Richard Paxman is CEO of Paxman Scalp Cooling, a British medical device firm pioneering innovative approaches to combat and prevent chemotherapy-induced alopecia. Inspired by his passionate approach to healthcare, our Director, Business Development Dawn Marie Raczka, HMCC invited him to tell her about his story.
Dawn Marie Raczka: I know this is a family owned company; can you tell us how the firm came about?
Richard Paxman: Back in the early 90’s, my mom was diagnosed with quite advanced breast cancer; she was only 34 years of age. She had four young children, I was only 10 years old at the time in fact, and she wasn’t given a very good prognosis. One of her biggest concerns was her hair, she had beautiful curly blonde hair. She was offered a scalp cooling treatment that could potentially stop her hair from falling out. So she decided to give it a go, very positive- at this point she hadn’t really got upset or cried. She was determined she was going to beat it. But three weeks after her first chemotherapy treatment, her hair started to fall out. That was the first time she was visibly upset.
Seeing how devastating this was for my mother, the family started to try to understand why didn’t it work for her. We had expected that it could work, so why didn’t it work? My dad took the lead, but his interest went beyond a medical product; his family had a long history of refrigeration, and back in the 1950s my grandfather invented a beer cooler. Taking the knowledge of cooling technology, Dad, along with his brothers, started looking at developing a scalp cooling system that could do the same and improve what is currently out there. And that’s where it all began.
DMR: Tell us more about your history once the company launched.
RP: We launched our first prototype into the market in 1997, and it trialed at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary where my mom was treated initially. We also installed a number of systems in the places like the Christie, which is a very well-known cancer center in Manchester.
A venture capital firm invested in the business around 2000-2001, gaining us greater traction in more markets across the UK. This allowed my dad to spend some more time with my mom, seeing how she was getting unwell again. She had managed to get through her first five years of cancer, but when it came back again, it came with a vengeance. Unfortunately, this time it wouldn’t go away and she eventually died back in 2000. That created a reason to be even more passionate about what we are doing, and as of today we are in about 25 markets actively, and have about two and a half thousand installations around the world.
DMR: What an emotional story, leading to a thriving business that does good. So, is this growth due to just yourself going to different hospitals and medical centers, or do you have a sales force?
RP: There are only twenty of us, from sales and marketing to manufacturing. But there is a lot of passion in power in that group! I have held the position of Chief Operating Officer since 2012, and I am also responsible for the international activity of our business. Back in 2010, the focus was on creating new export markets and trying to grow our export, but now exports equate to 50% of our business turnover. Our major focus over the last 3-4 years in terms of growth is the U.S., that is the number one market, and second to that is the Japanese market.
Another important consideration is access to stronger clinical data as well as a real shift in attitudes in the clinicians. Supportive care is incredibly important, and we are seeing more and more medical professionals understanding it’s not only the cancer we need to treat, but also the patient holistically.
Managing all side effects of that patient is critical. If the patient is living longer, we need to make sure that quality of life has really improved. This new approach has been really beneficial to us as a business, and ultimately beneficial to the patient.
DMR: So where, did it all come from? What is the history of scalp cooling?
RP: Scalp cooling has been around for about 40-50 years. Historically, patients used ice packs and then in the 80s, gel caps were developed similar to the ice gel that you put in the freezer at home. Unfortunately, there is a lot of negativity towards that type of scalp cooling, and in my own experience if it’s not done correctly, there is no control in temperature and therefore it is not effective.
In addition to that, the actual nursing requirements and workload is very, very intensive. Usually, this type of scalp cooling equipment needs to be changed every 20-30 minutes. That means you get very extreme cold temperatures, it warms up and then you change it again. So, really not pleasant for the patient and really not pleasant for the nursing staff.
DMR: You are anticipating FDA approval here in the U.S. to be sometime in the spring. Is that still on par?
RP: Back in December 2016, we submitted for clearance with the FDA. It went then for substantive review quite soon after its submission, which was positive. We now have had our first feedback from the FDA with what they call deficiencies and therefore asking for additional information. This is very normal. So we will work on these deficiencies in the coming few days or few weeks and then it will go back in to final review. We are still on target for the first half of 2017 to – hopefully – have FDA clearance. I’d like to think by June we will be starting to put our first machines in the U.S., but that’s dependent on a number of things.
DMR: That is hopeful! Back to your personal involvement; was your plan always to join the family business, or did you have other ideas?
RP: My intention was to never work with the family business, that’s not because I wasn’t interested in it, but I always had other ideas of doing something different, probably working for a larger corporate business and which when I was younger seemed more interesting. Originally, I went to Manchester University to study business, and planned to go traveling around the world once I graduated. When I finished uni’, dad asked if I was interested in working with the family for a bit to save up some money to allow me to go on my adventures.
As I started working for the family business and really began to understand its dynamics, I decided not to go traveling. It’s a decision I don’t regret, and although I may have not wanted to work for a family business when I was younger, I could not have wished for a better and more satisfying job role. Ever. I get to meet some wonderful people, travel the world, and most importantly we really make a difference to patients which is incredibly special.
DMR: What type of charity work does Paxman do?
RP: We are involved mainly in local charities, including the Huddersfield Town Foundation. We support them financially on a monthly basis, which provides breakfast for children at school who may or may not otherwise have breakfast in the morning. We’ve been doing that for the last few years and we also volunteer every Thursday, so we go into schools to actually provide these breakfasts.
We also support Forget Me Not Trust which is for young children who may have illnesses, may not have very long to live, have very rare diseases and other such devastating circumstances. Recently, I was asked to join as an ambassador for The Laura Crane Youth Cancer Trust, which is a teenage and young adult’s cancer charity that provides support and help for teenagers going through cancer treatment.