Interviewed by science journalists

I love to get my hands dirty in the lab.

Monique van Scherpenzeel (1981) exchanged the University for the Business world. In April 2018 she started her own company, GlycoMScan, providing mass spectrometry services to pharmaceutical companies: she performs measurements and advises on formulating research questions.

Until recently, Van Scherpenzeel worked as Assistant Professor of Clinical Glycomics at Radboud UMC. She supervised research assistants but hardly did any research herself anymore. “My work was becoming increasingly bureaucratic. I missed the hands-on of doing research. When I was asked in 2015 by an American start-up company specialising in drugs for rare disease, to perform analyses for a drug for the patients on whom I was doing research, I noticed how much satisfaction it gave me. After all, I knew the young patients from the congresses – there is no medicine for them yet – and this work immediately brought my research to a new drug.” So emerged the idea of offering mass spectrometry services and advice to pharmaceutical companies. With her husband and her uncle, she looked into how she would shape it. “My husband helped me with IT, my uncle gave legal advice. GlycoMScan got started in April 2018. It’s a straightforward business model: I work without investors, and can grow in complete freedom.”

“I get a variety of different questions,” says Van Scherpenzeel. “I can be asked for to do purity analyses in one instance, pharmacokinetic research the next, after that a biomarker study and so on.” She has specialized in the study of glycans, a research field that is emerging in the biotechnology and food industry. “Protein glycosylation analysis is my expertise”. A lot of attention has already been paid to proteins and fats, in contrast to carbohydrates. These molecules present a real challenge from an analytical point of view. They differ only slightly in molecular structure, while the effect can be massively different. Fascinating! These ‘beautiful molecules!’ are a common theme running through Van Scherpenzeel’s scientific career. Initially she was a medicinal chemist and fanatic athlete fascinated by the action of sugars in muscles during sporting activities. She then worked at Organon on the “CarboCarrier” project, and eventually obtained her PhD as a ‘sugar chemist’ at the University of Utrecht. Since 2010 she has been working at the Radboud UMC on the development of new mass spectrometry methods for the diagnosis of patients with sugar metabolism diseases. In 2015, Van Scherpenzeel was awarded the prestigious NWO-Veni grant so that she could start her own research project. At Radboud UMC she studied the positive effects of milk sugar galactose in a group of patients with a specific sugar metabolism disease, PGM1-CDG for short. “Because I already had my own project with my own funding, independent entrepreneurship seemed, as it were, to be the next step. I see it as a godsend that this crossed my path. The service aspect of my business suits me perfectly. I really like the customer contact and at the same time I am very fond of my freedom.”

Van Scherpenzeel has an analytical laboratory at the Pivot Park. It has very sensitive equipment to make extremely precise measurements. At nanoscale, or even smaller. “Recently I have expanded with a third instrument.” Many assignments come from companies at Pivot Park, where Van Scherpenzeel has found her niche. “The facilities are excellent. For example, you don’t have to worry about the nitrogen gas or electricity supply, there is business support, disposal of chemical waste and the packages are delivered neatly to the door. Everything is well organised here.

So this place is absolutely fine by me, I am here for the long haul!”

Summary: GlycoMScan is a young service company based at Pivot Park since April 2018. The start-up provides mass spectrometry and focuses mainly on the smaller and medium-sized companies. Monique van Scherpenzeel is the initiator of GlycoMScan. Her specialism is research into glycosylation. She has earned her spurs as an analytical chemist in the academic world, but now enjoys the freedom that entrepreneurship offers her. At Pivot Park she has found her niche. She praises the spirit of collegiality and community spirit that prevails here, and is very satisfied with the level of the facilities.