Founder-CEO Interview Series

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Thierry Fumeaux

Dr Thierry Fumeaux, MD, EMBA, is the current CEO of Acthera Therapeutics, after having joined the company last year initially as Chief Medical Officer. He’s also the current Chief Medical Officer of Kinarus AG, since February 2021. Thierry is a medical Doctor, with Swiss Boards in Intensive Care Medicine and General Internal Medicine, former Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Geneva University. Before joining the Biotech companies world, he has been the head of the Internal Medicine and ICU in a Swiss regional hospital for more than 15 years, and also president of the Swiss Society of Intensive Care Medicine and member of the Swiss Covid-19 Scientific Task Force. He holds an Executive MBA from IMD Lausanne.

Founder-CEO Interview Series

with Thierry Fumeaux

Tell us more about your current roles with Kinarus and Acthera.

I am the newly appointed CEO of Acthera Therapeutics, an early-stage biotech company, developing a unique type of mechanosensitive liposomes, enabling the controlled and targeted delivery of therapeutic molecules, when and where they can exert their pharmacologic activity, improving the efficacy and safety of therapies. As CEO, I am in charge of designing and executing the strategy to bring our asset to the first-in-human trial. My function is essentially a communication role, internally to support and coordinate the work of the team, and externally to show a coherent image of the company and convince our potential partners and future investors of our high potential to profoundly change the way patients will be treated in the future.  

I am also the chief medical officer of Kinarus, a company developing clinical indications for a repurposed combination of drugs. In this function, I essentially coordinate the planning and conducting of clinical trials, designed to assess the efficacy of our compound, in various diseases, including Covid-19.

In both roles, my experience and background of physician and all that I have learned during my Executive MBA are key to help me accomplish the missions I have been assigned.  

You were a physician, Head of the Intensive Care Unit for a long time. Why did you stop practicing medicine?

This was a decision I took more than 10 years ago. This was not a ‘negative’ decision, but more the wish to face another challenge, for the final part of my professional career. Medicine has brought everything I was looking for in the last 25 years and I reached all my goals, but I was not seeing myself doing the job for another 10-year period.  Not a simple decision, as the interaction with the patients and with the teams is so satisfying and rewarding. But I needed another challenge.

Why did you decide to do an EMBA? Was this vital in making the change from a career in the hospital to biotech?

Doing an EMBA was the logical consequence of the decision to leave clinical medicine. My background and experience were surely assets for my next professional career, but I needed to add more skills in my bag, and the program of the EMBA at IMD Lausanne was including everything I was looking for, particularly the leadership aspects. Moreover, having been in the position of a teacher for more than 20 years, I was very enthusiastic to become a student again.

You are also President of the Board of the Swiss Foundation for Intensive Care Medicine. How do you juggle work-life balance?

Well, I have always been involved in many projects and at the same time. That is the kind of challenge I look for … and apparently, I have the ability to successfully do it! Of course, the number of hours in a day are limited, and the balance is sometimes hard to find. Family support is essential. My wife and my children- who are adults now – have always been very supportive and  helping and without them, I would never have accomplished what I did in the last years. 2020 was a very particular year, as I was working 100 % in the hospital, facing the wave of Covid-19 patients, while being president of the Swiss Society of Intensive Care Medicine and member of the Task Force, managing the crisis at the national level, while doing my EMBA. I know that without the strong support and the understanding of my loved ones, I would not have been able to do it.

What were some of your tasks as a member of the Swiss National Covid-19 Science Task Force?

I was member of the Clinical Expert Group, heading the group for many months, and we were responsible to analyze the scientific data and evidence about the clinical management of Covid-19 patients, to ‘digest’ this information, and give recommendations to the Federal Council, to guide and support the decision they were taking. This was a very interesting experience and an important task, although it was not always an easy one. I resigned when I joined Kinarus last year, but I am happy and proud to have been part of this group, despite the critics and sometimes the threats and unpleasant words.

What has been some career highlights?

I don’t know if ‘highlights’ are what make me satisfied … it’s more the global work done during all these years that is rewarding for me. But I can be proud of the ICU team we have built together, of the work I have done as a clinical teacher, rewarded by the Swiss Institute for Medical Training and by a position of Adjunct Professor of Medicine, and the accomplishments of the Swiss Society of Intensive Care under my presidency.   

What drives you?

I guess I love (and need …) to work! I like to accept challenging projects with clear objectives to help people, and make everything I can to transform the challenges in success. The satisfaction of having done something ‘special’ is probably one of the drivers!

Can you share some challenges you’ve faced in your career?

As mentioned, I am looking for challenges. I therefore faced many during my career! But maybe the most important, while less perceptible, was to be able to stay unite as a family, despite the large place my professional career was taking. I owe that to my wife and children. On a more personal level, I have been subjected to very unpleasant pressure during my last year at the hospital, with measures against me that I consider to be bullying, by a person with whom I had previously worked constructively. This cost me a lot of energy and ruined many moments, increased by the fact that it is very difficult for a victim to be recognized as such. But I stayed straight, and I came out stronger from this experience. Again, it was the support of my family and friends that allowed me to overcome this ordeal.

What is your view on failure?

Failure is part of success! Every time you fail, you learn, of course. But the goal is to limit the risk of failure. That is what I repeatedly told to all the physicians-in-training I have been working with in the last 20 years: you can learn from errors but remember that someone will always pay the price of your mistakes, so don’t only learn from your errors, but learn how not to avoid them.

Who or what has shaped who you are?

I think that people you meet along the way have a strong influence on who you are, both for positive and negative aspects. In the first rank are your loved ones, your family, your parents, your brothers and sisters, and your friends. They all were and are essential to make me who I am. Of course, professional relations are also important: I am indebted to many people I met during my training and my career who influenced my choices, by their example or their advice. These mentors know what I owe them.  

Any advice that you can share with other medical doctors looking to transition into biotech?

The best advice I can give is: don’t lose your personal ethics, know exactly why you are doing this, and remain patient-centered, as the objective of a physician – you will always be a physician – is to help people in need. And be prepared to face challenges … it’s fun if this is what you are looking for!

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