Dr Roger Pettman

Doctor of Science Dr Roger Pettman

Tuesday 16 July 2013 at 2.30 pm - Orator: Professor Terence Cosgrove

Madam Chancellor,

It is everyone’s dream to have that ‘light bulb moment’ when they think they have invented something really useful like a better mousetrap, but making that dream a reality is something entirely different. It takes just a few minutes to realise that maybe a better plan would be to just buy a cat. I had an idea over ten years ago to make a chewing gum that you could easily remove from pavements, carpets, clothing and hair. However, having an idea and making it a commercial reality is not something that academics have the background or possibly the motivation to do successfully. Roger Pettman however, is one of those rare people who could do this.

Roger Pettman graduated with a first class honours degree in chemistry from Sheffield University in 1976. He carried out his PhD with Sir Fraser Stoddart on the synthesis of carbohydrate cryptands and their complexation with chiral guests in 1979. He was then awarded a travelling NATO scholarship, one of only 30 awards, made from all disciplines. With this funding he worked with Professor James P. Collman at Stanford, California on the synthesis of face to face porphyrins as fuel cell catalysts. In 1981 he was head-hunted by Shell Chemicals and this was the beginning of an industrial career where he would begin to put his chemical knowledge to practical use. His first achievement was the discovery a new class of fungicides and he soon moved on to become group leader in exploratory chemistry and shortly afterwards, the United States Business development manager for Shell chemical, a position he held until 1992.

Entrepreneurship was clearly in his blood and he moved from Shell to become Vice President of Sales at Sepracor, a company specialising in chiral chemistry. Many people will remember the thalidomide tragedy which was a case of not being able to separate the good molecules from the bad ones. An understanding of how to separate chiral molecules is an important area in drug discovery and polymer chemistry. Roger developed a chemical portfolio worth $80m in a series of acquisitions and licensing in this area. It included university research from Barry Sharpless (Nobel Laureate, Scripps Institute), Eric Jacobsen (Harvard) and Stephen Buchwald (MIT). The latter project for the production of chiral propylene oxide is now one of the largest asymmetric commercial organometallic reaction platforms with over 1 mKg made annually. To commercialise these ideas he founded a new company called Chirex which floated on NASDAQ for $147m and was subsequently bought by Rhodia in 2001 for $548m. Roger continued as Senior Vice President of Technology.

In 200l, he founded Tunstall Technology a company committed to reduce the time for pharmalogical development– it can take 15 years or more for a new drug to reach the market. He achieved this by using state of the art robotics and intelligent software to help expedite the process.

Roger’s passion for starting new companies lead him to co-found Innotune, a company which specialises in developing corporate and business strategies and carrying out due diligence for emerging technologies developed in universities.

Tim Gallagher was the enterprise leader in the School of Chemistry at Bristol at that time and he knew Roger from his days at Shell in the late 80’s. Roger was in Bristol to advise on the possible commercialisation of another chemistry project and Tim mentioned to him that one of his colleagues was obsessed in making an easily removable chewing gum. Roger immediately saw this as a commercial opportunity and managed to prevent the University from just giving the idea away to one of the major confectionary manufacturers.

The first step was to create a company and this was motivated in part by the University Enterprise Competition in 2004. There was just one week to write a detailed business plan to enter. I was convinced it couldn’t be done but Roger with much greater determination went ahead and wrote the plan in just one day and also came up with the company name, Revolymer (revolutionising polymers). The plan was submitted on time and we won the first prize, a share of £35,000. Roger took control and immediately set about raising capital and in a series of ‘Dragons Den’ like interviews he raised £780,000. We invested this in three PhD students, a research assistant and a technician. At this point there was no chewing gum only a black gooey mess in a sample vial which was the new ingredient, but Roger was confident it would work. With the money we bought a small machine to make chewing gum (just one chicklet at a time) and after another six months we had the first chewing gum sample. It looked right and it felt right even though it had been made in a chemistry lab in toluene. Although we went to extreme lengths to purify the sample, I was nervous about trying it I knew that if it was no good then that was the end of the project. But before I could stop him, Roger had put it in his mouth and was chewing it -his smile told me everything, we had the first product. At this point, we were still working in a small office in chemistry and Roger’s plan was to ‘spin-out’ of the university and set up the company in a state-of-the-art industrial facility. In a series of financing rounds he raised another £10 million and with this he rented a facility in North Wales with room for a major workforce. By the beginning of 2010 we had an excellent product, an easily removable chewing gum, which worked on carpets, clothes and pavements, a nicotine chewing gum with control of the rate of release of nicotine, a range of moisturising cosmetics based on the same technology as the gum and a unique bleach encapsulation technology to increase the efficiency of dishwashers. Roger’s vision was to list the company on the stock market, giving Revolymer a real valuation. In 2012, by raising another £25m, Roger floated the company on the alternative investment market (AIM) at a valuation of £58m. Revolymer is the first ‘spin-out’ company from the University of Bristol that has floated on the stock market and its success is completely down to Roger’s expertise, enterprise and determination. The company now has a unique set of patents and a highly technical and well-trained research force of 35 people. Ideas are nothing without being able to implement them and today is in recognition of how Roger made that happen for Revolymer.

Madam Chancellor, I present to you Roger Bruce Pettman as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.


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