves and monitoring their alcohol consumption over about a month, taking three blood samples. But they're randomized without knowing that there's an option to either be sent into a clinic on three occasions about 10 days apart or getting sent some samples at home and taking samples at home 10 days apart.

Niel:
And basically, we're going to monitor their behavior. We're going to monitor how how many of them see the initial information, how many of them consent, how many of them take the first sample, how many of them take the second sample, how many of them take the third sample and how interested they are in the data that they get. And that's going to give us some phenomenal data that the industry is really interested to hear. Because, as I say, we all think these technologies will help recruitment and retention in clinical trials, but there's no data to actually prove that. So we're very excited to do that. And hopefully we're planning to go back to ethics in March and start the clinical trial in April 2022. And so we should have some, some preliminary data by the end of the year. And the plan is to publicly share that through publications and presentations. So it's very exciting and that really has been a community effort. People have built as websites, they've built as databases, they've built US reports that will face into, you know, the final report that the patient will get people just given their time and their resources for free. It's phenomenal.

Chad:
It's tremendously exciting. And I and I love seeing I don't know if we'd call it a crowdsourcing effort or what we'd call that, but I've, as I said, I'm a member and you've graciously let me join. But I've been more of a spectator, I would say in the in the action, but really excited to see that moving forward. So maybe our discussion today will help drive some more people to join and some contribution. It's interesting to hear that. This trial to move patient centric sampling forward has been delayed by COVID, but I think you might also say that patient centric sampling and patient centricity of clinical trials has benefited from COVID in some ways out of necessity. Do you think that's true and can you tell? Absolutely.

Niel:
You've seen everywhere that I speak to people, whether it's in pharma CEOs or indeed the technology vendors have said it's made a step change. People just simply didn't want to go into clinical study centers because of their fear of catching COVID. And so the industry has had to figure out ways of keeping their clinical trials going for the last two years. And while we were all talking about decentralized clinical trials and patient centric technologies before, it's really come to the fore and, you know, even outside of pharmaceutical drug development, we've seen this happening. You drive by testing home testing. You know, now in the UK, we're all able to get as many lateral flow tests as you want. People never even heard of what a lateral flow test was until a year ago. Now, every British schoolchild test themselves twice a week in order to go to school. You know, we have piles of these things. Before we meet any friends, we test ourselves. So home testing from being a foreign entity is now become commonplace. Ok, that's swabbing your nose and your throat. But a part of that is also it's now in many countries routine to do an antibody test, as well as the antigen test, and that's a blood test. And maybe the micro sampling approaches that they're using aren't the most patient centric, having heard some stories of how it works.

Niel:
But the fact is, people have got used to because certainly in the UK, every person that tests positive for COVID has their antibody measured through a blood sample, so that's suddenly become tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands and millions of people got used to having blood samples taken in the home, and that's happening around the world. So the barriers have really come down, and all the people that said this can't be done, a high enough quality sample cannot be collected. And now coming back and saying, Oh, what was that technology you were talking about three years ago? Could you could you just remind me of that, please? Because I've got this really important clinical trial or I need to, you know, just in routine health care, we need to make measurements that we couldn't before, and people still need blood samples taking. So yes, I think COVID, while a disaster for the world for the last two years has really pushed forward patient centric sampling technologies, although for our particular clinical trial, it would just put too much of a bias on the outcome of the study and would be a waste of time if we did it at the moment.

Chad:
Yeah. For years, it felt like micro sampling was a bit of the tail wagging the dog. If the bioanalytical scientists were with the tail and the dog was the the clinical trial planners and designers and pharma, and we were offering up what we thought was a better solution, but it was just too much to move. And now with COVID in the pandemic, as we've seen in other areas as well, it's I think the patient centricity has benefited. And I think the work that we did leading up, we as an industry that is leading up to it certainly benefited the society. Now, with COVID to enable some of the testing that you talked about and clearly when you talk about your work with IgG, the patient centric sampling interest group, you're a senior editor of the bio analysis journal. You are all about working together across boundaries to get stuff done. I've had many conversations with you at conferences when we used to do those things, and it's always about how can we advance the science together? How can we can we join hands and make this happen? So tell me about some of that work you've done. I mean, you talked about you talk about the bio analysis zone and just giving back in general. Yes, there is a guy who gives back,

Niel:
I thank you, Chad. I think it's really important to work across these boundaries. What always frustrates me is when analytical scientists just talk to analytical scientists and then a surprise that no one adopts their brilliant ideas. You know, what we learnt with patient centric sampling is you've got to get out there and you've got to talk to all the stakeholders and find out what it is that's bothering them and what it is that they need. And you can't force a new technology on anyone, so you've got to talk together across boundaries. So whether that be, you know, forum. Yes, I, you know, Mike Leigh's very good at bringing together people from different backgrounds to just have these kinds of conversations that don't happen elsewhere and hope for the patient centric sampling. Does that same kind of thing? So, yeah, I'm a great believer in when we train our next generation of bioanalytical leaders. A key part of that leadership is is breaking down these silos we all seem to like to live in and just walking into someone else's office or picking up the phone and starting a conversation. And before you know it, you find out things are different to what you think they are and always key to me. And we often still forget this is asking the opinion of the clinician and the patient. There's been a few studies I've been involved with since I've been a consultant where I've said the company I'm partnering with, can we just have a conversation with the clinician who is the representative of the patient? And they've kind of pooh poohed that, but I persuaded them to. And what you then find out by having that conversation with the clinician is often you can do different things to what you thought you could do.

Niel:
And certainly with I've been involved in a couple of studies with neonates and thinking that we could only do one thing and you talk to the clinicians and you find out, actually, no, there's another route. And actually, that route was simpler than what we'd all second guessed what the would be said. And we got a better solution with a better quality sample, which probably led to better quality data, then we would have had without having that conversation. And so just have those conversations. And so as we all move forward in our careers and work with junior scientists, just helping them to open doors to other parts of the organizations we work with because that's, you know, at those interfaces is that's where the magic happens. That's where the new ideas happen. And that's where we we simplify things because I think things could be a lot simpler than they are. We just. We get stuck in this dogma of we've got to do it this way. And when you actually examine that dogma, often we blame regulators, but actually you look at the regulations and you talk to the regulators and they say, it's not us, we're not. We're not telling you to do it that way. You've made this up for yourselves. You've made a bunch of rules that you didn't need and you. You've made it hard for yourselves. And I think we're really good at doing that. So I I try and challenge that in a gentle way where I can.

Chad:
Tell me a little bit about your role in the journal bio analysis and how that's evolved for me personally, I I feel like bio analysis is really fill the niche in the last 12, 13 years that it's become a very integral part of our everything we do in bio analysis with the with the zone and the in the in the journal. And it's really given us a home and I'm not, you know, paid to advertise for for those guys. But I just think that they've it's a business, but they've also done us a great service, I think in the same space and you're heavily involved there. I'd like to hear about that.

Niel:
Yeah, absolutely. So I've been senior editor at Buy Analysis since 2014. So quite a while it on from Howard Hill and Brian Booth, who got that going in such a fantastic way and set that direction. And, you know, hopefully I just helped keep them going with how they think about editorial direction, how they understand that, whereby analytical science is going and helping to integrate them into the community and not just be a publisher that is separate, that just takes papers and publishes them, but actually goes out there and ask questions and solicits content and solicit special issues to just focus on things. So we've got the journal, which is a little bit more of a formal academic type thing, but then you get the zone, which does this kind of thing. You know, it talks to people, it breaks down those barriers, it brings in other opinions and interacts with the world in a different way to dry black and white newsprint. And you know, increasingly, as we're all getting more used to listening to podcasts or watching interviews or watching people chatting, I think that really helps. It personalizes it. It gives people a chance to explain concepts in more human language, people actually having conversations and talking about the real life of a bio analyst rather than the academic black and whiteness. You know, we still need that whole black and white journal thing. But the broader conversation like we're having here today is just as if not more important in actually moving our science forward and doing things differently and breaking down boundaries where there need to be broken down and doing things to bring good medicines for the benefit of humankind.

Chad:
Neil, earlier you talked about leadership and that next generation of leaders and how it's going to be different, that next generation of bioanalytical scientists really. And I'd like to hear about some of the people that were mentors to you and how you are carrying that through to be a leader and generate the next generation of bioanalytical leaders. What advice can you give from your experience?

Niel:
Yeah, I guess mentors. One of the strongest ones, I guess, was Susie Fowles, who was the one that recruited me to SmithKline Beecham, who sadly is no longer with us. She died a few years ago in a car accident that happened in Greece. But she gave me that first break and then, you know, trusted in me to take on increasingly senior roles and encouraged me in that and really helped with the micro sampling at the dried blood spot implementation at GlaxoSmithKline. She was able to break down barriers that I didn't even know were there because she was more experienced and she was just helping behind the scenes as well as coaching. There was some tough love there at times. We've all got stories to tell about it, but I learnt a lot from her and she certainly helped move my career forwards. You know, I hope I can do similar. I have a visiting position at the University of Hertfordshire where I get involved. I do a little bit of teaching with undergraduate students, not very much. I'm involved with a few PhD students and postdocs, students and hopefully through working with them, I'm able to not just help work them through analytical problems and scientific problems, but, you know, think through their career paths. We've all had complicated career paths, and University of Hertfordshire has a background of a lot of a lot of the students there. They're there first in family to university and PhD students from a variety of backgrounds that aren't privileged.

Niel:
And for them, working through how to get into the world of science is just as important as getting their degree or getting their PhD and able to have some great conversations there. And it is something that with the role I have now, it is something I'm planning to do more of as I get older and grumpier. Hopefully, I can work with some more early stage scientists, whether they're still at pre-university, even at school. I've been talking to some friends about maybe what we can do in schools a little bit better, as well as at university, and people were early on in their careers at pharmaceutical companies or crows or technology companies. And just again, helping them to see a bigger picture of where they might fit and where their careers might go. Because I think careers are very different now as well. You know, people move companies more quickly. Companies don't try to hang onto people as much as they used to. And and it goes both ways with this current generation. So all of us figuring out how to live in this new world and this new world where work isn't necessarily the workplace, as we've learned with COVID, you know, there's there's challenges. What do we do with early career scientists who maybe aren't coming into the lab as often as they used to? That's an interesting one as well.

Chad:
Yeah, and that is interesting because in the case of crows, it's been challenging the the I think the people who work in the lab and have their hands on have to be in there in the lab. But I think they found that in many cases, their managers haven't been there as much, and that's quite often out of necessity. If you don't need to be there, you aren't there. And I worry across the industry, not just within my my company, but I worry across the industry that if people aren't missing that, sitting down on a meeting face to face with data printed out and taking a look at it, or maybe even if it's on a laptop or up on a screen, it's a it's a different interaction than what you normally see. And the other thing I guess I would like to share with you, Neal, is I think I think you're also underestimating some of your personal impact on the industry and through the the many, many talks that you've done on dried blood spots and patient centric sampling your presence and your the work that you did with GSK. Just, I'll say in general, bioanalytical moving the industry forward, there are a lot of people who looked at you and looked at what you were doing in the people you developed. I've I've seen it. And so you've touched the industry in a lot of ways. So it's exciting to hear you reach out also through academic opportunities and other in other ways also. I wanted to talk to you about some of your other passions because I think it's always interesting to hear how we scientists spend our time with with other areas and different places they get into. I understand that I don't know if it's similar to, you know, Prince Charles or in his passions with produce. I wanted to throw that at you. But but I understand you're you make a lot of your own produce, cheeses, wines, flavored gin, jam, which I'd like a bottle of next time. Hey.

Niel:
Yeah, I like about this, tell me about these passions. I guess it's the frustrated bench scientist in me that hasn't been a bench scientist for a very long time. But, you know, using those same skills to to make food, I guess, you know, making cheese fun. You know, watching this, this liquid turn into a solid and then something that's tasty to eat and taste better than anything you can buy from the shops. Same with just growing your own produce and then finding ways to either turn it into alcohol or turn it into pickles or jams or whatever. It's kind of fun. And, you know, my poor family all get a basket full of presents every Christmas, and they seem to keep on coming back for more. So it must it must be okay. But yeah, it's it's just a lot of fun, and it's just part of doing something a little bit different from just doing science all the time, and it's a way of relaxing. I find it's important to just find space and time, whether it's walking, the dog, gardening or making things, it kind of just frees up the mind, but it relaxes you. And that's certainly where my best ideas for doing something new or doing something different or starting a new collaboration or things like that.

Niel:
That's the moments they happen. It's not answering my daily emails that these things happen. It's when I'm walking the dog and when I'm making wine that this stuff happens. And I think we all need to find time to free that up. And it's it's what also used to happen when we were face to face at conferences. You know, the best conversations. We're always the ones in the corridors and in the bars, and that's where the creativity came, and that's where the new connections came. And that's where we broke down those barriers and had those new ideas that hopefully were carried on beyond the conference. So, yeah, I like making stuff it. It frees up. It's relaxing. It takes the stress away a little bit and you've got something to show for it. Whereas end of day, with five hours of teleconferences and four hours of emails, you've often not got a lot physically to show for what what happened today? You know, I talk to my daughters in the evening and my wife, what did you do today? Um, I did a bunch teleconferences and emails pretty much like yesterday.

Chad:
Same story for me. Same story for me. Well, today we can say that we produced a podcast, and that's that's exciting. I've really enjoyed. I've learned a lot from you today, even as a guy that I've known for probably 15 or so years, a lot of insights. I can't wait till we can get together again. I can't wait to try some of your gin jam, even though I have to admit I don't have a I don't have a clue what that is right now.

Niel:
Jim and Jamal are separate things.

Chad:
Chad to gin and jam. Oh yeah. Mr. Obama. That's OK, Jim.

Niel:
Which is great. The new thing? Let's make gin jam. I like the sound of that.

Chad:
I'm in. I'm in Neil. I want. I want to thank you for being on. I really appreciate it. Are there any last thoughts or comments that you have for us as we as we wrap up another episode of molecular moments?

Niel:
No other than to say thank you for this chat. This has this been fantastic 45 minutes or however long it is. We've been chatting together. It's flown by. And I think this kind of communication is just fabulous. It's, you know, thank you to you and your company for providing this as a resource for all of us because it's, you know, we get to see each other as as human beings and all the sides of each other compared to stale emails and publications. So yeah. Thank you so much and thank you for inviting me. It's been fun.

Chad:
Thanks, Neil, and I agree. It's been a wonderful opportunity that my company has given me as well to have conversations with great people like you. So so that's all for this episode of molecular moments. If you enjoyed today's episode, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app so you never miss a conversation. If you'd like to hang out with us bioanalytical outside of the podcast, we have many webinars and other presentations available for your enjoyment and education. Visit Bioanalytical to see what's coming up and how you can stay in touch. Thanks for listening to the Molecular Moments podcast.

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