Lesson to Learn from the Best Biotech Entrepreneurs: be a Pioneer!


Last week, Biotech Entrepreneurs gathered in Berlin for the Charité Entrepreneurship Summit 2015. As a spectator, I’ll bring you the most important lessons to take on board from successful entrepreneurs. 

The First speaker was James Sabry, Senior VP at Genentech, which I already interviewed on the strategy of Genentech/Roche. The Californian entrepreneur, who founded the NASDAQ-listed company Cytokinetics before joining Genentech, gave us an important glance at the Biotech history.

Genentech basically gave birth to the Biotech era 40 years ago, as Herbert Boyer, a pioneer in the field of recombinant DNA technology, demonstrated that restriction enzymes could be used as “scissors” to cut DNA fragments. These DNA fragments can then be moved from one source to be recombined in another organism via a plasmid, thus creating a Genetically Modified Organism.

As Herbert Boyer first knocked on the door of the Venture Capitalist to fund a company based on this technology, the VC Robert Swanson asked him “Will God let you make a new form of life like this?“. Despite these first uncertainties, the two entrepreneurs joined forces to pioneer a whole new industry.

In 1978, the company, with Eli Lilly, put a synthetic human insuline, the first-ever approved genetically engineered human therapeutic, on the market. By doing so, they launched a major technological field considered today as the 6th industrial revolution.

Ingmar Hoerr, co-founder and CEO of CureVac followed the story of his company, willing to take and lead the Biotech field to the next level.

“Everything in Biotech today is about proteins. CureVac uses mRNA. The goal is to make your own body produce the treatment.”

mRNA, the messenger between your DNA and the proteins your body produces, is a very fragile molecule, incapable of surviving outside the human body. Back in 2000, German scientists from the University of Tübingen found a way to protect it! They developed a solution to directly inject mRNA into the patient, enabling the latter to produce a therapeutic protein independently.

Of course, back then, nobody thought that this kind of innovation was possible. They decided to fund CureVac based on their pioneering scientific work.

Today, CureVac detains the most advanced mRNA therapy worldwide. Its flagship product is currently going through phase II of clinical trials, surpassing by far the preclinical proof of concept of its American competitor Moderna Therapeutics. CureVac is proving that with pioneering science and motivation, you can achieve anything if you set your mind to it!

But all successful entrepreneurs have something in common, they’ve done a lot of mistakes before reaching the top of the pyramid.

So what are the Top 3 “musts” when you’re a pioneer?

– Be focused: the most common mistake of any scientist willing to become an entrepreneur is to think too big, convinced that their idea will basically save the whole world… Of course it’s impossible! If you want bring your contribution and change something, you’ll need to stay focused on one main objective and vision! This will avoid you wasting precious time, energy, and ressources.

– Choose your investors carefully: your investors are not your friends, especially in the Biotech field. Don’t forget that their only goal is to make a return on their investment, not to change the world. Choose them wisely!

– Hire the best team possible: The Biotech industry is a very specialized field, you will need the best people out there to succeed. Don’t make the same mistakes previous entrepreneurs did, namely hiring people too quickly.

History is always a powerful source of information for the future. Genentech has pioneered a whole generation of Biotech products enabling the company to lead today’s most advanced immuno-oncology therapies. I truly believe that Biotech is still in its youth and will bring many more innovations in the future. To do so, we’ll need strong pioneers, and who knows? Could CureVac play this leading role?

Bonus: we filmed Ingmar Hoerr from CureVac during our Tour in South Germany, you can watch it here

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