Founder-CEO Interview Series

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Deana Mohr-Haralampieva

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Deana Mohr-Haralampieva

Deana has been central to the development of MUVON from the very beginning. The results of her PhD thesis were the final step before the authorization of the muscle tissue-engineering project for clinical translation which motivated her to proceed with further education in clinical trial management (CAS, 2016), build up an international consortium, and prepare a Horizon2020 grant proposal (2016) for the translation of the project from bench-to-bedside, thus establishing the MUS.I.C. project.

Since then, she acted as a Clinical Project Manager and Coordinator and led the synchronization efforts of cross-functional project teams to support timely milestone achievements, and to manage study issues and obstacles, complying with GCP and GMP regulations. To further develop this therapy towards a marketable product, she founded MUVON Therapeutics in 2020 together with her C-team fellows.

Deana obtained her MSc in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Constance in 2011. She then joined the Integrative Molecular Medicine program in Zurich as a PhD student and successfully graduated from ETH Zurich in Radiopharmaceutical Sciences in 2015.

 

Founder-CEO Interview Series

With: Deana Mohr-Haralampieva

Can you tell us more about MUVON Therapeutics and the reason you decided to found it?

Together with my colleagues I founded MUVON Therapeutics in October 2020. It is a Biotech Spin-off from the University of Zurich with the goal of developing and commercializing an autologous cell therapy for the regeneration of skeletal muscle tissue.

Our initial area of focus is providing a safe and effective treatment for stress urinary incontinence in women, supporting them respectfully throughout their journey to a healthy life.

 It started with the end of my PhD. I spent my PhD showing the efficacy and feasibility of this therapy in animal models and this led to the approval by SwissMedic for the clinical phase which motivated me to stay on to find the funding to bring this therapy to the people.

We formed an international consortium and wrote a Horizon2020 Grant (MUS.I.C.) which led us to getting 6mn to run the Phase 1 clinical trial and some financial security for 5 years, which is not the daily life in academia. This allowed us to start building a team, get more people on board and start growing. Jenny Prange was the first to join the MUS.I.C. team in 2017 and in 2019 Steve Kappenthuler joined us to start the MUVON adventure.

 We had all translations from the bench to a validated process for Phase 1 ongoing when suddenly I began to wonder how we could then bring it forward to Phase 2 and 3, with the final goal to reach the people in need. I started planning and did entrepreneurship courses. I realised the way is through a spin-off company, then we can do fundraising and really bring the therapy to patients. It’s like my baby that I now want to see grow.

Have you always known you’d become an entrepreneur?

Not at all. I have the passion and I am a scientist but at the end of PhD, I realized I could do many more things in between lab experiment waiting times. This pushed me more towards project management which I’ve been doing for the last 5 years. I started looking at the bigger picture and started gaining the needed skills to become an entrepreneur.

What does a typical day look like for you if there is one?

Normally without Corona, I have my breakfast, take a train, go through my emails in the first hour, meetings, new collaborations, contract reading, legal/regulatory aspects and deal with whatever emergency is happening within the team. Every day is different but it’s a lot of meetings, talks and now with Corona, it is all virtually on Zoom.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?

The biggest challenge has been to find the right team I want to work with who has the same motivation and to make my dream their dream.

When we won the Horizon 2020 Grant, I knew I needed a Head of GMP. I wanted to find someone who I can teach how the procedure is done and he/she can move on with it. With Jenny who is one of my co-Founders, I just had a match. I knew she has the elephant skin to do it. Later on, when the project started becoming more business-prone, I luckily met Steve at one course (BEI entrepreneurship) and we had “a perfect match”. I am sure now, our numbers are all set (laughs).

How do you approach fundraising?

First you need a business plan, to know what you want to do and how to do it. This was the main aim of our work last year and this is now ready.

You have to do a lot of networking, to really expand the amount of people you know, or the people who know people, till you get to the right investors or interested people who want to support you.

Best and worst parts of being a CEO?

From my 4 months of experience *laughs*, I am still rather the Project Leader. The best part is that you can always find new ways to motivate people to do their best. Sometimes it’s needed to go to the lab on a Saturday but if you can see the big picture, it’s easy to do. It’s important to keep spirits up. It was challenging during the corona time to think of tasks for the team that were mainly in the lab.

The worst part is not wanting to disappoint people. Knowing that they depend on you for giving direction, for paying salaries – this is a big challenge.

What is your view on failure?

Failure is something you should learn from. Of course, it is a setback sometimes in terms of planning, financially or timing. From every failure, you can learn a lot… and whenever one door closes, another one opens.

What is your hope for MUVON Therapeutics?

We are finishing Phase 1 soon. My dream is we can do a successful fundraising this year so we can secure the fundraising to proceed with Phase 2 and beyond in order to bring the therapy to people.

Any advice for other scientists or those in academia who want to start their own biotech?

A friend told me, “Go get it.” On the way of becoming a CEO/leading a team, you learn so many things from so many different directions. It is all a plus; from all the experience you gain.

Just do it. Just try it. If you believe, you can always find a Plan B. You can always pivot the idea, but it is important that you try.

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