UK finalist 2020 

Dr Simon Hirst

CEO, Sygnature Discovery

Simon Hirst

A trained medicinal chemist, Simon spent his career within the pharmaceutical sector, identifying new technologies which could make drug discovery more efficient and open up new areas of research.  In 2004 Simon started Sygnature Discovery, a drug discovery contract research organisation with the vision to make drug discovery more efficient, faster and with less failure.  Since inception, the business has grown to over 420 staff and clients in over 20 countries. Over 80% of their scientists have a minimum of a PhD.  In addition, Simon has co-founded two other successful companies (Step Pharma and Peak Proteins) contributing further to the growing lifescience cluster in Nottingham and the East Midlands.  

Sygnature Discovery undertake early stage research on behalf of pharma and biotech clients into a wide range of serious diseases and conditions, such as cancer, respiratory conditions, and rare diseases like Cushings disease. 50% of their work is now being undertaken for US clients despite being entirely based in the UK. 

Simon has empowered staff, encouraging them to have high level engagement in the science of the projects and to spend time on new research, establishing a culture at Sygnature where failure is openly communicated and acknowledged, uncovering the limitations of drugs early in the process.  This strategy of 'fail early, fail cheap', is strengthened by a focus on knowledge sharing to increase understanding. Scientists work across disciplines to break down silos and enable better learning, and today over 75 patents have Sygnature staff cited as inventors, with 16 candidate drugs in human clinical trials.    The result of Sygnature’s innovative culture is that there are, without doubt, patients alive today who would not otherwise be here, thanks to their research.