Steve Acott – in gratitude for his life

Steve I attended Steve's funeral on Tuesday in a very full church. And the memorial service unpacked how full Steve's life had been despite his untimely death at the age of 56. I don't think anybody there didn't learn something they didn't know about him.  Steve was my landlord when I got my first job in the advertising industry. And every day I commuted back to a community where there were many different languages spoken, many different faiths and grinding poverty was a reality for many. Not a bad place to get your perspective back. I moved away after a couple of years. Steve and Julia stayed.

I sort of knew he was a chemist. I never heard what he did during the day job. I knew he was a father and grandfather, but also an adoptive father, that he had become a priest, that he was approachable, frequently hilarious, humble and spent his life with ordinary people. And then Chris Stiller one of his colleagues at Sanofii Aventis stood up and talked about what Steve had been doing during the day. I've never heard someone's work talked about at a memorial service as Chris talked about Steve. And it was an eye opener to me.  Here's the transcription.  It makes me grateful for a life well lived. Here was a man who was at the cutting edge of pharmaceutical chemistry. But who came home – insisted on leaving his mobile phone on 24 hours a day in case anybody needed help and who did the accounts for the local pregnancy crisis centre.  I thank God for him and I miss him.

" Firstly I would like to thank Julia for giving me, on behalf of sanofi-aventis, the opportunity to say a few words about Steve. I am really honoured to be able to publicly recognise the massive contribution he made over the last 28 years – to the Dagenham site, the products we make, and the people that have, and still work there.

Steve joined what was then May & Baker in 1982 as a Research Scientist in the Process Chemistry department. He worked on a many research projects and compounds, helping to isolate new molecules, developing new isolation processes, and new analytical methods and techniques. Clearly, having achieved a PhD in the area of Bioinorganic Chemistry, Steve was able to make a significant contribution to the research effort at that time.

In 1989 he was promoted to head up the Process Analytical Development Group and in 1999 became Head of Process Chemistry.

Having spoken to some of his colleagues who worked with him then, they all say what a great scientist Steve was, and in particular what a great boss he was – very supportive, always had time for his staff, and had a lot of respect from his peers across the organisation.

In 2000 the Research group at Dagenham closed down and Steve was made redundant along with his team, and of course many others. As you would expect from Steve, he did his best to make sure his team were looked after.

Steve soon started a new job in the chemical plant which was, at that time, owned by Rhodia. But the situation was rather tenuous and he was keen to get back into Aventis, as the Company name had now become. 

I first met Steve in 2001 when I interviewed him for a Quality Manager vacancy – and I do remember that interview. I also remember Colin Ward telling me that we shouldn’t waste any time getting Steve back into the labs, and soon after that we were able to offer him a position in the newly formed Analytical Development department, albeit on a temporary contract.

Within 6 months we had found Steve a permanent position as Analytical Development Team Leader with the task of re-building the function and expertise at Dagenham – later to be quaintly known as Acott’s antiques! But even though Steve brought with him a good reputation we didn’t really envisage the sort of contribution he would make over the coming years.

At that time Aventis was going through quite a drive on Quality and Compliance and we had major initiative to get all of our Analytical methods and equipment validated. Steve put that programme together and, with the help of his new team, delivered it on time; we were one of the first sites to achieve 100% completion.

We then hit a bit of an issue with our number one Oncology product Taxotere – the famous crystallisation crisis. There were countless meetings in Paris and at Dagenham that Steve attended and much investigative work was done by Steve and his team. Steve got more and more involved and he started to take on a higher profile. He had found something to really get his teeth into – a physical chemistry issue with a multi billion pound product; I can assure you not for the faint hearted.

Many meetings that Steve was involved in were also attended by some very senior people in the Company.  But so often they looked to Steve for explanations, advice and guidance, and Steve was able to communicate with them in the same way he did with anyone – no fuss, no frills, just logic and science.

It is difficult to remember when Steve was not the go-to person when it came to understanding and explaining how our products are designed, and why they behave like they do. Even for the new products that have come to site, he seemed to know all about them and quickly became our resident expert.

He continued to re-build the Analytical expertise at Dagenham over the next few years.  He was a key member of the team that transferred another major sanofi aventis Oncology product, Eloxatin, to Dagenham, and led the teams that transferred all the analytical methods. 

It is probably now in Company folklore about the birth of Taxotere 1 vial but Steve took on the challenge of designing a formulation change to this multi-billion pound product – so no pressure then!

Steve and the team set about their work, and after convincing the commercial team that the formulation worked, Steve continued to work closely with his colleagues in Dagenham and Paris to help industrialise and register the product. Late last year HIS Taxotere 1 Vial was approved in Europe. Patients started receiving the product in February this year and just a couple of months ago, Taxotere 1 Vial was also approved in the USA.

So although Steve’s life has been cut cruelly short, at least he knew that he played a key part in developing a new product for patients – and for the record, hundreds of thousands of patients per year are treated with Taxotere.

Because of his expert knowledge, Steve, along with others, would regularly visit hospitals or give presentations to hospital pharmacists to explain how Taxotere worked and how to handle it properly.  Of course pharmacists have a bit of a reputation as ‘know it alls’ – but they always learnt something from Steve. And Steve did these things, not just because it was his job, but because he wanted to, and he enjoyed it.

Steve was a key member of the team that industrialised Jevtana, the first Oncology product to come through the Company’s R & D process since Taxotere in the 1990’s. It was around the time Steve started his chemo treatment that we received approval of Jevtana in the USA. So another Oncology product that Steve helped get to patients.

There are very few people at Dagenham who had the breadth of contacts across all divisions of the Company – Steve truly had international recognition, as borne out by the messages received from France, Germany,  Italy, and the USA to name a few. And what people say is so consistent – great scientist, good ideas, great to work with, reliable and dependable.

So many people at Dagenham have great memories of Steve, the work he did, and the way he treated people. Of course it wasn’t all work that we remember him for – may be just enjoying his company travelling to a meeting in Paris. And several of us also have good memories of Steve on the golf course and playing badminton.

When you speak to anyone who worked with Steve you will find real appreciation of him as a scientist, a professional, a manager and as a person. This is a real statement about who Steve was, and Dagenham have been very fortunate to have had such a person in their ranks.

But for me, the one thing that makes Steve stand out was his humility. Whatever his achievement or contribution he would never want to make a big deal of it, and would always want to recognise someone else’s efforts or contribution.

Steve was an outstanding scientist and certainly one of the best that has worked at Dagenham in recent years. He was totally committed to doing his best for the Company and for the people he worked with. There are few people in recent years that have made a greater scientific contribution to the products we make at Dagenham, that ultimately improve the lives of millions of people across the world.

We, and many others, will miss him greatly."

Nuff said.




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