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Park People: Mandy Nicolle, Head of Research for Biology at Biocleave

Published on 28 June 2022

This month, we caught up with Mandy Nicolle, Head of Research for Biology at Biocleave – learning more about their work producing specialised proteins and Mandy’s love for Milton Park’s green spaces.

Hi Mandy! Can you tell us a bit about Biocleave in your own words…

We are a small biotechnology company comprising approximately 12 scientists. It’s our aim to make biological reagents accessible for pioneering life science applications and currently a lot of our work is focused on advances in recombinant protein expression. It’s always a challenge to explain this work in reasonably simple terms but I’ll do my best here!

Recombinant proteins (pictured below) are proteins generally made outside of their native host via the process of expression to produce larger quantities than would occur naturally. In most cases they have been identified as having useful properties that may be used in such diverse applications as understanding diseases, effective treatment development and agricultural technology.

At Biocleave, we’ve established a new, innovative expression system where we have ‘re-purposed’ a group of bacteria called clostridia (pictured below) to be used as the host for this process. The types of clostridia we use are non-pathogenic, meaning they are not capable of causing disease, and are typically rod-shaped.

The bacterial-based expression systems we create are unique as they allow us to make proteins that, previously, were extremely difficult or impossible to generate using ‘traditional’ hosts like yeast or E. coli.

What does your role as Biocleave’s Head of Research for Biology involve?

I oversee the research team which features molecular microbiologists, fermentation scientists and protein biochemists, all working on generating target proteins for our research and development projects.

I coordinate the work programmes, ensure we are on track to meet targets and work with the scientists to resolve any issues that come up, as well as developing new methods or improved protocols.

We also put a lot of emphasis on training and staff development, so I spend time each week on a 1-2-1 basis with those that I manage and my direct reports to help them define and work towards their career goals.

What do you enjoy most about your job and working at Biocleave?

Biocleave is a small company and although the work can be challenging, we have an excellent, close-knit team of motivated individuals who are a pleasure to work alongside.

My role involves a lot of troubleshooting and brainstorming with others to come up with creative solutions to problems as well which I really enjoy. On top of this, my role is really varied. No two days are the same, so I get to experience lots of different areas within the company.

Some of the work we do can be very niche and there are days where results make absolutely no sense whatsoever, but when it works, it creates a buzz within the team that makes it all worthwhile.

Also, there’s never a shortage of cake in the office!

What’s an exciting piece of work you’re working on at the moment?

Excitingly, some work that started off as a trial, investigating how well our micro-organisms can generate proteins that are needed by researchers studying a particular group of neglected diseases, has taken off and is advancing well.

Here, we’ve been experimenting with host cells to try and generate greater amounts of recombinant proteins from Plasmodium (which causes malaria) and Leishmania (which causes leishmaniasis) that are typically very difficult to produce using ‘traditional’ hosts.

However, so far, our host has been successful with 100% of the target proteins we’ve tested which is a huge result. We’ve been working on this in collaboration with numerous academic groups in the sector and are gradually increasing the products available in our catalogue, so it’s a very exciting time for the company.

How does your life and work connect at Milton Park?

I really love the green spaces at Milton Park – we’re based at the far end of the Park so we have immediate access to the brilliant walking routes that take you across the nearby fields. I often go for walking meetings with my colleagues round these to discuss technical challenges, staff wellbeing or how to convince our CEO that ‘bring your dog to work day’ is a great idea.

Additionally, having a fantastic nursery on-site has made life as a working parent so much easier; I returned to work when my daughter was nine months old and knowing that she was just around the corner in safe hands gave me great peace of mind and allowed me to focus on my work.

And finally, what do you enjoy most about working at Milton Park?

The resident ducks and geese are one of my favourite things about working on the Park. I love that people wait patiently for them while they slowly meander across the roads and have spent some lovely times gosling-spotting with my daughter on the nursery drop off over the last few years.

Our company also has one of the plots at Milton Park’s urban gardens over by the Innovation Centre – it’s safe to say we’re not very experienced in the art of raising vegetables but we do enjoy experimenting and it was a nice surprise that last year’s efforts did result in a couple of prizes!

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