Meet the Team

Axol Management Team

Jonathan Milner, PhD

Jonathan Milner, PhD

Chairman and Co-founder

Jonathan is an experienced entrepreneur and business leader with a background in genetic research. When he was doing his postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge, he identified the market opportunity for supplying quality, data-rich antibody products to research communities. In 1998, Jonathan co-founded Abcam, and since then he has led the company from a start-up to become the global leader in the supply of protein research tools.


Yichen Shi, PhD

Yichen Shi, PhD

CEO and Co-founder

Yichen gained his doctorate in neuroscience and stem cell biology from the University of Cambridge. During his research he identified the need for a high-quality supplier of human cells; both iPSC-derived and primary, complete with media, supplements and all the critical ingredients for successful research with human cells. His entrepreneurial spirit combined with his passion for cell-biology led to the creation of Axol where innovation, quality and customer service are the key drivers.


Sanj Kumar

Sanj Kumar

Chief Business Officer

Sanj's research background is as a protein chemist in the Institute of Neurology and Nagoya University. He moved into the business of life science in 1992 and has since held leading commercial roles at a number of biotechnology companies, such as Biacore and DiscoveRx, where he has built his expertise in both clinical and drug discovery markets. At Axol, Sanj is responsible for creating and executing the company's commercial strategy, as well as leading the commercial team. In his spare time, he also serves as chairman for ELRIG, UK.


Ed Ralph, PhD

Ed Ralph, PhD

Non-executive Director

Over the past decade Ed has held various leadership roles within Marketing, eCommerce and IT at Abcam, the global leader in antibody and protein research reagents. As the 7th employee at Abcam he helped build the company to the 700+ employees it is today. Ed also served on the Council of Advisors for Red Gate Software, a company that prides themselves for making 'ingeniously simple tools'. His academic background is in biochemistry and molecular biology, having earned his PhD from the University of Sheffield in 1998, followed by a short post-doc stint at the University of Cambridge.


Axol Advisory Board

Chris Torrance, PhD

Chris Torrance, PhD

Scientific Advisor

Chris is an innovative R&D leader and a seasoned biotech entrepreneur. His principal expertise lies in oncology and drug discovery. Chris pioneered the use of isogenic cancer cell models in high-throughput drug screening. In 2007, He founded Horizon Discovery, a translational genomics company which supplies genetically edited cell lines for research into personalised medicine.


Steeve Rees, PhD

Steve Rees, PhD

Scientific Advisor

Steve is President of Screening Sciences and Sample Management, AstraZeneca, sits on the Board of Directors, European Laboratory Robotics Interest Group (ELRIG) and is a member of the Europe Council, SLAS. He is a renowned expert amongst the drug discovery community.


Chas Bountra, PhD

Chas Bountra, PhD

Scientific Advisor

Chas is recognised for his open access approach to drug discovery and has made several noteworthy contributions to the field. A pioneer in the identification and validation of numerous drug targets, he has formed a number of successful collaborations between the public and private sectors to implement more efficient strategies for drug discovery.

Chas currently heads one of Europe’s major academic drug discovery centres, the Structural Genomics Consortium and is Professor of Translational Medicine at Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, both based at the University of Oxford where he is also Associate Member of the Department of Pharmacology. Current projects include using X-ray structures of novel proteins to generate small inhibitory molecules for drug target screening in human cells, with a particular focus on epigenetic and genetically-identified proteins. In addition, he is involved in translational studies for Alzheimer’s and rare diseases. Former Vice-President and Head of Biology at GlaxoSmithKline, he has worked at almost every stage of drug discovery and development and specialises in several therapeutic areas namely gastro-intestinal, inflammatory and neuro-psychiatric diseases.


Paul Andrews, PhD

Paul Andrews, PhD

Scientific Advisor

Paul is an expert in the industrial application of stem cells in phenotypic screening, having previously used this platform to identify agents that steer cell fate.

Paul is Director of Operations at the National Phenotypic Screening Centre (NPSC), a new open collaborative venture based at the Universities of Dundee, Oxford and Edinburgh. He also sits on the editorial board for Current Research in Drug Discovery and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology. He has been a Trustee of the British Society of Cell Biology, Advisory Board Member of the Scottish Stem Cell Network and was team leader in Cellartis/Cellectis Stem Cells. Prior to this he was team leader for the Stem Cell Technology Programme in the Drug Discovery Unit at The University of Dundee and has over 20 years of postdoctoral research experience in cell and molecular biology.


Darrin Disley, PhD

Darrin Disley, PhD

Industry Advisor

Darrin holds a PhD in Biotechnology from the University of Cambridge and has been involved in the start-up and growth of numerous business ventures where he has a track record of securing over $300 million business financing from grant, angel, corporate, venture capital and public market sources as well as closing over $450 million of product, service, licensing and M&A deals.

He is currently CEO and President of Horizon Discovery Group plc a company he has led from start- up through its listing on the London Stock Exchange in 2014 where he achieved a $113 million placement a record for a life science company from the Cambridge cluster. In 2012, he was named Business Leader of the Year at the European Life Science Awards, in 2014 was named Executive of the Year by Scrip a global award recognising leadership in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and in 2015 was named UK Quoted Company Entrepreneur of the Year, Cambridge Business Person of the Year and one of the 175 Faces of Chemistry by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Darrin supports academic, entrepreneurship and mentoring programs in the UK via the Professor Christopher R Lowe Carpe Diem Enterprise Fund and is an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Judge Business School and Enterprise Fellow at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Institute of Biotechnology both at the University of Cambridge. He is currently Chairman and co-founder of GeoSpock Ltd, Chairman of Desktop Genetics Ltd, Non-Executive Director of Cell Therapy Ltd, Board Member of the UK Bioindustry Association, Regional Council Member of the Confederation og British Industry and serves on the advisory boards of HealX3 Ltd, SimPrints Ltd, GeneAdviser, Cambridge Ahead, the Cambridge Phenomenon, the Cambridge Science Centre and Biotech and Money as well as working with national and international bodies aimed at promoting the thriving UK life science industry.


Steve Finkbeiner, PhD

Steve Finkbeiner, PhD

Scientific Advisor

Steve Finkbeiner, MD, PhD is renowned for his research in neurodegenerative conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. He is perhaps best known for his invention of a robotic imaging device that has helped to elucidate the mechanisms behind learning, memory formation and neurodegeneration. Steve Finkbeiner’s research focuses on understanding how neurodegeneration occurs and elucidating therapeutic strategies to intervene. He has an impressive record of publications and sits on the editorial board of several journals. Dr Finkbeiner has received numerous awards for his work and has also established a centre to accelerate the identification of treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, which heavily relies on the use of iPSC models.

Dr Finkbeiner is currently Associate Director and Senior Investigator at Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease, Professor of Neurology and Physiology at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and Director at Taube/Koret Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research. Prior to this he carried out a research fellowship at Harvard Medical School and completed an internship (internal medicine) and a chief residency (neurology) at UCSF. He achieved his MD and a PhD in neuroscience from Yale University.


Maria Grazia Spillantini, PhD

Maria Grazia Spillantini, PhD

Scientific Advisor

Maria Grazia Spillantini FMedSci FRS, is Professor of Molecular Neurology in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge. In 2013, she was elected as a fellow of The Royal Society. She is most noted for identifying the protein alpha-synuclein as the major component of Lewy bodies, the characteristic protein deposit found in the brain in Parkinson's disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.

Her interest is in the identification of the mechanisms leading to neuronal death and clinical phenotype in diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and frontotemporal dementia. In particular, her group studies the role of microtubule-associated protein tau and alpha-synuclein aggregation in the neurodegenerative diseases. Her work extends from genetic studies in patients to disease models. Her aim is to identify mechanism-based therapies for these diseases.


Maria Grazia Spillantini, PhD

Mahendra Rao, MD, PhD

Industry Advisor

Mahendra is a researcher known for his work involving human embryonic stem cells and other somatic stem cells. In 2011, he was appointed Director of the National Institutes of Health Center for Regenerative Medicine. He received his MBBS from Bombay University, India, and then earned a PhD in developmental neurobiology from California Institute of Technology.

After postdoctoral work at Case Western Reserve, he became an independent researcher at University of Utah. Next he joined the National Institute of Aging, where he studied neural progenitor cells and their potential clinical use. Dr. Rao was also the VP of Regenerative Medicine at Life Technologies. Additionally, he co-founded Q Therapeutics, a stem-cell research firm and serves on USDA Cellular Tissue and Gene Therapies advisory committee and more. Mahendra also holds a joint research appointment in NIAMS and NINDS.