The miracle medicines of a playboy trader and his crypto banker friend

Remember Aziz McMahon? He’s the guy who quit Goldman Sachs in May 2021 after reportedly becoming a dogecoin millionaire.

McMahon was widely reported to have banked at least £10mn having gambled on tokens including ether and dogecoin. The talk when he left Goldman was that McMahon would be setting up a hedge fund. Instead, he’s in partnership with Damien Hancox, whose business history is no less incredible.

McMahon and Hancox are chair and chief executive respectively of SpectrumX. The UK biotechnology group, which claims to have rights to “one of the most revolutionary treatments since the discovery of penicillin”, is hoping to float on the London Stock Exchange’s main market at a value of approximately £50mn.

Its product is hypochlorous acid, or HPCL, a natural biocide first discovered in the early 1800s. SpectrumX was founded in the first few months of the pandemic to exploit UK and European marketing rights to a stabilised form of HPCL developed by a California-based entrepreneur, Hoji Alimi, and his privately owned company Spectrum Antimicrobials Inc (SAI).

“Having never heard about HPCL before I found it, it was almost too good to be true,” Hancox told FT Alphaville. “I think it can kill every virus, every bacteria known to man.”

Hancox first met Alimi in early 2020. Their matchmaker was an old acquaintance of Hancox’s, Oliver Morley. An industrial property developer and motorsport enthusiast, Morley is perhaps best known for losing a 2019 lawsuit against Royal Bank of Scotland over a £75mn loan that he spent in part on cars, a yacht and a jet.

Morley and Hancox founded SpectrumX in July 2020 with ownership split 50-50. A few months later the company was lobbying the UK government (unsuccessfully) to approve SpectriPOD, a walk-in disinfectant tunnel made out of a shipping container, as a way to make crowd events Covid safe.

In several ways, Hancox is not a typical listed company CEO. His previous brush with media fame was when a five-month marriage to model Marilyn Levesque ended with a notoriously expensive and acrimonious High Court case.

In 2007 Hancox declared himself bankrupt following a legal run-in with celebrity developers Nick and Christian Candy over missed payments for property in their Manresa Road development in Chelsea. Hancox, who at the time was living in Monaco, said that in the years before the 2008 house price crash he was “involved quite heavily” in the Candy brothers’ London residential developments.

For a prospective publicly owned company, SpectrumX also has some unusual aspects. Employees include Susy Castro, a social media influencer. Castro has been communications director since February 2020 according to her LinkedIn profile and, based on their Instagram profiles, appears to have become Hancox’s girlfriend at around the same date.

Hancox himself keeps a lower media profile. His LinkedIn page and biography on the SpectrumX website say nothing whatsoever about pre-pandemic business interests. Press reports on his 2013 divorce refer to Hancox only as commodities trader.

Hancox explained that between 2017 and 2020 he ran a Hong Kong-registered brokerage that bought gold doré from Ghana and sold it to Dubai, mostly to a refinery owned by the notorious Kaloti group.

For several years after his 2013 divorce, Hancox was “taking a bit of time off”. Beforehand, one of his investments went sour in a suspected missing trader tax fraud.

Hancox seems to see himself as a victim of the scheme, saying that in 2004 or 2005 he had taken board roles in the Greystone and Evolution network of companies and invested “quite heavily” on the invitation of a friend. He had been unaware of the situation until recently and his “investment was also never returned”, he said.

Companies House filings list Hancox as a founder director of UK-registered Greystone UK Trading Limited and Greystone Export Trading Limited. Both companies had their main accounts at First Curacao International Bank, which Dutch authorities shut down in 2006 on suspicions that it was running services for Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) fraud networks.

Greystone UK Trading began a decade-long compulsory liquidation process in 2012 and Greystone Export Trading was dissolved last August, having been put into liquidation in 2010. Grant Thornton, liquidator to Greystone UK Trading, said in its insolvency report of 2013 that “it appears the Company was involved in missing trader intra community VAT fraud.Its final winding up notice in September 2021 said some debtor companies were involved in MTIC fraud on a “large scale”.

Evolution Export Trading Limited, another of Hancox’s directorships, was liquidated in 2010. He was named in a 2005 High Court judgment related to the trade of Nokia handsets through Dubai.

Asked about MITC fraud, Hancox said he was consulting his lawyer having only found out in November that one of the companies, Greystone UK Trading, was still active. He called the allegations “all sorts of sort of nonsense”, adding: “as far as I’m aware, nothing ever nothing ever came of that situation”.

The latest venture has also endured some complications. McMahon agreed to become SpectrumX chair last September, having bought a 15 per cent stake in the autumn of 2020 while still at Goldman. Hancox and McMahon then fell out with Morley and put SpectrumX into administration.

According to the administrator’s report of January 2021, SpectrumX management wanted an IPO to clear its more than £8.5mn in convertible loan notes that would convert at a discount to the float admission price. Disagreements with Morley stalled the process and the two directors decided there was not enough cash left to complete product trials. They had burnt through more than £4mn of pre-float funding, leaving just over £2.3mn in the bank.

At first the administrators tried to find a third party that might buy the business, but abandoned the plan after US partner SAI threatened to pull all its licences on the basis that any sale would jeopardise trade secrets. Instead, the administrator agreed for the directors to retain control while squeezing Morley out. All SpectrumX assets were transferred into a new shell company owned two-thirds by Hancox and one-third by McMahon. (Castro, Hancox’s Instagram friend, witnessed the registration of charge documents.)

Morley declined to comment for this article.

Since its reformation SpectrumX has launched its first product, a non-alcohol sanitising mist. It’s being manufactured and sold by Matthew Moulding’s THG, whose global headquarters is ten miles north-east of SpectrumX’s base in the Cheshire town of Knutsford.

A potentially bigger opportunity is pharmaceuticals: a pre-IPO investment deck still available on the SpectrumX website says the company “holds licenses for both the UK and EU pharmaceutical application of [SAI’s] novel technologies”. The deck and the company website detail ongoing clinical trials of a nebuliser device intended to treat patients with respiratory issues including Covid.

Oddly, however, the SpectrumX administrator’s report cites SAI as “confirming that they would not proceed with the pending licence” for a nebuliser using its technology. Losing the pharma licence might limit SpectrumX to hand gels and detox tunnels.

Asked about the apparent disparity between filings, Hancox said the new vehicle held all the same licences and intellectual property as the liquidated one. SAI co-founder Bill Watson said that following a death in the family he was not able to comment.

Another peculiarity is around the role of Charles Chetwynd-Talbot, the 22nd Earl of Shrewsbury. Cached copies of the SpectrumX website from 2021 list the Conservative peer as a company advisor, though his name is absent from the current roll call. The House of Lords register of members’ interests says his involvement with SpectrumX ceased in January 2022.

In July and October of 2021, Shrewsbury lodged written questions in the House of Lords about government guidance around the use of non-alcohol sanitisers, and in October 2020 submitted two questions about tunnel disinfection systems as a way to combat Covid.

The House of Lords standards commissioners last week launched an investigation into Shrewsbury for allegedly breaching rules against peers profiting financially from their membership. What the alleged misconduct relates to has not been disclosed. Shrewsbury told The Guardian that for legal reasons he was unable to comment on the investigation.

SpectrumX and its corporate adviser Alfred Henry have been aiming for an IPO in the current half, having missed an earlier deadline of end 2021. Hancox said the company had entered the last stages of back-and-forth with the FCA to get the float prospectus signed off, after which it can apply for a listing date. “So yeah, I would say definitely within 2021,” Hancox said, meaning 2022.

If only there were a 100 per cent effective disinfectant for corporate histories.