Can you tell us more about Carity? What does the company do and why?
Carity was born at the end of 2019 as a project that was based on the observation that one-third to 40% of post-heart attack patients that go to outpatient cardiac rehabilitation suffer from depression and anxiety.
This is a major hurdle to their recovery. If the recovery is not sufficient, there is a higher risk for a second and third event. It has a profound impact on patients and their families. It’s also a burden on the healthcare system because readmissions to hospital cost money.
Carity is focused on providing a digital coach for these types of patients to go through their rehabilitation journey. It does not replace rehabilitation as it exists, but it enhances rehabilitation to ensure that patients are still engaged in their program when at home and are supported. The psychological aspects of their journey and motivation are captured and made transparent to doctors, psychologists and others who are following the patient.
Where is Carity now? Where do you see yourself in the next one year?
Carity is still at the very beginning, and we are at the stage of building the product. The business model, business case and concept description of the product are all clear but may still evolve, and we also have engagement with certain stakeholders such as the patients, physicians, etc.
There are many elements available, but we do not have a full-bloom product yet. For the next 9-12 months, we have to go back to patients, doctors and further stakeholders with product ‘Version 1.0’ and perform certain validation of the features. Eventually, we will go into a pilot clinical study because this is at the core of what we do at Carity. Evoleen, our principal shareholder, usually supports Startups by bringing products like ours to clinical validation and generate clinical evidence.
We believe that this is a product that can be really helpful in making a major impact to reduce cardiovascular risks and reduce the burden on healthcare economics. Therefore, we believe that we could and should be able to get it as a prescribed reimbursable product.
Can you share a snapshot of your early career?
I’m a biologist and geneticists by training, and have always focused on science, and life science in particular. I’ve started a PhD program, but thought that it will take too long to see any impact. I completed my education with an MBA and started consulting in the biotech sphere in the early 2000s.
I then went into industry by joining Genzyme, a leading US biotech company which has now been acquired by Sanofi. Genzyme did focus on therapies to treat rare diseases, and we built up its cardiovascular franchise. We addressed the task in targeting drugs addressing clear unmet needs instead of setting up blockbuster medicine.
I later joined Haselmeier, as third generation of this family company to develop and grow it further. We sold Haselmeier end of last year. The company focuses on drug delivery, specifically devices for subcutaneous injection of liquid drugs. I had different roles in building up project management, taking care of customers and business development, and in the last 4 years built up the Swiss entity for innovation and IP. This brought the company to a good spot, which enabled us to sell it.
After that, I decided to go back into entrepreneurship, but this time by starting something from the very beginning. Now, we are really building from scratch. This is what makes it quite interesting and somewhat more challenging.
What drives you?
Firstly, it’s the patient needs, and believing that you can make an impact. Some patients do not feel well treated, as there may be no solutions available, or maybe those solutions do exist, but are either not available for these patients or can be improved for better outcome.. Although I believe in ‘moonshot’ thinking visions, I’d like to start small and address niche patient populations as well as focused needs.
Also, having the freedom to generate and conceptualise something from scratch really drives me. You’re observing people in need and gathering a team that really believes in a vision together with you.
I left my PhD to generate impact in a shorter turnaround, not after 20 years. Startups need to generate effects and achieve milestones quickly. It’s the life of a startup—otherwise, they do not survive.
Can you share some career highlights?
One of the highlights is being able to sell the first product and meet with the first patients when I was at Genzyme. Patients came to thank us; it is extremely rewarding and did provide tremendous motivation to pursue our efforts.
Even though it wasn’t a huge patient population, I believe that even small patient populations deserve affordable and implementable solutions.
The second highlight is at Haselmeier, where we implemented a major project for an innovative injection system. Completing such complex project did enable one major pharmaceutical player to upgrade its drug family, to trigger faster portfolio growth which in effect became transforming for Haselmeier – fast growing years were then starting.
How did Haselmeier grow under your leadership?
When I joined the company, we had approximately 40 people. When I left, we were nearly 250. I am convinced that Haselmeier will continue to grow benefiting from more investment provided by the new owner.
Any lessons learned that you can share?
First, try to build good relationships in a working team. I’ve built up teams where things didn’t necessarily work out at the beginning. People do not have to become friends, but they do need to have some level of trust and mutual respect.
Another lesson is related to expectation management. Sometimes, you may want to do something and really deliver above and beyond, but it’s better to say ‘no’ if necessary. Rather than promising the moon, try to deliver really well based on what you’ve promised.
What is your view on failure?
Failure helps you to grow and build towards the next step. Unfortunately, in our society, ‘failure’ is still seen as just failure, because everybody associates it with an immediately negative emotion, not considering the long-term positive impact it may generate. This is something that still needs to change.
I’ve certainly experienced failure, not the type that kills your company or impacts your family, but the type which still has a potential to make you stronger.
What are your hopes for Carity?
First, we are constantly building up the team and have reached a good setup able to deliver. Now the focus is on building up the product.
The second step will be to engage patients when we have our product ‘Version 1.0’. That will be extremely helpful for us to learn. We all hope and are working towards having this product in the clinic, and for it to show good data and impact.
Finally, our principal objective is to run a clinical pilot study to validate clinically the feasibility of our approach and get prepared for a broader clinical efficacy study. And as for any Start-up, the next funding round is already in planning, we will know by end of 2022 whether we embrace our next big step.