25 June, 2012 - 12:25 By Tony Quested

John Haurum, CEO of F-star

John Haurum, CEO of F-star

F-star is a leader in the development of novel bispecific antibodies. Its technology leverages decades of experience with traditional antibody technology, while overcoming the limitations of development and manufacture of bispecific antibodies.

F-star is now applying its proprietary technology to the development of a pipeline of products and intends to initiate clinical trials in the near future. To date the company has raised over €34m in venture capital from Aescap Venture, Atlas Venture, Merck Serono Ventures, MP Healthcare, Novo, SR One, and TVM Capital.

The company has two major alliances with Boehringer Ingelheim and Merck Serono, each covering multiple targets. The deals provide F-star with technology access fees, research funding, plus commercialisation milestones and royalties.

The company’s management team has significant biopharmaceuticals experience from discovery to commercialisation, and has a track record of building successful biotechnology companies.

1. What was the catalyst for starting the business? The company was founded on inventions from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU), which had developed an exciting new way of generating two-in-one pharmaceutical drugs, so-called bispecific antibodies. Bispecific antibodies are able to bind two different disease targets, and therefore may have two modes of action concurrently. This may result in synergy and substantially improved efficacy.

2. F-star is a relatively young company. How far do you believe you have you travelled since your inception? When the company was founded in 2006, the emphasis was on ensuring that the technology platform could reliably generate drug candidates. From there the emphasis shifted to exploiting the platform in drug discovery collaborations with partners. More recently, we have also initiated an internal drug discovery and development programme, and this latest step is a major milestone for our company.

3. Why did you decide to make Cambridge your first major centre outside of Austria? When looking to consolidate our activities, Cambridge was an easy choice. It offers a highly skilled and experienced talent pool, with world-class expertise in antibodies, as well as many potential academic and commercial collaborators. Cambridge is also well-known and recognised by international investors and pharmaceutical companies, who will be essential to the progress of F-star.

4. Has that strategic decision paid off for you? We have found it very easy to recruit talented new staff and the company is now well-known internationally within its field. In part this has to do with our location in Cambridge.

5. Do you intend to establish a presence in other territories? Not presently in terms of F-star facilities. However, we will continue building on our existing and future collaborative partnerships with pharmaceutical and biotech companies internationally.

6. You have raised a significant level of finance. Why have you been so successful in this regard while many European life sciences companies seem to have struggled to raise cash? I like to think this is due to F-star’s unique technology value-proposition, but also the historical quality of the company management and staff.

7. Will the money you have raised to date be sufficient for your immediate plans or do you envisage the need to raise more? We can execute our immediate business plan with the funds we have available, which will take our lead product up to the point of clinical development. We expect to start seeking further financing by the end of 2013, either through additional deals or venture capital.

8. What are your major objectives before you are able to judge the venture a success – mission accomplished? Ultimately it is all about delivering new medicines for the benefit of patients, but we will only be able to judge the success of this mission many years from now. In the short term, the objective is to invest our capital wisely in internal drug discovery and development activities, such that it builds value into the company, as measured by our ability to enter into more lucrative future partnerships.

9. What could you have done better since your foundation – is there anything you would have changed if you had a magic wish? The devil is in the detail - doing the right experiments, at the right time, with the right strategy. Having the right focus and keeping all activities within scope is always a major challenge for start-up platform biotechnology companies. In the early phase of our company, enabling the platform was the main objective. How and when to make the most efficient transition to value-generation through internal product development is always a difficult decision, but overall, I’m comfortable with saving your gift of a magic wish for another day.

10. What business issues keep you awake at night?Business issues do not keep me awake at night, but if we were close to running out of capital, I can imagine how that might have the effect!

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