Industry interview: Amit Halkhoree
Amit Halkhoree discusses how he balances his DPhil studies on the gut microbiome, in partnership with Roche, alongside his role of National Director of Communications at Nucleate – a volunteer-led organisation empowering students to commercialise their research.
Q: Hi Amit! Please can you start by describing your DPhil research in partnership with industry?
A: I’m an Industrial CASE (iCASE) DPhil student funded by the BBSRC and I study the interaction between the liver and the gut microbiome. As well as my two academic DPhil supervisors at the Kennedy I also have an industrial DPhil supervisor from my industry sponsor, Roche. This means we can combine the basic research expertise at the University with the translational knowledge of Roche towards research outcomes that can provide a real benefit. My iCASE studentship also gives me valuable commercial insights, as well as offering me an industrial placement, which is fantastic for anyone considering going into industry!
Q: What kind of things have you learned from your industry collaboration?
A: The importance of defining endpoints and the ability to work to deadlines! Industry can be fast-paced and outcome-driven and it’s helpful to apply this kind of structure to my work. I have learned that my time is a resource in the same way as funding is, and industry has taught me to really think about planning and prioritisation. It’s been so valuable.
Q: What would you consider to be a success factor for this kind of studentship?
A: That’s an excellent question! I think with stakeholders coming from very different perspectives, it’s important to clearly define the plans and boundaries of a project from the start. This helps ensure that everyone agrees what the research will look like and what the end-goals are. Ultimately, it will avoid having to spend time remapping things later down the line when you should be focusing on experiments!
“I have learned that my time is a resource in the same way as funding is, and industry has taught me to really think about planning and prioritisation.”
Q: Can you also tell me about Nucleate, which I know you’re involved in?
A: Yes of course! Nucleate is an organisation led by student volunteers around the world which empowers students and postdocs to become biotech founders through mentorship and funding. The idea is to accelerate the lab-to-market journey, removing obstacles to PhD/DPhil students commercialising their research. The flagship programme is the Activator, a 6 month accelerator which offers the opportunity for life science students with (or close to) IP to partner with MBA students interested in launching a venture. The Activator program guides students through a process to pitch their technology to experts from industry and venture capital, receiving advice along the way on things like legal strategy from our legal partners. Through Nucleate, the created companies can be eligible for real, substantial funding for their commercial journey. It isn’t just about commercial experience, but real-world funding, career opportunities, and a large network of peers across the UK and around the world. We recently received approximately $2 million USD from a venture capital firm which we can allocate to projects across the UK and EU.
Q: What is your role at Nucleate?
A: I am the National Director of Communications, which means that I’m responsible for Nucleate’s communications strategy through things like press releases, social media and branding. When I joined, Nucleate was becoming increasingly visible and a careful communications strategy was needed. Now I advise people across multiple organisation chapters on best practice. I had a previous career in social media and communication experience through my TikTok channel so it felt like a natural role. It’s hectic but fun and very fulfilling!
Q: How did you get involved and what has the role meant for you?
A: I became involved with Nucleate through a friend and started speaking to lots of founders, investors, and students involved with the organisation. My network grew very quickly through I soon found myself coordinating with people from diverse roles – not just in the UK but in Japan, India, Mauritius, so many other places. It really opened my eyes to the diversity of roles available after my DPhil.
Q: Do you have any advice for a PhD/DPhil student with aspirations of commercialising their research?
A: I would say that mentorship is the most important thing. Some of the strongest teams that I’ve seen in the accelerator program have established strong support from their supervisors and others around them. It’s so valuable to make the time to invest in this kind of network, and to take note of those that have gone through the process before you.
Q: How do you balance Nucleate work with your DPhil studies?
A: The two roles exercise different parts of my brain, which is helpful! My DPhil research is highly focused on a very specific question and involves lots of detailed data analysis. My role with Nucleate feels like the opposite – lots of networking, exploring diverse ideas, thinking about big-picture strategy. So it’s nice that these roles complement each other. It’s still a lot of work, so I must make sure to manage my time properly. It’s important not to neglect family, friends, and yourself when you have so many things to think about!