Christopher Smith

Ever wondered what it’s like to navigate the worlds of science and business?

Meet Chris Smith, a WEHI alum (2002-2005) who has expertly combined his scientific knowledge with business insight.

From his early days in the lab to his current role shaping the future of life sciences investment as a partner at Brandon Capital Investments, Chris’ commitment to merging academia and industry makes his story as fascinating as it is inspiring.

Chris journey began with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) from the University of Melbourne and a PhD in Immunology from WEHI, followed by an MBA in innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Cambridge.

With over 15 years of experience, he worked as a Postdoctoral Scientist at Cambridge and Business Development Manager at CSL. Now at Brandon Capital Partners, Chris specialises in life sciences investment.

Despite his career growth, Chris remains connected to WEHI, as seen in his recent endorsement of the institute’s first strategic investment fund 66ten, highlighting his commitment to research and commercialisation in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

Reflecting on his journey, Chris credits his time at WEHI for providing him with a solid scientific foundation, lifelong friends and invaluable lessons in resilience. We explore how these experiences have influenced his role at Brandon Capital.

Tell us a little about your current role.

As a Partner at Brandon Capital, my role involves identifying therapeutics, platforms, and devices for potential investment. I coach and mentor researchers to help them de-risk their program/company and become investible.  

If the Brandon Capital Investment Committee decides to invest in them, I will serve on the company’s board and guide its growth and development.   

I’m deeply involved in their research and development programs, helping companies secure the funding they need to achieve their milestones and commercialisation.  

What does your day-to-day work look like?  

My day-to-day work is heavily weighted towards managing companies we’ve already invested in. I still review data on a daily basis and help guide management teams on what to do next. Helping researchers build a company requires an extensive and different skill set than being a dedicated researcher.  

Brandon’s immersive model includes IT, finance, legal, and marketing/communications support. I also spend time with my Brandon colleagues in these areas to ensure our investments get the business-building support they need.  

Then there’s creating global connections to help our companies secure additional investment and attract great talent or commercialisation.   

A smaller portion than you’d expect is meeting with new researchers and evaluating their proposals. 

Why are you passionate about this area of work?  

Helping people and building things drive my passion. My academic training at WEHI instilled in me a love for asking challenging questions and seeking answers.   

There’s something deeply satisfying about proposing difficult hypotheses and discovering if the biology holds true.    

I have worked internationally, and I know that Australia produces great research. The opportunity to create a therapy right here in Australia that could help improve health and wellbeing globally is incredibly motivating.  

What excites you about your work?

I get excited by preclinical data and its translation to human health. Understanding what data means and then the subsequent decision-making and strategic optimisation is truly challenging and rewarding.   

Additionally, being surrounded by world leaders in the field every day fuels my enthusiasm for learning and growth.  

How did you move into this area?  

After completing my PhD at WEHI and a post doc at Cambridge, I pursued business and entrepreneurial qualifications at Cambridge through an MBA before joining CSL in a business development role.    

I had met the managing directors of Brandon Capital, Dr Chris Nave and Dr Stephen Thompon, at a few events and kept in touch. Then when the timing was right, I joined the team. 

Tell us a little about your time at WEHI

My time at WEHI was incredibly enriching and fun. We were working on the cutting edge of biology, asking questions that could shape the immunology dogma.  

I was fortunate to have a very successful PhD with great publications that opened the door to my future opportunities at Cambridge and CSL.   

It also gave me lifelong friendships and peers that have shaped my career and still to this day I work very closely with.

Describe some of your memorable moments at WEHI

When I reflect on the memories of my time at WEHI I can immediately recall how exceptionally hard the PhDs and post docs worked, and how this was balanced with having such a great time. 

From sleeping at WEHI to conduct time-course experiments, to experiencing the resilience gained from seemingly endless experiments not going as planned, my time at WEHI provided me with invaluable grounding that helped me get where I am now.  

What keeps you busy outside of work? 

Outside of work my time is spent with my amazing wife and two daughters. My kids are at an age where travelling is really fun, so we are getting out on lots of adventures.  

I try to get time in the garden and operating any large machinery I can get my hands on.  

What does the rest of 2024 look like?  

This year holds promising prospects. One of the investments I championed, Aravax, announced a $66m raise in January.  They’ll be using this money to go into phase 2 clinical trials in Australia and the US this year.  

There are also some upcoming announcements, that I can’t talk about yet.  But I can say it will be a transformative year for me, a few of my investment companies and Brandon.  

Chris Smith’s journey illustrates the connection between science and business, demonstrating how a passion for discovery can fuel impactful investments that drive change.

To connect with Chris and keep up to date with announcements, visit his LinkedIn profile.

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