The giant conglomerate Hanson once lauded its USA expansion with the slogan ‘a company from over here doing rather well over there.’ Abgent is a San Diego antibodies company from over there looking to do rather well over here.

Humans and animal immune systems contain a large number of antibodies. In humans, that number is very large — more than 15 billion — all of which would fit into a very tiny space.

Antibodies are the defence mechanism against disease. When you have a cold for four or five days, the antibodies fight the virus, adapting and mutating to meet and destroy that particular strain.

But antibodies can also be designed, created and modified in the laboratory and their use in research and drug development is big business.

Founded in 2001 by two Chinese scientists, both now American citizens, Abgent surfed the wave of biotech’s popularity in California’s Biotech Valley. Unlike the UK, the USA is far more open to risk and willing to advance greater amounts of venture capital.

The company took off and by 2003, was selling in Europe. Now Abgent has reached the critical mass required to launch a major expansion across the continent.

European sales and marketing manager James Mosedale was recruited a year ago to spearhead that expansion from a base in Milton Park.

“Abgent has a very ambitious target with the acronym GOAL,” explained Mr Mosedale.

“GOAL stands for Genome Omniscient Antibody Library, which was founded in the light of the Human Genome Project. Within five years, we want to have an antibody for every human protein. At 30,000 plus proteins, that’s some target, but we’re confident we can hit it.”

The European headquarters at Milton Park represents the third arm of the company’s operations.

San Diego is not only the head office, but caters for research, custom antibodies and peptides and customer service. The branch near Shanghai also conducts research and some customer service. With the need to offer customers a service round-the-clock, San Diego and Shanghai cover the world’s time zones.

Since joining Abgent, Mr Mosedale has been finding and appointing distributors. As those who have gone this way will know, that is no easy path to follow.

Agents must understand and be able to sell credibly into your market.

Since distributors often represent several manufacturers, it is vital that your products are not simply one more in the catalogue, and end up at the bottom of the pile.

Using a variety of methods including networking, conferences and researching what Abgent’s competition is doing, Mr Mosedale has gradually honed his selection.

But with the exception of France and Germany, distributors are a short-term solution; the target is to sell direct and the staff complement in Oxfordshire is set for expansion to address demand.

France and Germany are not only key markets, but also difficult ones in which to sell, particularly for an American corporation. The answer has been to appoint exclusive distributors.

Switzerland, Spain, Scandinavia and Austria are good markets too, as is Italy, but the latter sells mainly to academia and that presents its own problems.

Mr Mosedale said: “Our standard terms are 30 days, but the Italian system is such that it is more like 90 days. We find it far easier to deal through our Italian distributor, who talks Italian to Italian and can achieve things we can’t. It’s a cultural thing.”

Eastern Europe is growing, but slowly, with a number of countries serviced by the Austrian distributor.

Overall, Europe contributes ten per cent of the Abgent turnover. The aggressive expansion plans aim to increase that to 20 per cent.

While the vibrant USA market dominates the company’s income, Asia – especially Japan – is significant, with the small Chinese market gradually expanding.

Abgent offers significant strengths in stem cells, neurology and an area called autophagy, which is key in tackling cancer.

As part of the GOAL project, the company is targeting to introduce 3,000 new antibodies a year.

“This is our first year in trying to hit the 3,000, but we’re well on track to do so,” explained Mr Mosedale.

Customers worldwide are a mix of academia and industry. Academics tend to buy from the Abgent catalogue, while industry can afford the more expensive custom products.

Speed of response, allied to quality and customer service, are the cornerstones of the Abgent ethos. Custom products can be shipped within two weeks of order, truly a swift turnround.

With a catalogue of 11,000 products, customers have access to a wide range of antibodies and peptides. The data reward scheme allows customers to win free products in return for feeding back data on purchases they have used in their research.

Recognising that Europe is a different market in its own right, the Milton Park operation is being geared to act as the point of contact for European customers, and already holds large quantities of stock for direct shipment.

September will see the launch of the multi-lingual European website, which will offer online sales, as well as direct contact with both Milton Park and the distributors.

Mr Mosedale said: “We continually research the markets to know and produce what is ‘hot’ in the scientific world, and we have the service to back it up.”