How to build a Successful Biotech company in Europe with Joern Aldag
Joern Aldag is one of the impressive Biotech leaders in Europe. Hearing him at our Refresh conference made me think of a new type of article we could publish: a detailed summary of the lessons learned from such a very rich career. Here’s the first of such a piece.
Aldag was just appointed CEO of the Vienna-based Oncology Biotech Hookipa. He is also board member of Boston-based Unum Therapeutics (an example of a next generation CAR-T biotech) and Chairman of Molecular Partners (one of the most successful Biotech in Zurich).
Previously, he was the CEO of German Evotec, bringing the company from 30 to 400 employees, before he then headed uniQure where he got the world’s first market approval for a Gene Therapyand also brought the company onto the NASDAQ.
How did you bring Evotec from 30 to 400 employees?
When I joined Evotec in 1997, it was mainly a technology provider and a CRO. I rapidly realized that valuations of companies are really driven by their own assets. So I pushed the company towards drug development.
We acquired Oxford-based Asymmetry for £316M, which had great expertise in chemistry, to add it to our experience in screening and running assays. The end results was an early-stage discovery company which had its own compounds in development and we in-licensed CNS compounds from Roche to develop them.
As a service company, how did you manage to have enough cash to invest and transition to drug development?
This is always a key issue with technology companies. And more than just cash, it also demands a really different mindset to shift from technology development to product development.
This translates into hiring different types of profiles while making the internal culture of the company evolve. Some choices were relatively brutal, but we succeeded in making the transition.
Did you have any model company at that time?
No, only a few companies worldwide have done such a transition successfully. I just had the feeling that it was the right thing to do.
Which differences have you seen between the two continents in regards to financing?
First, the quality of Biotech analysts and investors is enormous in the US, but it’s way less sophisticated in Europe. Second, the majority of the funds are in the US and you have an enormous pool of money.
Third, the Biotech stocks are much more volatile (get acquired and sell more rapidly). This leads to a more dynamic stock market, which is also less stable and less long-term oriented than in Europe. And last but not least, you have way more serial Biotech entrepreneurs in the US.
What is often the underestimated aspect by Biotech leaders?
A lot of very good science failed because of a bad financial strategy. Assuming you have the right people, you have to be aggressive on executing the financial side in order to bring your science to the market (or at least to a partner).