Focusing on antibodies
Title: Chief Executive Officer
Kirsten Drejer has always wanted to run her own company. Before co-founding Danish Symphogen in 2000, she held several scientific and managerial positions at Novo Nordisk ($NVO), where she focused on research and development of diabetes drugs and played a key role in overseeing the insulin analogue and nasal insulin programs. She said when she was moving up the ranks in the 1980s, there wasn't much of an opportunity to get into biopharma unless you worked for a Big Pharma company. But a changing industry landscape prompted her to break away and start her own company.
A graduate of the University of Copenhagen, Drejer is active in the biotech community, sitting on the boards of biotech companies like Danisco and Bioneer, as well as the Fund for Industrial Growth, and is an advisory board member of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen and the CBS Entrepreneurship Platform.
Drejer doesn't like to see herself as a female CEO; in her eyes, she's just a CEO. She said in the biotech industry, the challenge isn't your gender--it's making sure you have enough financing to reach the finish line. And Symphogen is on track to do just that.
Drejer's aim is to help people with serious diseases and unmet medical needs through the use of antibodies. While antibodies have been a regular feature in the biotech environment, Symphogen is one of the few companies working on "mixtures" of antibodies to treat a range of cancers, autoimmune and infectious diseases.
"What makes Symphogen different is that we're able to make a mix of antibodies so that we can hit several targets with the same product," Drejer told FierceBiotech.
Put simply, Drejer believes complex diseases need complex approaches. New therapies must be able to hit multiple targets simultaneously. That's why Drejer and Symphogen believe the best tactic to fighting serious and chronic diseases is with a mixture of antibodies.
Cancer is foremost on Drejer's agenda. Thanks to her vision, Symphogen has two programs in clinical development, and it outlicensed its antibody Sym004 to Merck KGaA in 2012 following positive Phase I and II trial data in patients with advanced colorectal cancer and a Phase II study in patients with advanced squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. Drejer explained that the Symphogen vision is similar to how HIV treatment has been revolutionized: using a combination of products in one therapy to change HIV into a manageable condition.
"Our vision is that we can do the same by doing mixtures of antibodies so that hopefully we will be able to delay cancer and transform it into a chronic disease," Drejer said.
It's that vision that's been so enticing to investors. To date, Symphogen has raised €249 million in equity capital from major international investors including Novo A/S, Essex Woodlands Health Ventures and PKA. Drejer said going forward, she's not concerned about courting more investors. Instead, she's focused on making Symphogen a profitable enterprise.
"We've already raised so much money in private funds our aim is now to become a profitable company," she said. "How we will do that is bringing a product to the market."
Symphogen will, however, continue to seek out new partnerships. The biotech is already partnered with Merck Serono and Roche's ($RHHBY) Genentech, and its smaller deals include ones with Sweden's Biovitrum AB and Japan's Meiji Seika Kaisha. Drejer said an ideal partner would have experience in cancer drug development and in commercializing those products.
In the near term, Drejer wants to give Symphogen a home of its own. Right now, the biotech is located in a Copenhagen life sciences park, but Drejer said her company is scouting for its own domicile.
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-- Emily Mullin (email | Twitter)