SenzaGen CEO Anki Malmborg Hager gives her point of view on the key factors of taking research from spin-off to success.
After two decades of running pharmaceutical and biotech companies, what has it been like to go from research to commercialization and what has been the key to success?
“I have realized that one crucial part is to identify a project that can be explained in a straightforward way, whether it is the product itself or how you market it. I have learnt what kinds of projects go down well and those that don’t. I don’t take on any projects that I can see will be difficult to finance. A lot of it is also about hard work, timing and some luck. Many times it’s about being at the right place at the right time, and being aware of which type of projects are on the agenda and what you are able to finance. There are trends in the biotech business, as well as in any other business”
How has your journey from academia to business been and what have you carried with you?
“During my academic career I was involved in a project that laid the foundation of Alligator Bioscience. Creating a company based on state of the art research and new technology was amazing and was a dream come true. It was so inspiring to follow the whole process, learning about the vital aspects of patents and later on, when I started working at LU (Lund University) Bioscience in 2009, I got to learn about financing. During my four years at the firm we evaluated almost 200 university ideas. Out of these, nine became start-ups and around half of the companies still exist today. I learnt much about the structural mindset, to see the potential of an idea and a concept and then getting all the pieces in place. The science can be mind-blowing but not necessarily suitable for commercialization. Some key factors are to show some real, genuine data, something that can be patented, and then to scan for what the market is looking for at the moment and find someone who is willing to finance it. I think that one of the hardest parts in creating a company structure and ensuring financial resources is communication, both internal and external. You have to become aware of what the agendas of the investor as well as the scientist are, what drives them, and get them to synchronize.”
In what way has your scientific background been of use in your job?
“I would say understanding how the academic system works, as well as the importance of evaluating ideas thoroughly.”
How would you describe operating in the Swedish life science industry?
“In my experience dealing with the financing has always been a tough part of it, unfortunately. Historically, the toughest part occurs in particular during the early phases. These kinds of projects are often associated with high risks and finding means to finance them is a tricky part. Some things are starting to change, however. We are seeing more private investments from individuals in smaller firms. There also appears to be a trend for small-sized companies to get listed on markets, such as First North, to increase their possibility of entering the market.”
Over the years, you have had various leading roles in companies such as Alligator, XImmune, Cantargia, Diaprost and SenzaGen and as Investment Director at Lund University Bioscience. What is your view of the role as CEO and what do you find is important for good leadership?
“I try to be direct and transparent, to have a clear structure, but at the same time give my co-workers the freedom they need in their job, which I’m completely sure they know much better than I do. My job is to motivate them and help them work together. It is important to sense quite quickly if there is any underlying conflict and deal with it instantly. Such things will never go away by themselves.”
What is the best part of your job?
“I really like the meetings with each individual, seeing how much they enjoy their work.”
What is the hardest part?
“There are definitely a lot of things to keep you busy and that you need to keep track of. It can be challenging to make time for it all and to find that important balance.”
Finally, what would be your advice for a successful transition from science to commercialization?
“No one can do it all on their own. So make sure to get help from professional experts. There are so many incredibly talented people out there in different fields. Collaborate with others and build a network to get going.”
Photo: Peter Hamlin