KCAS Q&A with John Perkins, PhD (Senior Scientific Expert, Small Molecule Development)

How will your background in science play a role in your new Senior Scientific Advisor position?

I feel that my skill set has evolved consistently since my graduate degrees where I’ve learned different yet complimentary lessons about data presentation, data interpretation, marketing, customer partnering, optimizing operational processes, customer management and collaboration with co-workers.

Longer term I’ve found that the skill set with the ability to balance the operational processes with the revenue demands of the business and the needs of the customer is absolutely vital, particularly in a senior level role. That way you can influence those around you to do the right thing for the long-term health of the business,

Much of my role over the past several years has been attending to the balance between those three separate requirements so it’s really exciting to have a formal role where this is a fundamental goal. It’s also great the company recognizes how important this balance is and has created a position with that balance as the primary focus.

 

Tell us a little about your background and how you came to join KCAS?

I did chemistry as my undergraduate degree but was not sure where I wanted to go from there. I applied to do a Masters degree in Analytical Chemistry and found that chromatography was the discipline that interested me the most. My practical project at the end of that degree gave me the opportunity to see GC/MS in action and seeing how mass spectrometry could identify what you were separating was the final piece of the puzzle for me.

I was then fortunate in doing a Ph.D. with Dai Games in Cardiff looking at practical applications of supercritical fluid chromatography in conjunction with mass spectrometry. This was at a time where there was no routine LC/MS interface so analytical chemists were looking for better approaches for interfacing chromatography with mass spectrometry. I then had a postdoctoral position at NIEHS in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina where the group specialized in interfacing nanoscale liquid chromatography and capillary electrophoresis with mass spectrometry. My arrival also coincided with more electrospray sources becoming commercially available as a step towards routine LC/MS.

From there I worked in the applications lab at Kratos Analytical (Shimadzu) in Manchester. My arrival coincided with the launch of the Kompact time of flight mass spectrometer. The instrument was small enough that we could drive it to customer’s sites to run their samples. This was my first real experience of working directly with external customers and I also used the opportunity to work with the marketing team to present data to promote the instrument’s capabilities.

A reduction in Kratos’ workforce meant that I came back to the US to work for Advanced Bioanalytical Services in 1994, who later became Advion. When I joined, the scientists were responsible for most parts of the analytical process. We developed assays, extracted samples, ran the instruments, communicated to clients, submitted data and wrote reports. As the business grew and regulatory oversight increased it made most sense for the scientists to specialize in parts of the process. My sweet spot was very much in validation and sample analysis where customer management was key to the success of projects and picking up repeat business.

As I moved into management, I was responsible for the project management team who were the scientists with oversight of running projects but also dealing directly with customers. In running that group, I would make priority calls when there were clashes for internal resources. I would also be integral to discussions when assays showed issues and we needed to talk them through with customers. It was a small step from there to go on the road to visit customers and talk about their projects directly. I’m a great believer in the value of face to face meetings and there’s no doubt we became aware of project concerns that we might not have otherwise found about. It also meant that I was able to supplement the efforts what was a relatively small BD team.

The next big step for me was the purchase of a lab in the Netherlands. The initial plan was to work with the lab from the US but we found that integration did not go smoothly and our customers were becoming unhappy. I took on responsibility for that lab and worked with the team to address the operational issues. By listening closely to our customer feedback, we were able to address their concerns to the extent that all customers transferred their assays to our US lab when we closed the Netherlands site.

My experience is the Netherlands was then parlayed into setting up a bioanalytical group in Beijing. Reorganization meant a change in reporting structure and my next options were moving more and more away from customer facing roles. The upshot was that my position was phased out.

In looking for a new position, my main priority was finding a position that combined the science with the customer interaction. In my mind, the role of Senior Scientific Advisor at KCAS is the perfect combination of these two skills and I feel I have found my niche.

 

How will communication and collaboration play a part in your new role as Senior Scientific Advisor position?

Prompt communication has always been a huge priority in ensuring that projects run smoothly. No customer wants to be unaware of what’s happening particularly when an assay hits a problem. At my previous company, my policy within our project management team was always to let the client know as soon as we hit issues and where possible provide potential solutions. I’m a big advocate of regular customer calls particularly when projects are in full swing. Additionally, the more you talk to customers, the more you learn about each other so you can work towards the relationship transcending a business relationship and becoming more friendly and personal.

I also like to have the customer’s own scientists involved in discussions when you hit major problems. They view us as experts so it’s important we lead with ideas but their involvement helps build the collaborative approach to solving issues and making a success of their projects.

 

What intrigued you most about the SSA role at KCAS?

The SSA job description very closely matched what I did at my previous job. This was particularly true when I ran the Project Management team as well as my time in the Netherlands. The difference at KCAS is that the role has been formalized so it has tangible and measurable goals. This means that achievements can be measured and there is accountability in the position. This means I can get a sense of how well I’m doing and a measurement of how much I’m helping KCAS and that really appeals.

 

What are you most excited about for your new role as SSA at KCAS?

Already I’m enjoying being part of a team with a strong vision of where they want to take the business with a plan how to get there.

Over the last few years my focus was on the European and Asian markets. I’m really excited about getting back on the road in the US and reacquainting myself with old customers as well as meeting new bioanalytical clients.

I’ve already observed the willingness to take on challenging projects so I’m looking forward to talking through the scientific approaches at KCAS and how they can help our customers. Paramount to success is the ability to turn projects around promptly so it will be great to work with the Operations directors to learn about KCAS processes.

Most of all I’m looking forward to collaborating with the various teams to make a positive difference to the business knowing this will help drugs progress towards approval and improve people’s lives.