Ask the Experts Interview Series

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Lars Nieba

Lars is Chief Technology Officer at Nordic Nanovector, a biotech company developing novel radio-immunoconjugates for treating cancers, where he also served as CEO. He was responsible for raising more than 70 Mio € in 2 financing rounds. Lars is also a Venture Partner at Pureos Bioventures. Lars also spend more than 16 years in big Pharma, first at Roche in various leadership positions in clinical supply chain, biologics technology, business development and clinical operation, where he led up to 350 people. At Bayer he was VP and Strategic Product Lead, responsible for the biologics, he was leading the development & launch of  the pre-filled syringe for Eylea. Lars gained his PhD from the Max-Planck-Institute for Biochemistry, Munich, and Institute for Biochemistry at the University of Zürich; he also holds an executive MBA from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Ask the Experts Interview Series

with Lars Nieba

Tell us more about yourself.

Currently I am serving as CTO for Nordic Nanovector, before I also was the CEO for Nordic. 

I enjoy very much working with teams to create value for patients, customers and the company. I am a believer in collaborative or servant leadership and love thinking outside the box to create simple solutions to existing challenges.

Value creation seems to be a constant theme throughout your career. How do you innovate/come up with ideas?

Absolutely. Creating value is very important to me. How do I do this? First of all there is no secret sauce, which I can provide the recipe for. It’s not me alone, you need to have a great team around you. A key for success is a collaborative leadership style and creative problem-solving approach to consistently inspire teams for high performance. You need to create where crowd wisdom in a cross-functional team is openly discussed. The teams needs to feel safe to make mistakes to learn. My contribution is to enable this and asking questions to stimulate the thinking and the discussion. 

What does a day in your life look like?

As CTO I am accountable for the technical research and development, the clinical supply, the regulatory and quality aspects for that and the oversight of our partners. My day is very operational, focusing on timely delivery of the supply to the patient and the collaboration with our CDMO partners.

What’s the toughest part of being a CTO?

CMC is an integral part of the development, and many programs fail to receive immediate approval by the FDA due to CMC issues. In a small biotech you always need to look at your cash burn and CMC is, besides the clinic, the biggest driver for spend. The toughest part as CTO is to find creative solution for the process and the manufacturing, which are not too expensive, without Impacting on quality, safety and efficacy of the drug we develop for our patients. 

Any interesting stories that you would like to highlight?

What shall I put forward here? Perhaps let me highlight two stories, which highlight that thinking outside of the box and taking risks can be very successful.

The first is that as a CEO of Nordic Nanovector, I finalized two successful financing rounds, in very difficult market situations. In the first one we just had to announce a delay. The way forward we choose was to lay-out our plan for success in the future and even so the investors were skeptical, we were able to run a financing round. The clue comes now, we delivered on our promises and were able to double our share price, which made the next round much easier. 

The other one is a development for a pre-filled syringe for ophthalmology. 

I joined a company a VP and Strategic Product lead and was asked to develop a PFS, which I thought can’t be that difficult. I did not know at that time that the company failed twice on this. It was a true global project with additional investment projects. I was able to select a great cross-functional team and we challenged some status quo of ways of working. The team developed creative solution and we were able to deliver ahead of time and within budget. 

What is your approach to people leadership?

As said I am a believer in collaborative or servant leadership and love thinking outside the box to create simple solutions to existing challenges. Walk the talk is an important part of this and to help my teams I use also an adaptive leadership style. There is not one-solution fits all.

What is your advice to somebody just starting out in the industry?

Remember my days in academia it was always hard to think that good science can be done in industry as well. I can only encourage people who would consider leaving academia to give it a serious try. Working in Biotech is very fruitful, you are very often part of a highly enthusiastic team, which is driven by doing the best for the patient.

It is important to understand that you are in the driver seat for your development. Look around find good coaches, ask for feedback to grow.

You should also consider to take risks and get out of your comfort zone. Try to take roles outside of your current field. 

What drives you? 

That’s a difficult one. I guess it’s my passion for what I do.  I like to accept challenging positions and projects and transform them into success, always by creating high performance teams. The reward is to see the smiles in their faces, when successful.

Top 2 key challenges faced right now?

The key challenge we have right now is that our key asset in Nordic Nanovector had not shown the results we had hoped for and we needed to reduce our workforce by 80%. As a listed company you need to explain this not only to your employees, but also to your big group of shareholder. We are now working on the future strategy to create a way forward for the remaining employees and our shareholders.  

What is your view on failure? 

Success and failure are going hand-in-hand or in other words failure is part of success. Every time you fail, you learn. The key is not to validate/repeat your failures, but to create a solution to overcome the hurdle. This is the way of innovation. The other part for me is that the additional knowledge you get from failure is to better manage the risk for the next development. The hard part is always you don’t know what you don’t know. Failures are thus in important part to understand the risk of your chosen development pathway and don’t forget to celebrate your successes. 

Any closing remarks/general advice to share.

Think positive. Believe in yourself. See solutions and not problems. This will make your life easier and yourself much happier.

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