An experienced research scientist herself, Sonia Houghton knew just what was needed from a biological sample storage and logistical management service when she set up Cryoniss.
Having already established a first class internal service for AstraZeneca, providing next day delivery of qualified cell lines to its scientists, she had the expertise to launch a contract service organisation to do the same for other research, pharmaceutical and biotech enterprises all over the world.
Supported by the Alderley Park Accelerator Team, the Chief Executive of Cryoniss completed a Customer Discovery exercise, ensuring she knew what prospective customers would need and want.
Launched in April last year, Cryoniss now has two storage facilities that between them can hold greater than a million samples from room temperature down to vapour phase liquid nitrogen (minus196°C).
Headquartered at Alderley Park, the largest bioscience business park in the UK and home to more than 200 scientific businesses, Cryoniss also has its world-class vapour phase liquid nitrogen storage facility there too.
Its second operating facility is on the Heath Business and Technical Park in Runcorn, Cheshire, complete with capabilities of storing biological samples at ambient temperatures, plus 4 °C, minus 20°C and minus 80°C. With expertise in facilities management, the landlord, SOG, provides exemplary support and opportunity for rapid growth for Cryoniss.
“I have spent much of my career as a research scientist, which is why I understand that high quality samples are the cornerstone of scientific excellence,” Sonia said.
“We also have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure patient samples remain of the highest quality.
“We have put a huge amount of thought, effort and scientific knowledge into the process and have optimised every stage of the storage and logistics process.”
A graduate in molecular and cellular biology, she herself worked for many years for AstraZeneca, generating purified proteins for oncology assay development and supporting oncology target optimisation projects .
She has also worked for Cancer Research Technology in London, where she helped to develop bespoke cellular-based assay for validation studies in cancer drug discovery, and as senior research bioscientist for the Antibody Generation Group.
It was during her time at the latter that Sonia gained direct insight into the challenges of designing and running clinical trials and supported technological challenges for patient stratification.
Ultimately, she was approached to lead the company’s Global Cell Bank, the liquid nitrogen storage and distribution facility and it was here that Sonia began working with Philip Hargreaves, her right-hand man and future co-founder of Cryoniss.
By the time Sonia left in 2019, “We had a team of PhD scientists bringing in brand new cell lines, banking them down to best practice techniques and after successful completion of quality control analysis, the other half of the team coordinated the shipping of cryopreserved cell lines around the world.”
Alongside this, the team coordinated the purchasing, licence negotiations and international shipments of cell lines for AstraZeneca UK researchers. “The whole team worked together to build a service that we were all really proud of,” she said.
AstraZeneca is moving its research to a brand-new facility in Cambridge and when, last year, Sonia was offered the opportunity of taking over the cell bank completely, she did. “That was the step – that was the beginning of Cryoniss,” she said.
With a strong scientific background in supporting early-stage drug discovery projects through to clinical trials and life-cycle management, Sonia and Phil, Chief Operating Officer of Cryoniss, understand the challenges researchers face daily.
“For us, it was and still is about managing that process,” she said, “ensuring the samples remain of the highest quality.
“We provide an excellent service.”
Working with a network of partners chosen because they provide the same exceptional level of customer service, Cryoniss offers its own customers a holistic package of support that includes the acquisition of quality, ethically and legally sourced reagents, regulatory advice and guidance, end-to-end logistics solutions and the co-ordination of quality control testing of mammalian cell line reagents.