You started out in your professional career as a vet. Who/what inspired you?
I grew up at the Copenhagen Veterinary University where my father NC Nielsen was professor in Internal Medicine. So, I wanted to become a veterinarian since I was a boy. It turned out that both my brother Carsten and I became veterinarians, and I am also married to a veterinarian, Marie Louise. Together we have 4 kids.
I became an equine physician, surgeon and university teacher and it was a coincidence that I got introduced to human medicines and making new drugs through a job at Novo Nordisk, the drugmaker of Ozempic and Wegovy.
Tell us more about how you’ve evolved into research and later medicine. Why did you pursue those things?
I did my PhD in infertility and embryo/IVF research. That took me to Human Infertility and then further into research of new medicines within growth hormone, cancer research and immunology. After 15 years at Novo Nordisk in Corporate Research, Clinical Development and latest Corporate Development and Strategy I was attracted to move to Biotech, where I became Chief Scientific Officer and Head of R&D in Zealand Pharma and later became the CEO of Kymab in Cambridge.
I got completely fascinated by making entirely new medicines. You have to accept that it takes 12-15 year from idea to approved new medicine and that typically only 10% of experimental medicines which enter clinical testing ever makes it to an approved drug.
As an example, I am thrilled to see that the anti-OX40L antibody which was initially discovery by the Kymab scientists in Cambridge back in 2013 now has shown excellent effect in Atopic Dermatitis as just reported by Sanofi, which bought Kymab and its exciting pipeline back in 2021.
Is/was there somebody who encouraged you in making those career leaps?
I have been very lucky with the mentors and role models I experienced through my career and here especially at Novo Nordisk.
I learned how to make breakthrough medicines from Mads Krogsgaard through his passion for great science. Mads is a fellow veterinarian who offered me the job as scientist with Novo, and who has been heading the R&D division at Novo Nordisk throughout my career and the grandfather of Ozempic and Wegovy to mention a few.
I learned how to lead successful teams and companies from three very different and individually highly successful CEOs Mads Øvlisen, Lars Rebien and Lars Fruergaard – the 3 iconic CEOs which have steered Novo Nordisk over the last 30 years. Mads Øvlisen’s visionary and value-driven leadership I could only admire from the distant ranks of the research units; however, I enjoyed being mentored by the super-sharp strategist Lars Rebien and reporting directly to the cool and effective Lars Fruergaard the last 5 years at Novo.
Huge congrats on SNIPR being shortlisted in the Emerging Star category at the European Mediscience Awards 2023. What is the SNIPR team building?
SNIPR is pioneering a completely new class of CRISPR-medicines where we can make gene edition, gene disruption or gene additions into complex microbiomes.
Our most advance medicines are aiming to target life-threatening infections in Cancer patients with multi-drug resistant bacteria where we are pioneering both preventive oral treatments and direct acute Intravenous treatments. The drug format for SNIPR001 is a cocktail of 4 CRISPR-armed bacteriophages which is ready for Phase 2 in cancer patients.
Our next medicines are CRISPR-armed live commensal bacteria, which are designed to become a living member of the human gut microbiome and secrete bioactive therapeutics to treat Type 2 Diabetes, Obesity or Gout Arthritis.
We at SNIPR are thrilled to have a pharma-collaboration with Novo Nordisk where we are aiming to discover and design live bacteria capable of colonizing the patient’s microbiome and effectively treat Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity with an oral dose of CRISPR-armed bacteria.
Could you share more about the market landscape for CRISPR at the moment?
CRISPR gene editing is one of the most striking technologies of our times and it holds huge promise both within therapeutics however also outside of therapeutics in synthetic biology, industrial biotech and agriTech. Listening to Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna’s TED talk from this year tells you all.
Within the area of CRISPR gene therapy and live biotherapeutic products capable of treating and targeting the microbiome there is a strong and growing interest from Venture Capital, Biotech and Pharmaceutical companies.
There is an enormous unmet medical need for completely new precision antibiotics which can target MDR pathogens like E. coli, Klebsiella and Pseudomonas and counter the nightmare bacteria which are becoming resistant to beta-Lactams including carbapenem antibiotics (like penicillin and cephalosporins).
The market and business cases for new antibiotics has been challenging due to the abundance of old generic antibiotics, however these old medicines are increasingly failing, and there is a growing sentiment among governments, in EU and in the US, also among foundations and impact investors that the AMR area need substantial funding, attractive innovation incentives and the creation of a commercially sound market. Basically, effective, safe and tolerable antibiotics are a foundation for all modern medicines, and it is exciting to being involved in making the CRISPR versions of Penicillin2.0 here close to 100 years after Alexander Flemming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928.
The biotech industry has recently experienced some turbulence. What are some of the lingering challenges and hidden opportunities?
The economic downturn, steep inflation and higher interest rates had a profound effect on Biotech fundraising in 2022 and 2023. The funding conditions seems to be improving and I hope we are returning to more normal conditions during 2024 so we again see attractive IPO and M&A activities in 2025 and beyond.
How do you maintain focus when leading multiple companies concurrently?
You have to be razor-focused when discovering new medicines in a biotech. You can move very fast and explore the newest science in a small biotech, however you always have to make best use of constrained budgets and short timelines. So being focused, productive and risk willing is key for biotech success.
I am very fortunate that I get to work with several super strong teams.
My main job is naturally to lead the SNIPR BIOME team as CEO. Here the focus is to advance our AMR CRISPR assets into Phase 2 in Cancer patients, and to mature our microbial gene therapy pipeline of T2D, Obesity and Gout assets into clinical Proof-of-Concept testing by 2025.
We are funded throughout 2024 and my focus is to raise a substantial Series B which will takes us from 2024 to 2027 and several human Proof of Concepts in T2D/Obesity, Gout and AMR.
Besides the SNIPR CEO job I serve in 3 boards of directors.
I am the Chairman of the Adboard in Tubulis GmbH, a Munich-based Cancer Biotech pioneering ADC drugs, Chairman in Folium Sciences Ltd, a Cambridge-based AgTech Biotech, and Director in Quadrucept Bio Ltd, a Cambridge-based antibody technology company pioneering a novel IgM-like multivalent format.
How do you manage time and being in different locations?
Building companies, leading teams, exploring completely new medicine formats and bringing experimental new medicines to patients are big privileges and hugely meaningful for all involved. This is not always possible to do in a 40-hour workweek however trying to find the right balance between professional life and personal life is naturally very important – for your own health however just as important to take proper care of the teams and colleagues involved.
Clearly, we can accomplish a lot without living stressful lives although occasionally we all have to run faster towards certain deadlines or milestones. I think we all have experienced this in Biotech.
What is 1 interesting fact about yourself that not many people know of? (a hobby, etc.)
I am very fortunate to have a large and loving family. My wife and I have 4 kids, that are all grown-up, two have become doctors and two have studied or are studying Economics. A hobby that we all share is jumping into the cold seawater, which surrounds the Danish islands all year around. We are fortunate to have excellent clear water even in Copenhagen harbor and it is a daily source of energy to take a swim in the sea.
Tell us about some of the other companies you are currently involved in.
Folium Science is a very cool CRISPR biotech company which Ed Fuch (CEO), Jasper Clube, Morten Sommer and I founded in Cambridge, back in 2016. In Folium we use the CRISPR technology to take the antibiotics out of food production. A future vision is to use CRISPR to reduce the Greenhouse emissions from farm animals which contribute to the climate crisis.
Another very innovative Biotech that I have been fortunate to join at board level is Tubulis GmbH based in Munich.
Fantastic successful journey which co-founders Dr. Dominik Schumacher (CEO) and Dr. Jonas Helma-Smets (CSO) and their strong and innovative Tubulis team currently are embarking on, and which I am grateful to be aiming to support.
Tubulis aspires to become a global leader within the specific cancer medicines Antibody-Drug Conjugates (ADC). The Tubulis team are moving fast towards the clinic with the first ADC candidates. Earlier this year Tubulis made a Billion-dollar research and development agreement with pharma giant BMS and are set to revolutionize the treatment of solid cancers in the next decade.
What are the 2 main challenges faced at the moment?
The two main challenges right now are raising sufficient capital to fund all the exciting experimental medicines and enter into valuable partnerships with other biotech and global pharma companies.
If you were to start over again, what would you do differently?
I would have invested earlier in complementing my medical and science education with the MBA that I obtained from the Swiss business school IMD. This was very valuable for me.
I only became a serial entrepreneur 25 years into my career by the age of 50. If I was to start over again, I would have started earlier with entrepreneurship and build more innovative companies.
Any final remark/advice to share for those thinking about entrepreneurship?
Just jump into it!
Find the right friends and co-founders and take considerable personal risk up to a certain point.
You need four key ingredients to be a successful biotech entrepreneur: The right breakthrough science, translating this to valuable and cutting-edge medicines, attracting the right talented team and finally substantial funding.
My wife Marie Louise has always been super supportive, and we have several times invested our joint savings into start-up ideas -however, be careful never to bet on your house – your family’s home is the ultimate risk limit.
Biotech entrepreneurship is exciting, rewarding and very meaningful, however also notoriously risky.