EVERY day is Mother’s Day for Richard Paxman and the staff at Paxman Coolers, the Huddersfield-based company which has established a worldwide reputation for its pioneering technology used by patients undergoing cancer treatment.
Although established in the 1950s as Brewfitt, which still specialises in manufacturing cooling equipment for the brewing industry, the family-run business diversified in moving circumstances in 1992 when Richard’s mum, Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Intensive chemotherapy for aggressive breast cancer led to Mrs Paxman losing much of her hair, and prompted her husband Glenn and his brother Neil to use their technical expertise and innovative skills to develop a ground-breaking scalp cooler that reduces hair-loss in cancer patients.
“Losing her hair was the most devastating side effect of cancer, not just for mum but the whole family,” said Richard, who was appointed as managing director in 2013. “She was an incredibly strong lady but losing her beautiful curly hair served to reinforce her illness and made her look like she was dying.
“Her hair came out in clumps, it was so distressing, and in the end my sister cut it all off for her. It’s a horrible thing to happen.”
Mrs Paxman died in 2000 but in the intervening eight years Glenn and Neil had harnessed their inventive abilities to transform the unwieldy and largely ineffective cooling systems already in use to produce a cooling cap that now sets the industry standard.
Hair loss occurs because chemotherapy targets cancer tumours and all other rapidly dividing cells, including hair follicles. Cooling the hair follicles before, during and after treatment can dramatically reduce hair loss.
“Scalp cooling has been around for 40 or 50 years but involved things like gel packs, tourniquets and ice packs which are all cumbersome and not very effective,” said Richard. “Driven by the passion of doing something to help mum, my dad and uncle simply applied what they knew about cooling beers to produce the first cooling system.”
In 2007 the first prototype of the Paxman Scalp Cooling System was installed at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and after continuous research and development Paxman launched their third generation cap just three years later. A fourth generation cooling system is being prepared for launch later this year.
“The principles are still the same but the efficiency and usability are improving all the time, as are the aesthetics” said Richard. “There has been a significant investment into the new cap and we’re confident it will be well received by the industry.”
Paxman have made significant breakthroughs into the Asian market in the last five years and are working closely with the US authorities to secure the Food and Drug Administration needed to crack the North American market.
“We have done a lot of work to adapt our products for Asia, where head shape and size are incredibly different to Europe,” said Richard, who hopes to gain FDA approval in the third quarter of 2016. “We have invested in 3D imaging, 3D printing and are examining ways in which can develop a ‘universal’ cap.’
“We have had to make a £2m investment to obtain FDA approval, which is expensive and very time consuming process,” he said. “We have clinical tests taking place at six sites through Texas, Ohio and New Jersey, and will extend into New York and the West Coast in the next couple of months.
Paxman, which is still family run and employs 20 people, turned over £2m last year and is experiencing what Richard describes as “remarkable” levels of growth, which is set to accelerate when the US market is cracked.
“Part of the approval process involves improving our quality management systems and adhering to all FDA requirements. That has meant upgrading our facilities at Fenay Bridge, which provides us with the ability to expand as the business grows.
“We are very proud to be a Huddersfield company, and have strong links with Huddersfield University where we sponsor a PhD looking at in-vitro modelling to better understand the mechanics of our cooling systems.”
Given their continued commitment to improve the quality of life for cancer patients around the world, Sue Paxman would be very proud of what her family’s company is achieving.