MARTIN ROELSGAARD JAKOBSEN FROM STIPE THERAPEUTICS
September 1, 2021
BY Nina Lyhne
Founder of the spinout STipe Therapeutics in 2018 with his co-founder and company CEO Claus Elsborg Olesen
Today, Professor in infection and immunology at Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University
HOW DID THE IDEA OF BECOMING AN ENTREPRENEUR ARISE?
I guess it started way back when I was part of a research group at Department of Biomedicine led by professor in Molecular virology, Søren Paludan. Our team discovered a new type of immune mechanism that could recognize virus infections. When I became an associate professor in 2013, I had to form my own research field and wanted to go deeper into that mechanism. Over the following years, combined with accumulating more scientific understanding, I figured out that our findings could have commercial potentials. However, I was not sure where to go with that idea at first.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED WITH YOUR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY?
I got in touch with Claus Elsborg Olesen, who worked as a Research Business Manager at Department of Biomedicine, and he helped develop and mature the idea. We also received some help from NOME (The Nordic mentor network for entrepreneurship), and in collaboration with TTO, we eventually filed a patent application. Eventually, Claus and I decided to join forces and founded STipe Therapeutics in 2018 as a spinout from Aarhus University with the support of a PreSeed Grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation. Later same year we became a part of a new initiative – the so called Creation House program at BioInnovation Institute. This entitled a convertible loan which made it possible for us to gear up the RnD program and start interacting with investors. In September 2019, we then raised 20 million EUR in a Series A financing, with a syndicate of Danish and European venture capitals, and at that point, I went on a partial leave from my research activities at the University to dedicate time to the company.
In general, there was a clear leap at Department of Biomedicine around 2017/18, with the establishment of multiple spinouts (NMD-pharma, Draupnir Bio and STipe). This fueled a growing mindset on innovation and drug development in the field and at Aarhus University. In STipe Therapeutics, we really want to support this development and contribute to driving it forward. Therefore, we do take part in the community and are always ready to help people with advice and how to move an idea into biotech. I foresee that there is a huge potential within Life Science and drug development at Aarhus University, but in order to reach that potential, we need to strengthen the community, have strong local support and have the right facilities for it to grow.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN THE PROCESS?
In general, we have experienced good support on our journey, both from the department, the university and the innovation environment. Our project is difficult, and the fact that so many have supported it has definitely played a part in its success. It has been a challenge to create a project anchored in the university environment, which at the same time is able to grow without compromising on the academic aspect. To do so, everyone needs to understand in which direction you are going – we are trying to generate this synergy that biotech can create.
It has also been a big challenge to find the right competences. Historically, Aarhus University has not been the strongest player within biotech, but this development is turning around, and that makes it much easier to attract great capacities to the environment in Aarhus.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL WORKWEEK LOOK LIKE FOR YOU IN RELATION TO COMBINING YOUR COMPANY WITH YOUR RESEARCH?
Until recently, I split my time between STipe Therapeutics and my research activities and teaching obligations as an associate professor at Department of Biomedicine. I still have responsibility for my research group where I try to keep the level of funding and publishing the same, so I do work a lot. I normally work within the regular working hours and then again at night and a bit during the weekends, which is then combined with quite a lot of travelling. Thus, it is important to have a strong drive and outstanding support from once family for this to work. But you have to remember that in biotech, the timeline is always against you, and you really need to work hard in order to reach your goals. Luckily, we have a great team in STipe Therapeutics, who help and support each other – and the same holds true for my research team at the university.
To my benefit, it should also be mentioned that there are a lot of synergy between our activities in STipe Therapeutics and my research activities, and it is my experience that you get your knowledge tenfold back when you combine your research with entrepreneurship. You get the best of both worlds. My academic profile has become much sharper, and I have become better at shaping my research with an eye for future commercial potential. So if you can find the balance, there are many advantages in the synergy between entrepreneurship and research, even though it is demanding and not for everyone.
HOW DO YOU USE YOUR ACADEMIC COMPETENCIES FROM AU AS AN ENTREPRENEUR?
As a researcher, I come with a very specialized academic insight, which has been an advantage in the biotech community, where more people are often generalists. But in fact, it goes just as much the other way around. My research activities benefits a great deal from my entrepreneurial mindset. I do bring knowledge from biotech and the innovative community back to my research, where it supports our mindset to understand that here are the unmet needs for improving medical therapies and help patients. So the entrepreneurial experience of getting your hands dirty has really added a broader perspective to my research.
WHERE IS THE COMPANY TODAY, AND WHAT ARE YOUR DREAMS OF FOR THE FUTURE?
Our dream is to develop a treatment that helps cancer patients and saves lives. We are in the preclinical settings but working hard to get to a stage where our drug can become ready for clinical testing – this goal is within the foreseeable future. Personally, I do not have the ambition of becoming a new Novo Nordisk. Right now, we focus on developing our drug, and then we see what comes next – you should always be open for opportunities within biotech. My aim is to show that we can be successful in developing something from a basic scientific discovery to something that can make a difference for people and be of benefit to society.
YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR RESEARCHERS WHO ARE CONSIDERING BECOMING ENTREPRENEURS?
First of all, you need to consider why you are doing it – because you have to dedicate yourself 100% into the work. And you should not do it to become rich or famous. If you think you are going to run everything yourself, you shouldn’t do it either – you need to be aware that the skills you have obtained as an academic, do not necessarily make a great CEO. So find the right team of experienced people that can help transform the idea into a company. However, if you want to make a change for other people, and you get energy from pushing things forward, then jump into it. It is hard work, and therefore, it is important to be dedicated to the overall goal