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121217-C4E-IEF2017-Learning from two decades in Biotech


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Learning from two decades in Biotech

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121217-C4E-IEF2017-Learning from two decades in Biotech

  1. 1. I want to thank the organizers for putting together this excellent meeting, it’s really inspiring to see the quality of starts up in the competition and the science going on in academic institutions in Cyprus - and I hope that this is the beginning of a long term concerted effort. Let me start by introducing myself – I am Cypriot, who studied engineering at Princeton and MIT and business at Stanford –I spent my career- in early stage companies at the intersection of technology and business – I have been involved in three start ups, the first one saw a meteoric growth before coming crushing down and eventually shutting down – a painful experience at the time but with the benefit of time I can call a “learning experience”. the second one saw lots of ups and down over a period of more than a decade but did end up with success – it brought an important cancer drug to market – a drug that is the standard of care globally for a hematological
  2. 2. malignancy called MM – the company launched the product and achieved profitability but as a result of this success it was acquired by a major pharmaceutical company called Takeda. For several years after the acquisition, I worked for Takeda Pharmaceuticals responsible among other things for leading partnerships with start up companies, and investing the company’s venture fund. This gave me the opportunity to participate in the creation of start-ups from the perspective of a bigger company. The third start up is the one I am currently running – Mersana Therapeutics - working on a novel approach to cancer therapy - it’s had some early wins in the past three years by bringing two products into clinical development and raised significant funding. Off course, as in all start up situations, we have a long way to go before we have a product that helps patients and delivers revenues – we cannot yet declare success.
  3. 3. Life in a start up company is never a linear activity – it often feels like being on a rollercoaster ride that’s keeps going and going and has to stop…..….at Mersana, every experiment we do, every patient we treat brings us one step closer or one step away from achieving our goal – in my three years at Mersana Therapeutics, I came close to shutting down the company twice times. So for all of you entrepreneurs in the room, make sure you are passionate about your idea, that you have strong conviction about its potential – because that is what is going to sustain you on the days when the experimental results come out negative, when a customer turns you down, when things don’t go your way. And surround yourself with the best people you can find. In a small company, every person makes a difference. In the united states and more specifically areas such as Boston and the San Francisco’s Bay area have a rich entrepreneurial ecosystem that greatly facilitates the commercialization of new science and technology. Hundreds of companies like the ones I have been involved in are founded every year – As we embark on an effort to foster such an ecosystem in Cyprus, it is worth stepping back and asking – which of these four success
  4. 4. factors exist in Cyprus and which do we need to cultivate? I would argue that there are four key components 1)Entrepreneurs with the vision and the willingness to take risk- the passion to make their vision a reality 2)A highly educated and well-trained work force to help execute on that vision, a work force that can operate on a global basis 3)A favorable regulatory framework that facilitates the creation of entrepreneurial companies and minimizes the bureaucratic costs and complexities that can burden a small company 4)Access to capital – commercializing new technologies can be very expensive, few start-ups make it to profitability immediately, After today’s session, I am even more convinced than I was earlier that we have both the passionate and driven entrepreneurs as well as the well trained work force, both foundational for building a strong entrepreneurial eco system.
  5. 5. So how about a favorable regulatory framework? I must admit that I am far from an expert on the state of affairs in Cyprus – However, I do know that one of the critical legislations enacted in the US in 1980 that accelerated the commercialization of technologies out of universities and other federally funded research organization was the Bayh-Dole act. This legislation not only has led to the creation of tens of thousands of startups, it has also been beneficial financially to the academic and research institutions that sourced the innovation. A patent to a chemical licensed to Eli Lilly that became a block buster cancer drug treating thousands of people yearly with lung cancer, has accrued over half a billion dollars to Princeton university, money poured back into university research. Stanford University has received to date over $300mm for the algorithm that led to the creation of Google, again funds that have been poured back into research. Such legislation, if not in place, should be considered in Cyprus – its really a win-win situation for the entrepreneurs, the university and the country overall. Other policy aspects that can spur innovation such as tax incentives should be considered as well. Access to capital is probably the most challenging aspect – the current effort with the support of the Hellenic
  6. 6. Initiative is a great starting point but as these early companies succeed, these efforts will require capital, often an order of magnitude more capital could be needed in the later stages of commercialization. it will take time to establish a track record of entrepreneurship in Cyprus so that it would attract foreign venture capital –the question is how do we bridge that gap – and I want to share with you two specific stories that highlight what can be done: • when I was at Takeda, I was approached by the CSO of Israel. He had a concerted effort to bring capital to Israel to invest in life sciences. Over a period of six months, we dialogued with his office on what could be done and how Takeda would benefit. He was determined to make something happen – in the end, he helped broker a deal between Takeda, Orbimed – one of the largest global healthcare VC funds – and Johnson and Johnson – the three of us made a funding commitment to a ten year in Israel. We would never have made that investment without the proactive and determined outreach of the Israeli govern
  7. 7. • You met Vassillis Papakonstantinou this morning who is leading a similar effort to spur entrepreneurship in Greece. Vasillis has done a great job of finding champions of the effort in the US who are helping him tap into the greek american business community willing to help start up companies make connections – with potential investors or partners. For example, the greek consulate in Boston has hosted several events aimed at connecting greek entrepreneurs with greek in the area who are willing to leverage their network to help these starts ups. For a small country, Cyprus has an incredibly successful expatriate community passionate about helping the island succeed– its huge resource and we need to find a concerted effort to channel this energy into helping spur technological entrepreneurship in Cyprus. • Beyond tapping into the expatriate community, there is significant wealth within the island that could be deployed to support these efforts. Could we rally wealthy individuals into contributing to a venture fund? Relatively small amounts of money put against the type of great technological ideas we
  8. 8. saw this morning would be economically productive creating products for the global market and employment for the islands highly trained youth. So I hope this meeting does become a call to action. I know that we can make this happen! Anna Protopapas, President and CEO Mersana Therapeutics