Dutch Biotech Event 2019 celebrates the beauty of biotech

During her opening speech, Annemiek Verkamman brought the festive news that HollandBIO welcomed its 200th member! Our growing member base strengthens us in our mission to maximize the contribution of biotech products to our society’s health and sustainability. And it shows that HollandBIO’s impact is bigger than ever. Of course, HollandBIO will continue what we do best: paving the way for biotech’s frontrunners by challenging the status quo.

A three decade journey in cell therapy – Arie Belldegrun

Arie Belldegrun, our first keynote speaker, took us on a dazzling, three-decade journey in cell therapy. Arie played an instrumental role in several of today’s frontrunners in biotech, such as Kite Pharma, bringing ground-breaking science from bench to bedside. And, as he is convinced that science drives innovation, Arie is always looking for the next revolution. Today, he serves as Executive Chairman & Co-Founder of Allogene Therapeutics. The company’s Allogenic CAR-T therapy may be the next big breakthrough, since more patients can be treated with engineered T-cells after a single manufacturing run. Although no one can predict the future, Arie firmly believes cell therapy holds great promise for cancer therapy. What is it that keeps him going after so many successes? It is the great fun along the way. No better way to conclude a fantastic story of a true biotech pioneer!

AmbAgon wins Venture Challenge Spring 2019

Chrétien Herben, Director at LifeSciences@Work, announced AmbAgon as the winner of the Venture Challenge Spring 2019 edition. The Venture Challenge is a 10-week programme to develop an initial idea – a breakthrough research result – into a solid business case. This edition’s winners AmbAgon aims to develop small-molecule therapeutics for breast cancer by augmenting the tumor-suppressing functions of the 14-3-3 protein. The prize includes a cheque worth €25.000.

Personal perspectives on a career in biotech – Tim Knotnerus

“It’s not about where you work, nor what you do, it’s who you work with.” And Tim Knotnerus, our second keynote speaker, worked with the best. After graduation, Tim joined Aescap, a VC fund established by Dinko Valerio. The experience to work with one of the pioneers of the Dutch biotech sector, sparked Tim’s ambition to pursue an entrepreneurial biotech career of his own. He continued his career at AM-Pharma. Together with CEO Erik van den Berg, he secured multiple funding rounds. An option to acquire deal with Pfizer was the cherry on the cake. The deal also paved the way for Tim’s next big leap in biotech: becoming CEO of AgomAb, a Belgium biotech start-up holding an exclusive license agreement from argenx. With € 21 million secured in a series A earlier this year, exciting times lie ahead for this ‘fourth-generation’ biotech star.

Lessons in leadership – John Haurum

Biotech owes its success to innovation. But how to create and sustain an innovative corporate culture? John Haurum’s keynote focused on the strong leadership it takes to pull that off. John’s former roles as CSO of Symphogen and CEO of F-Star not only made him an expert in the field of therapeutic antibodies, but also gave him hands-on experience in corporate cultures. As board member of a growing number of biotech companies, his knowledge is of great value to a new biotech generation. Guided by a Harvard Business Review article, John shared his vision on building an innovative biotech culture, stressing the apparent paradoxes involved: tolerance for failure but  intolerance for incompetence, willingness to experiment combined with rigorous discipline and collaboration that involves individual accountability. All in all, John’s presentation provided plenty of food for thought for both established as well as up-and-coming biotech leaders.

Break-out session – Critical communication

As our beautiful biotech sector is under bigger scrutiny than ever before, simply being good is no longer good enough. The need to be good and tell it, to speak up, to explain what you do and why you do it, is bigger than ever before. But in a seemingly post-fact era, and a debate driven by emotion, that might be easier said than done. Hugo van Rooijen (Janssen Pharmaceuticals) and Guus Scheefhals (DegenRx) shared their communicative views, ideas and experiences. From fact-checking as pharmacovigilance for politicians, to setting the right frame for a constructive discussion, and managing expectations among patients and other stakeholders. The session delivered a number of best practices to move forward. HollandBIO hopes the attendees will also practice what these biotech frontrunners preached!

Break-out session – Cell land gene therapy in the spotlight

Kite Pharma is one of the frontrunners in cell therapy, with the approval of Yescarta for treatment of certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. At the same time, gene therapy is also booming! Guided by Kite’s Markwin Velders, two pioneering companies shared their experiences in the gene therapy world. Rudolf van Olden (Avexis) highlighted the development of Avexis’ Zolgensma, which got just approved by the FDA to treat children with SMA. The results of the initial clinical trials were spectacular, resulting in an ultra-short time to market. Thanks to the rapidly built production site, patients in the US are already being treated. Tjarda Kasteel from bluebird bio shared the fascinating story of Zynteglo, a one-time gene therapy for patients with ß-Thalassemia. Based on the exceptional clinical outcomes, Zynteglo saw a ultra-fast approval by the EMA. Because both Zynteglo and Zolgensma are ‘one time’ treatments challenging the status quo, both companies introduced correspondingly novel payment strategies. The impressive results so far make it more than justified that cell and gene therapy are in the spotlight right now.

Break-out session – Think different

During the workshop Think Different, biotech entrepreneurs Wim de Laat (BioscienZ) and Jos Seegers (MyMicroZoo) gave us a sneak peek of tomorrow’s food and how insights in your microbiome can help you make better lifestyle choices. Wim aims to serve a Christmas dinner with egg ingredients produced by fermentation of a fungus, which converts sugar from sugar beet, cane or grain into ovalbumin. If you are curious about the effect of a (G)Meal, or any other lifestyle intervention, on your microbiome, the MyMicroZoo poo-it-yourself-test from Jos will provide you with answers based on the most advanced DNA sequencing techniques. HollandBIO is already looking forward to our next teambuilding activity!

Break-out session – How to fund a biotech

A no now, doesn’t mean a no later. That was one of the lesson’s learned by Synaffix’ CEO Peter van de Sande. To secure funding to commercialize antibody-drug conjugates and build a technology platform company, Peter had to knock on many doors. You definitely need to be persistent, Xenikos CEO Ypke van Oosterhout added. Ypke’s dedication did pay-off: Xenikos closed a €30 million series B financing round last year. Edward van Weezel agreed as well. As a managing partner of venture fund BGV, he sees hundreds of projects every year. The overall success rate for companies is very low, only a few get an investment. It is worrisome that the Netherlands is losing its strong start-up position to other countries around the globe. Especially in the United States, huge amounts of risk capital is invested in very young start-ups, paving the way for growth. To stay on track, the Netherlands should invest more in innovative start-ups. Government and private investors have to work together, to bridge the gaps in the funding landscape. Until then, you had better take into account the panelists’ lessons learned: stay flexible and creative along the way, and always keep looking for solutions.

Fueled by the fascinating biotech stories and new insights, it was time to network while enjoying a refreshing drink and tasty BBQ. A great day to celebrate what biotech is all about: building a better world by combining top-notch science, true entrepreneurship and a lot of fun.

Be sure to mark the last Friday of June next year in your agenda. 

Photos by © Nils van Houts – 2019

‹ News overview