Professor juggles molecules and builds companies

April 9, 2024

BY Nina Lyhne

Professor Thomas Poulsen strikes a balance between laboratory experiments and real-world challenges. His passion for his field of research has resulted in two innovative biotech startups.

Professor Thomas Poulsen keeps a lot of balls in the air. He balances his work as a well-known researcher at Aarhus University’s Department of Chemistry with his life as an enterprising scientific entrepreneur, having co-founded no fewer than two spinout companies.

One, Kripthonite Therapeutics, is working on a breakthrough treatment based on a new class of drugs that can eliminate cancer cells that are resistant to conventional treatment and are responsible for the cancer’s recurrence.

“The method grew out of laboratory research, where we studied natural molecules and imitated nature by creating completely new, simpler molecules, and thereby found a solution to a clinical problem that has been known for decades,” says Thomas Poulsen, who founded Kripthonite Therapeutics with two former PhD students from his lab, Kristian Mark Jacobsen and Per Hjerrild, as well as the innovation company Marigold Innovation. Kristian and Per are now full-time employees of the company thanks to grants from Innofounder, Innovation Fund Denmark’s entrepreneurial development programme.

Kripthonite Therapeutics has patented the drugs and is now looking for a suitable investor or partner.

Run ten kilometers without moving

Along with Kripthonite Therapeutics, Thomas Poulsen founded KetLace Biosciences, which has patented a molecular solution that increases the body’s levels of lactate and ketones – an effect that would otherwise require rigorous training and fasting. This allows you to significantly increase the concentration of these extremely beneficial substances without leaving the couch.

“We can actually put the body in a – metabolic – state that is equivalent to running ten kilometres, even on an empty stomach. This has a wide range of interesting applications, particularly for people who struggle with exercise. For example, people suffering from obesity or age-related diseases, such as heart failure,” says Thomas Poulsen.

The solution is very likely to affect the appetite. After hard sports, you rarely feel hungry. This is due to increased productionof hormones that suppress appetite. According to KetLace Biosciences, the unique biological effect can be replicated – without the need for exercise.

KetLace Biosciences was founded together with Professor Mogens Johannsen from the Department of Forensic Medicine at Aarhus University, Professor and Senior Physician Niels Møller from Endocrinology at Aarhus University Hospital, and the innovation company Mousing & Hede Innovation. KetLace Biosciences expects to have the substance approved for human consumption within the next three years, and it has secured the necessary investment.

The environment as a significant springboard

The common denominator for the two companies is that the right molecule can solve important medical problems while also having a large market potential. Both projects were created through broad collaborations across institutes and research areas, with Aarhus University’s networking opportunities having a positive impact.

Thomas Poulsen uses hospitals as an example, stating that while they are well-versed in the clinical problem, they do not always have the opportunity to consider innovative molecular solutions, as laboratories do.

He emphasises that business support has been critical to both projects. For example, Aarhus University’s Technology Transfer Office (TTO) has assisted both companies with know-how, as well as finding and establishing the right connections.

“The overall environment for innovation at Aarhus University is rapidly accelerating. It is not obvious that these two projects would be able to reach this point. You definitely have to be lucky to make the right decisions at the right time. But when you can see other colleagues take the step forward in innovation and succeed, it also makes you more courageous to try it yourself,” says Thomas Poulsen.