How did you come up with your business idea/research field?
For more than 20 years I have been working on the idea that now underpins my spin-off company Peptomyc: when I was a student I decided to inhibit Myc, a protein that allows cancer cells to grow and thrive. Without Myc, cancer cells crash and die, while normal cells do not. So, attacking Myc means that we can selectively kill cancer cells without causing side effects in normal tissues. Unfortunately, when I started working on this and for many years after that, Myc was believed to be untouchable and nobody had dared trying to attack it. I did, and 20 years later we have finally developed a drug that attacks Myc and could potentially treat all types of cancers, without severe side effects in the rest of the body.
Why did you become an entrepreneur/researcher in healthcare?
It was the most logical and efficient way to translate my work as a scientist into something that can really make a difference in patient treatment. Cancer is a war that we all need to fight at some point in life, either personally or through people we love, unfortunately.
We all know that too many people still die of cancer nowadays, and current therapies are often too toxic or fail, due to resistance to treatment. We want to do better. That’s definitely my main motivation in the choice of becoming an entrepreneur.
How was the process of deciding that you really wanted to do it, what pushed you?
To be honest, I wouldn’t say I really wanted to be an entrepreneur at first. The truth is that I felt like I was stepping out of my comfort zone. But, at the same time, I knew it made sense, that I could do it and that it was really the ultimate way to push our therapeutic approach to the clinic.
What were the main challenges you encountered?
Coming from the scientific world, I had to learn a completely new language and mind frame to present my project. I had to turn my years of research into numbers, make the project appealing to investors and start thinking of costs and revenues. It wasn’t easy.
There is quite a high proportion of women working in the healthcare system. Why do you think there are so few female founders?
Being an entrepreneur makes having a defined working schedule quite hard and not always compatible with a normal family life. Also, I believe that women are not used to being very assertive and often prefer avoiding environments that can be too competitive or even aggressive, if they have the choice. So, they prefer letting men lead, while still doing most of the work behind the scenes.
What traits do you think you have that made you become a successful entrepreneur?
First of all, I am quite stubborn, I must say. Also, I am often hypercritical with myself, finding always some new weaknesses, which I do my best to overcome. Because of that, I never stop looking for chances to learn. And last but not least, I believe in team work, in surrounding myself with people that complement my skills and can teach me something.
Did you have a mentor or supporter that helped you pursue your idea?
In terms of science, I had the luck to work with one of the most inspiring mentors, Dr. Gerard Evan, who really pushed me hard and encouraged me to follow my passion.
Now, as CEO of Peptomyc, I work side by side with Dr. Marie-Eve Beaulieu, co-founder of the company, who shares my same enthusiasm for what we are doing and always gives me a different perspective on how to look at things. In addition, we count on the support of some amazing strategic and financial consultants (for instance, Dr. Josep Lluis Falcó), a wonderful scientific advisory board including eminent oncologists around the world (Drs. Baselga, Tabernero, Felip and Stupps) and the best partner investors we could hope for (Alta LS and Healthequity). They all helped me, really, and each provided a different type of support and advice.
If you were about to pursue a new idea or venture right now - which field/trend/technology would you look into?
I would again choose something in the health sector, like a therapeutic opportunity for paediatric cancer or a rare disease that does not receive enough attention while being in dire need of new solutions. It would probably be my scientific curiosity and gut feeling that would drive my choice, coupled with the search for a market niche that is not yet too crowded.
What do you think needs to change in our societies for more women to pursue an entrepreneurial career?
I believe this is still a world made by men for men. If more women join it, the change will happen naturally, towards schedules, relationships and even towards more respectful language and more respect for women and family needs. We all seem to benefit from role models and luckily more success stories are appearing, featuring amazing women entrepreneurs opening the way. Let’s advertise them, make them visible. Their example will be followed.
Do you have any message you would like to share with other women that are thinking about pursuing an innovative idea in the field of healthcare?
My message is: do it! If you are scared, remember that there is no real failure, but just a new chance to learn. And remember to choose the right companions for the journey: they are the ones that will support you when things are tough, but also celebrate your success when the time comes.