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A Biotech Powerhouse

For the past decade Danish Genmab has experienced rapid growth and become an integrated biotech innovation powerhouse with a strong international footprint.

NLS asked Birgitte Stephensen, Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer & Site Lead at Genmab in the Valby district of Copenhagen, about her company’s journey, its growth and its future plans.

Genmab was founded in Copenhagen in 1999 by a group of Danish investors, but has roots in the US biotech company Medarex (acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2009), one of the first companies to generate fully human antibodies in transgenic animals. The goal and the focus of the company is to improve the lives of people with cancer and other serious diseases through innovative antibody therapeutics. Since its foundation almost 25 years ago, the company has enjoyed significant growth and today it has a strong international footprint with locations in the USA, the Netherlands, Japan, and Valby, Denmark, where the company’s headquarters are located.

“In August this year, Genmab celebrated reaching 2,000 dedicated employees worldwide, with approximately 500 of them here in Valby,” Stephensen says.

When she joined the company in 2002, she was the first patent attorney in the company to build up the patent function, and in 2005 she also became responsible for the legal department, which comprised only one legal counsel at the time. Today, the legal and patent teams consist of approximately 40 employees in the four different locations – numbers that clearly reflect the rapid growth of the company.

In addition, more than 300,000 patients around the globe have received a treatment made possible by Genmab’s science, “A milestone that truly underscores the meaningful impact of our science,” says Stephensen.

We brought together our employees from three different office locations in Copenhagen under one roof, creating a workplace that truly reflects our extra[not]ordinary team.”

Another, just recent, milestone for Stephensen personally she says, was the inauguration of the company’s new headquarters in Valby.

“It also showcased how much the company has developed. We brought together our employees from three different office locations in Copenhagen under one roof, creating a workplace that truly reflects our extra[not]ordinary team,” she says.

In her role as site lead for Genmab’s Danish site, Stephensen’s key focus together with the Danish leadership team is to ensure that colleagues at the headquarters are thriving and continue to be motivated to pursue Genmab’s overarching 2030 vision, which centers on its Knock-Your-Socks-Off (KYSO) antibody medicines, she describes. “We aspire to develop KYSO antibody medicines, which mean game-changing antibody medicines for individuals battling cancer and other serious diseases,” she explains.

 

Birgitte Stephensen, EVP, Chief Legal Officer& Site Lead, Genmab, Valby. Photo: Tuala Hjarnoe

 

An evolved partnership strategy

Besides the company’s core strength in pioneering R&D, its partnering strategy has also played a pivotal role in its journey, taking the company from a small-cap biotech to a European leader within the field. The company currently has over 20 collaborations with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

As we have grown and strengthened our capabilities to become a fully integrated biotech, our partnership strategy has evolved from out-licensing our antibodies and technologies to a partnership model with either 50:50 partnerships or collaborations with opt-in rights for Genmab to participate in development and commercialization.”

“Early on, we were dependent on making agreements with other companies who had expertise in developing and commercializing therapies. As we have grown and strengthened our capabilities to become a fully integrated biotech, our partnership strategy has evolved from out-licensing our antibodies and technologies to a partnership model with either 50:50 partnerships or collaborations with opt-in rights for Genmab to participate in development and commercialization,” says Stephensen.

Examples of 50:50 partnerships are Genmab’s partnerships with AbbVie, BioNTech and Seagen. Earlier this year, the company also entered into an agreement with argenx to jointly discover, develop and commercialize novel therapeutic antibodies with applications in immunology and inflammation, as well as in oncology therapeutic areas – a first step for Genmab to enter the immunology and inflammation therapeutic area. The company also has partnerships with academia, research institutes, and data science companies.

There are today eight approved medicines on the market that were created using Genmab’s innovation and technologies, including two U.S. FDA approved cancer medicines created, developed and delivered to patients by Genmab in partnership with other companies.

“We have enabled 44 investigational new drug (IND) applications for antibodies created by Genmab, or with our technologies. Also, approximately 20 investigational medicines are currently in clinical development by Genmab and/or its partners, and for Genmab’s proprietary antibodies there are currently around 25 ongoing or announced clinical trials,” adds Stephensen.

 

Genmab R&D Center. Photo: Stijn Doors

 

The best is yet to come

The growth of Genmab has not happened without challenges of course, and just like most companies, Genmab had some challenging years during the financial crisis in 2008. When the current CEO, Jan van de Winkel, was appointed in 2010 he laid a new strategy for the company and the company continued to develop the monoclonal CD38 antibody daratumumab. Encouraging clinical data paved the way for a license agreement with Janssen Biotech, Inc. for daratumumab in August 2012. Daratumumab was the first U.S. FDA-approved monoclonal antibody to treat certain multiple myeloma indications.

“In addition, we entered into license agreements based on our novel bispecific antibody technology, the DuoBody platform, and gradually we started making a turnaround for the company,” describes Stephensen, and she firmly believes that the best of Genmab is yet to come.

“Today, I could describe our challenges as a result of our multiple successes, and these challenges revolve around managing our rapid growth and ensuring we recruit and retain the best talent in the industry to fulfill our inspirational 2030 vision,” she concludes.

Featured photo of Genmab’s headquarter and Genmab’s bioreactor laboratory. Photo: Tuala Hjarnoe and Stijn Doors

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