Meet The Team

ApconiX was founded in 2015 by co-Directors Prof Ruth Roberts, Dr Richard Knight and Dr Michael Morton as a new approach to providing world-class nonclinical safety expertise to biotech, biopharma and academia.

Our Company Directors

Professor Ruth Roberts


Ruth was Global Head of Regulatory Safety at AstraZeneca and Director of Toxicology for Aventis. Ruth is an established science professional bringing rigorous expert thinking to toxicology, drug discovery and drug development. With >140 publications in peer reviewed journals, she is focused on reducing attrition attributable to safety and toxicity. A former president of the British Toxicology Society, former president of EUROTOX, former secretary to SOT and President of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences, Ruth was the recipient of the SOT Achievement award in 2002, the EUROTOX Bo Holmstedt Award in 2009 and the SOT Founders award in 2018 for outstanding leadership in toxicology. Ruth is chair and director of drug discovery at The University of Birmingham, UK.

Dr Richard Knight


Richard graduated from the University of Bradford in 1989 with a degree in Biomedical Sciences (Pharmacology) before gaining a PhD at the University of Leeds researching the role of adenosine receptors in renal function and toxicity. His research then included post-doctoral studies at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) into the effects of ischaemia/reperfusion injury on cardiac metabolism. Richard joined Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, Safety of Medicines Group in 1996 as a Study Director, and then Project Toxicologist across multiple therapy areas, from early discovery through to market. As Lead Toxicologist for Oncology, Richard was a member of both the Drug Safety and Metabolism, and Oncology Leadership teams with responsibility for safety across the AZ oncology portfolio. Richard has worked on many drug platforms over this time including small molecules, biologics, proteins and oligonucleotides and has been involved in bringing over 30 new candidate drugs into clinical trials and 5 to marketing approval.

Dr Michael Morton


Mike graduated from the University of Wolverhampton with a degree in Biomedical Sciences and completed his PhD in Pharmacology at the University of Leeds, researching adenosine receptor expression in the rat kidney. Mike was introduced to ion channels as a Post-Doc at Leeds and Yale University, patching with the likes of Fred Sigworth and Steve Hebert, then joined the Global Ion Channel Initiative at AstraZeneca. Mike worked at AstraZeneca for eight years before founding ApconiX with Professor Ruth Roberts and Dr Richard Knight. Mike has a serious passion for ion channels and is a serious scientist who wants to make sure that every customer understands the consequences of the results he obtains and works with his colleagues to ensure a better decision is made on drug safety.

Our Team Members

Dr Paul Duffy

Dr Paul Duffy


Paul is senior project toxicologist with particular expertise in new modalities including RNA therapeutics and regenerative medicines. He is an extremely highly experienced project toxicologist with invaluable submission experience in multiple territories including repurposing of existing drug projects for new applications. He has served on the BTS Executive Committee since 2006, and has many publications in peer reviewed journals. Paul is former senior project toxicologist at AstraZeneca and a former board member of Stem cells for Safer Medicines (SC4SM).

Dr Jane Stewart


Jane is a senior toxicologist with world leading expertise in reproductive toxicology and the safety assessment of pharmaceuticals. Jane is renowned for her expertise in problem solving for general and reproductive toxicology as well as in the investigation of endocrine effects and carcinogenesis. Jane has authored numerous pregnancy labels and has helped draft international testing guidelines for pharmaceuticals. Jane is a PhD qualified veterinarian with a degree in pathological sciences.


Dr Damian Deavall


Damian is a project leader with broad expertise in global drug development across multiple modalities. He has over ten years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry within varied projects from early phase discovery, through development to registration. He specialises in leading and managing drug safety programmes, especially within complex alliances and partnerships.

Dr Claire Sadler


Claire is an expert discovery project toxicologist specialising in early project safety assessment and risk mitigation. She has a proven track record in problem solving and in investigational cellular and molecular toxicology. She is expert in designing and implementing bespoke safety packages, incorporating in vitro and in vivo experiments, to drive compound design and selection. Claire is former Director of Discovery Safety within AstraZeneca.

Dr Guy Healing


Guy is a senior toxicologist with expertise in general toxicology and the safety assessment of pharmaceuticals. He is a highly experienced pre-clinical Study Monitor and Study Director, and an expert in study design, conduct and reporting. He has excellent interim management skills developed over 20 years in managing teams in a complex global environment. He has served on the BTS Executive Committee for 10 years, is a member of the Panel for the UK Register of Toxicologists and has over 40 publications in peer reviewed journals.

Peter Ballard

Dr Peter Ballard


Peter is a senior drug metabolism and pharmacokinetic (DMPK) expert with extensive experience in global discovery and development projects. He has a proven track record of international project delivery from early drug discovery through to development and compound registration from over 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry and has maintained a high academic profile with more than 30 publications in peer reviewed journals and presentations at international conferences.

Karen Jones

Dr Karen Jones


Karen is a Senior Research Scientist with over 10 years experience in the pharmaceutical industry within the early drug discovery setting. Karen’s area of expertise is in the development of Ion Channel and GPCR assays which are used for compound screening in various formats from small scale bespoke experiments up to large scale fully automated screens.  Karen is skilled at problem solving and has a proven track record of delivery with difficult targets leading to publications in peer reviewed journals.

Dr Kimberly Rockley


Kim holds a PhD in Pharmacy from Durham University where she studied anthracycline-induced cardiotoxicity and its mitigation by in vitro.  Before this, Kim gained with a BSc in Biomedical Science and a Master’s degree in Cancer Pharmacology from the University of Bradford, graduating with distinction. She also has experience as a Clinical Trial Coordinator at the Haematology and Oncology Centre, University Hospitals Bristol NHS foundation Trust.   Kim is a creative research scientist who enjoys the busy and dynamic environment of ApconiX.

Jane Barber

Dr Jane Barber


Jane is a senior toxicologist with expertise in cancer research, molecular toxicology and discovery project toxicology. She has extensive experience in mechanistic problem solving within early discovery to late stage development projects and discovery project toxicology. Jane has a specialist expertise in hepatotoxicity, in vitro and in vivo problem solving, study design and reporting and has lead global scientific strategy teams developing pre-clinical toxicity packages for discovery and development projects.

Dr Russell Huby


Russell is a senior toxicologist and former Associate Director of Molecular Toxicology at AstraZeneca. His career includes over 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry, 10 years in academia, and 3 years in medical communications. His extensive toxicology knowledge includes specialist expertise in oncology and in discovery project toxicology.  Through working as both a project toxicologist and investigative scientist, Russell is a pragmatic problem-solver with an eye for the possible and the practicable.

Ian Slater


Ian is an experienced toxicology Study Director and Study Monitor gained from a career in the pharmaceutical industry, at ICI, Zeneca and AstraZeneca.   Ian was most recently an Associate Principal Toxicologist in the Regulatory Safety group at AstraZeneca and has a wealth of experience working with Contract Research Organisations on a range of non-GLP and GLP studies.

Ian has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Applied Biology.  He has worked in a variety of roles at ICI, Zeneca and AstraZeneca.  A member of the British Toxicology Society, Ian was Chair of the Study Director Workshop at BTS from 2011-2015, providing a forum of the sharing of good practice and the development of junior toxicologists.

Phumzile Sikakana


Phum studied Biomedical Sciences at Cardiff University before completing her masters at Sheffield University following research into “The role of the phosphoinositide (PI) 5-kinase PIKfyve in phagosome maturation and killing, using the amoeba and model phagocyte Dictyostelium discoideum”. A keen sports woman, Phum swam for Yorkshire until she was 16.  She started playing rugby when she joined Cardiff University and is hoping to continue playing, now she has moved to the Northwest.

Dr Steffen Ernst


Steffen has worked in drug safety for over 20 years with Hoechst-Schering, Boehringer-Ingelheim, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Ipsen in both nonclinical and clinical safety roles.

He is US Board Certified in General Toxicology, a EUROTOX registered Toxicologist through the British Toxicology Society and full member of the US Society of Toxicology.  Steffen attended Medical School in Germany and gained his PhD in Toxicology at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC), Dept. of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutics and the Munich Technical University, Medical Faculty in Germany.

Steffen is the European Review Editor of the Journal of Applied Toxicology (Wiley). Black belt trained in Lean Sigma and Steffen recently gained an MBA from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.

Dr Annette Zaar-Hartmann


Annette is a senior bioanalytics and PKPD expert with 13 years of experience in the early development of biologics. Annette has worked across multiple therapy areas and on multiple biologics modalities including mAbs, mAb-constructs, Fabs, fusion proteins, peptides and vaccines.

She is former Head of Immungenicity, former Head of Bioanalytics for Biologics and former PKPD Expert for Biologics at Novartis. Annette brings an understanding of integrated assay development for PK, PD and anti-drug antibodies as well as expertise in data interpretation and the subsequent development of a tailored PKPD strategy for biologics projects.

Dr Rob Wallis


Rob is a pharmacologist by training with expertise in drug discovery and development.  He has more than 30 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry and is an expert in safety pharmacology with a world-wide reputation in the area of drug-induced QT prolongation/non-clinical cardiovascular safety.  He has presented at many scientific conferences and at the FDA and is a member of the ICH E14 Q&A Technical Group.  He is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Safety Pharmacology Society.

William O’Brien


William is a specialist R&D tax and finance advisor.  A seasoned leader, he has worked across a wide range of industries including Biotech, Medical Devices, Formula One, Defence and Finance. William has a degree in Neurophysiology from the University of Cambridge and an MBA from Manchester Business School.  William is a natural fit for ApconiX as he began his career working as a scientist at the Babraham Institute near Cambridge, using patch clamp and fluorescence imaging to study the role of GTP binding proteins in exocytosis.

Julie Knight


Julie is an experienced finance manager and senior administrator. She worked previously at AstraZeneca as a financial analyst and international budget manager.


Dr Mike O’Donovan

DPhil, FRCPath

Mike is a senior toxicologist with an international reputation in the field of genetic toxicology. He has over 35 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry and has over 65 peer-reviewed publications. As a former Director of Genetic Toxicology at AstraZeneca, he has worked as an independent consultant supporting several companies in the UK and Europe. Mike is currently a member of the Department of Health Committee on Mutagenicity and is a Fellow of the UK Environmental Mutagen Society.

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