Welcome to The Short Read, our weekly peek behind the curtain at the people who make this amazing community tick. Make sure to check back every Tuesday for the latest installment.

With over 25 years of research experience in human molecular genetics, Nick Lench doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Recently he ran the half marathon for Findacure! Previously, he worked as a Director for the North East Thames Regional Genetics Service at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. Here he was responsible for the strategic and operational management of a genetics service that provided DNA diagnostics to a population as big as approximately 4.5 million people! He is also an Honorary Reader at the UCL Institute of Child Health, and was awarded a personal chair in Medical Genetics at Cardiff University in 2005. Nick now works as Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder for Congenica Limited, who offer a software platform for Clinical Genome and Exome Analysis and Interpretation.

Nick Lench

Dr. Nick Lench, Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder, Congenica Limited

What are you working on right now?

We have just completed our Series B funding round, raising £10M. Our main focus now is implementing our strategy to grow the company and expand our commercial operations into the United States and China. Also, as a clinical interpretation partner for Genomics England, we are busy analysing genomes and returning reports for the UK100K Genomes Project.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?

Operationally, keeping everything on track, hitting milestones and remaining agile and innovative as a company is an everyday challenge! Looking at the bigger picture, one of the largest challenges is implementing genomic medicine into everyday clinical practice and demonstrating the real benefits that genetic and genomic data can bring to patients.

Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.

The maturation of single molecule sequencing technology – great advances have been made over recent years; however, we are still waiting for those final performance improvements to move single molecule sequencing into the clinical diagnostic arena and use it routinely for human whole genome sequencing.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am very proud to have been a member of Professor Bob Williamson’s cystic fibrosis genetics research group at St.Mary’s Hospital, London in the 1980s during the “race” to identify and clone the CFTR gene. It was a hugely exciting time and I had the privilege to meet and work with some amazing people.

Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?

That’s a tough question! I think I would choose Archibald Garrod, a remarkable physician who worked in London at the turn of the nineteenth century and is regarded as a founding father of medical genetics. He was the first to postulate autosomal recessive inheritance and describe the concept of inborn (inherited) errors of metabolism in a seminal paper on alcaptonuria that he presented to the Royal Society in 1901. I’d love to ask him what it was like to work at Great Ormond Street Hospital at that time and compare it with my experience when I was Director of Genetics Services at the hospital. I’m sure he’d be fascinated in next generation DNA sequencing and our ability to diagnose genetic disorders!

What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

I think I was fortunate and received a lot of good advice! If I was giving advice to scientists starting their career now I would say be ambitious, be prepared to move around and always strive to work with the best. Identify the world leaders in your field and don’t be shy about contacting them and asking to work in their laboratory or department.

Why not check out The Short Read archives?

George Church – “Follow your dreams, not the drove”

Amalio Telenti – Defying the “exome-centric” view

Anna Middleton – “It’s ok to be a bit creative and entrepreneurial”

Nan Doyle – “Get clear on what matters to you”  

David Smith – The “real keys to scientific success”

Hannes Smárason – The importance of Grit

Eric Topol – “Always question; never accept dogma”

Kristen Sund – “You don’t change culture overnight, it happens in baby steps”

Manuel Corpas – “Don’t rely on the future to make your choices now”

Brendan Gallagher – “Let your work’s ripple effects help sort the future out”

Hayley Robinson – When technology outpaces policy

Valentina Nardi – “Like a detective solving a puzzle”

Stephen Kingsmore – “Don’t forget to breathe!”

Judith Benkendorf – “Do not be afraid to look for mentors” 

David Flannery – “If only we could predict the future” 

Sarah Teichmann – Exploring the vast variety 

T. Patrick Hill – “Never forget that humility is the mark of greatness” 

Liz Harley – “Give yourself permission to be challenged” 


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The views expressed in this Short Read are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Congenica Limited