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Healthcare innovations gain traction with the DayOne Accelerator

05.03.2019

Three innovative healthcare startups participate in the first round of the DayOne Accelerator. Faraz Oloumi from Aurteen, Chang Yun from Noul and Christian Vogler and Leo Gschwind from Advancience are examples of how far conviction can get you.

BaselArea.swiss: Faraz, why did you establish Aurteen in the first place?

Faraz: During my studies in electrical and computer engineering, I worked on retinal-image analysis and fell in love with the subject. I completed my Masters, then my PhD and declined a safe job to pursue the topic and founded Aurteen. I am 100 percent convinced of the novelty and necessity of computer-aided assessment of the retina, because the vessels at the back of the eye tell the story of your overall health from retinal disease to metabolical and cardiovascular disorders.

Christian, was there a starting point for you as well?

Christian: I studied psychology and genetics. In order to use genetics as a tool to research the human mind, my co-founders and I started to pursue psychometrics. The typical toolkit for psychometric testing originates in the 1940s to 1970s. We took psychometric tests to the 21st century, added gamification, made it entertaining and scalable and thus are able to process large numbers of study participants. We want to drive psychology forward. We are convinced that you can use our tools for a broad range of different purposes: It is a diagnostic tool for testing attention disorders or memory impairments as well as an HR tool to make teams work better together.

Chang, you joined Noul one year ago. What was the reason?

Chang: One of the co-founders is a biomedical engineer. Right after he had earned his PhD in the United States he spent 1,5 years in Malawi for his voluntary social service. He witnessed many children die from malaria and was surprised to see health workers still rely on tests that were inaccurate and inefficient. He founded Noul in 2015 to develop a portable device that uses image analysis and artificial intelligence to diagnose diseases from blood samples. As his close friend I have been interested in this project from the beginning and joined one year ago being ascertain that my career in the United Nations would be conducive for success of the project. I have a background in business management and public administration. As the Director of Global Business Development at Noul I now set up the European office.

What was the hardest part in establishing the company?

Chang: For us, it was the science. We had trials and errors. While the clinical trials in the laboratory worked well, the results in the field were often unexpected. Sometimes it was hard to get enough samples with high quality. To overcome those hurdles, we cooperate with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel. In addition, to approve a new technology like ours also requires new criteria. That takes a lot of time and sufficient convincing data from our side.

Christian: As a scientist, you don’t become an entrepreneur overnight. I had to learn that the scientific results are not the only thing that counts. Instead, I also need to sell my results and think about specific value propositions. I’m familiar with psychology, genetics and bioinformatics – and now I have to come up with business cases on top of that. In the corporate world, we encounter a new problem every day. You always need a plan B, C and D. It is a tremendous amount of work, but a lot of fun, too.

Faraz: Not being able to financially support yourself is not easy. I haven’t paid myself a dime in the past years. The hardest part for me though was convincing people that my ideas and vision are not crazy. I had to fight a lot of adversity. But I don’t regret it at all. Then there are other challenges like making myself be a CEO rather than just being a CTO, which means that you can no longer be a perfectionist. That is a challenge I enjoy.

What do you hope to achieve during the next couple of months in the DayOne Accelerator?

Faraz: While Canada is well suited to the telemedical approach and my collaborators and potential customers are there, we don’t have a strong business case in Canada in terms of pure numbers. Plus, the nearest market, which is the US, is very fragmented and complicated to enter. To participate in the DayOne Accelerator is the perfect opportunity for us to look at and validate the European market. Further, we want to validate our list of value propositions and find investors.

Chang: Our Swiss partners encouraged us to apply for this program and luckily we were selected to take part. I believe Noul has worked very hard for developing unprecedented diagnostic solutions for last three years. Now the time is right to  look back at what we have achieved so far and use the input we get here to make our business model more concrete. We want to get to know the people that can further help us to reach that goal and explore the opportunities.

Leo: We want to learn how to set up and run the business. And we want to get ready to pitch to potential investors and look for seed money.

The acceleration program started in January. What is your experience so far?

Faraz: It all came as a pleasant surprise. The ecosystem in terms of support for startups is completely different from what I am used to. I am talking to senior figures from the pharma and clinical side and the overall support happens to be on a high level. The DayOne team cares for me and my business to succeed. I am convinced that we can gain more traction here. Based on my experience so far, I am exploring the idea of establishing here in Basel. It really is a blessing for our team.

Chang: I am impressed. The meetings we had so far are extremely beneficial and helpful. Strategically, it pays off to be in Basel and be close to our partner, the Swiss TPH and in traveling distance to our stakeholders in Geneva. So far, the accelerator proves to be very effective.

Leo: The input is enormous. We benefit tremendously in learning how to structure the business. It’s brilliant to learn the trade from experts and get first-hand insights. And the funding relieves the hardest pain.

What was the biggest cultural shock when coming to Basel?

Chang: In my culture, people are not as direct while here people voice their opinions more directly. I enjoy that diversity and wish we had more of that in our team in South Korea. Also, I rarely see traffic jams here.

Faraz: It is shocking how everyone seems to understand English.

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“We are a small company with a big portfolio”

05.02.2019

After Martine and Jean-Paul Clozel created Actelion with two other founders and grew Actelion into Europe’s biggest biotech, the company and its late-stage pipeline were acquired by Johnson&Johnson in 2017. With Actelion’s discovery- and early-stage R&D assets, the couple formed Idorsia, with the vision to build one of Europe’s leading biopharmaceutical companies

We talked with Martine Clozel about her passion for research, the medical view in science and what aspiring biotech entrepreneurs need.

Martine, is Idorsia the new Actelion?

In part yes, we still do difficult things. That has not changed at all. Our culture and our goals are the same as they were for Actelion: we want to discover innovative new drugs which may have a big impact on patients’ lives. We are very happy to continue our work of discovering drugs. It’s fantastic that we are able to do that. I see lots of enthusiasm in the company. Actelion had become almost a large biopharma, with presence in many countries. Idorsia is based in Allschwil, concentrating on doing R&D efficiently. We are already thinking about the commercial phase, though, and have recently hired a chief commercial officer and opened a first foreign office in Japan.

Are your portfolio decisions purely guided by the science? Or do you also take commercial factors into consideration?

We all know that the medical need in insomnia, lupus or in hypertension is huge. The choice of a new clinical indication depends on the new molecule, its mechanism of action, and where the molecule can have the biggest impact as a new therapy. We are trying to be very pragmatic and follow where the science takes us. In phase II and beyond, when we start to understand more and see that our hypothesis is confirmed in safety and efficacy, we can start to position the drug in terms of market entry and commercial potential.

How is your approach towards licensing in or licensing out projects?

We don’t license in, as we have a lot of fascinating internal prospects. Currently, we have ten compounds in clinical development. Several research projects are progressing towards development. We have activities towards out licensing deals, though – not because the projects are deprioritized but because we have a much smaller organization than before. We have only one third of the clinical development capacity we had in the past and cannot handle everything. We are a small company with a big portfolio.

You are fully focused on your internal projects then? Or do you also pursue external collaborations?

We look for tailor-made solutions. If we see something that can help us, we also like to work with external partners, being it universities, biotechs or others. In fact, many of our projects start with a paper we read or some exciting new data we come across, which we will then further pursue.

On your website you first focus on patients symptoms when describing a disease and only then go to science. How do you make sure you and the Idorsia employees always stay close to patients?

We are very close to the people who are close to the patients, doctors, nurses etc. We listen carefully and really try to understand the patients. We also invite patients. I am a medical doctor, so naturally we have a medical view on everything we do in research. That is one of the characteristics of Idorsia.

Speaking of employees, how easy is it to recruit the right people here?

It’s not easy, but it’s not easy anywhere. I love Pharma. It’s fantastic to be able to help patients, treating thousands of patients. It’s amazing and yet not everybody knows about it. There is a lack of communication on what pharma is about, be it the improvement of life expectancy, the revolutions in oncology, the improvement in quality of life, all that is progress. We need to talk more about the importance of pharma to attract next generations of talent.

It seems that US biotechs are more successful in staying independent. Why do you think that is?

I don’t know if that is true, just look at the recent acquisition of Celgene, Tesaro, Kite and Loxo by BMS, GSK, Gilead and Eli Lilly, respectively. Just to name a few. Currently, biotechs rarely remain independent, also in the US, simply because big companies seminally rely on their discoveries. With Actelion, we had an ambitious, long-term view. It was never our goal to get acquired. Instead, we wanted to create a structure – not only one molecule or one technique – but an organization that is able to discover many drugs. We were ambitious and we were taking risks – and that is relatively rare. Maybe American biotechs come with a little bit more of this ambition, but Europe has some particularities that I think the industry should build upon. Chemistry in Switzerland and Germany is exceptional, for example. But generally, Europe is full of exciting science and great people.

Why is it rewarding for you to work in a startup compared to a big corporation?

A small organization provides more freedom and – more importantly – proximity between facts and risk taking. Our portfolio is small enough for the management to know all the projects. We can be very efficient in making decisions and that is much more difficult in big corporations.

What is your advice on starting a biotech?

Think about surviving and being profitable at the same time. Have both the short and the long-term view, so do not just focus on the next milestone but think big from the beginning. Be pragmatic about your decisions. And especially also, don’t do it alone but with a team.

Speaking of having a partner: You set up both Actelion and Idorsia together with your husband. How do you navigate between lab and dinner table?

My husband and I know each other since a very long time. We share the passion for research and for helping patients. I always appreciated being able to discuss difficulties and also to share the many good moments with Jean-Paul. Of course, we work a lot and are very committed – as is everybody at Idorsia. We try to draw a line between office and home, especially when our children and grandchildren are there. We want to be available for them. It’s demanding, but we don’t think and talk about work 24/7.

Will you still be hunting the next drug in ten years?

I don’t think so. I don’t want to work forever. At some point I want to take more time for family and friends.

Actelion is not only known for its drugs but also for its signature building. Idorsia is at home in a Herzog & de Meuron building. How important is architecture for you?

It’s very important. These buildings will last for many years and are part of the culture and of the style of Basel. Switzerland and Basel in particular are avant-garde in architecture. We are happy to have been able to participate in that. The architecture represents the innovation we are aspiring to. We want good working conditions for our employees, lots of light and many possibilities to interact – after all, we spend a significant amount of time at the office.

We heard the funny story that Idorsia is the acronym for “I do research in Allschwil”. What is the true story behind the name?

I like it. In reality, we had the opportunity to take one of our already protected product names. It was giving us a solid start to insure the company name.

Interview: Annett Altvater and Stephan Emmerth

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"It doesn't always have to stay the same"

08.01.2019

Désirée Mettraux has been the CEO of Creadi since 2016. The Pax spin-off has developed the Simpego online insurance platform. The insurance expert is confident that the industry will profit if it opens itself up to partners. The aim is to make insurance fun.

BaselArea.swiss: Frau Mettraux, what does insurance mean to you?

Désirée Mettraux: For many people, insurance is a boring and complicated topic. I associate insurance with freedom. I want to make insurance fun.

The Pax spin-off was founded in 2016. What has changed since then?

We discarded many of our original ideas. A great deal of progress and development is taking place in the InsurTech market, with a lot of money being invested throughout Europe. We are also seeing which models don’t work in the B2C market. We are critical with ourselves and question our actions regularly. Simpego – our online platform for insurance companies – was developed from a test phase in which we tried out many things.

Creadi is financed by Pax, right?

Exactly. Agile spin-offs are the ideal learning environment for large parent companies. At the same time, they are great for attracting talent. With Simpego, we launched the first native app on the Swiss market in which insurance policies can be taken out “on the go”. Not every insurance company would be able to get an app such as this off the ground so quickly. However, we have been able to work together with a major insurance provider to test how its product works on the platform. Everyone will benefit from the insights gained as part of this test.

How much does the Swiss insurance industry still have to learn in the field of InsurTech?

With 12 percent of insurance policies taken out online, Switzerland is lagging far behind other European countries. This compares with over 30 percent in Germany. Making up this shortfall will not be simple.

Why?

If society is not yet ready to utilise these offerings, it would not make sense for an insurance company to make its products available digitally. Our society still prefers to go down the traditional route with insurance advisors.

Creadi is setting out to turn this model upside down. This might not please everyone.

There have been pioneers who have forced themselves onto the market while not making themselves popular in the process. However, this does the market no harm. When a change is introduced or an innovation is developed, everyone has to respond accordingly. Ultimately, this benefits consumers.

It is obvious that many people trust insurance brokers who can explain the policies in layman terms. How do you develop a sense of trust with an app?

Trust and brand perception are our greatest challenges. Of course, the personal contact that some customers have enjoyed with their insurance agents for decades cannot simply be forgotten. That’s why we offer our customers the possibility of engaging in live chat or of receiving advice by telephone.

Could this be the solution?

In my opinion, we need to shift our focus elsewhere. While most insurance products that don’t deal with the complex area of pensions are standard and no-one is reinventing the wheel when it comes to personal liability insurance, Mobiliar agents only sell their own products, which may not necessarily be what the customer is looking for. We want to solve this problem and offer a different service. Customers should be able to choose with which provider they take out insurance policies online and whether they want to make use of advice. With us, you can take out an insurance policy in a minute, without any paperwork at all.

What feedback have you received from other insurance providers?

There are companies that want nothing to do with InsurTech companies, as they don’t want to weaken their own sales channels. However, there are now an increasing number of insurance providers who are receptive to digitisation issues and want to try out new things. We are, in principle, open to every new partner. I am very much in favour of the whole industry opening up and working together as part of a common ecosystem.

It sounds like a great idea...

... but things are a little different in reality. That’s why we are trying to bring together different providers on our marketplace. It doesn’t always have to stay the same.

What role is digitisation playing in the industry?

Any companies that still carry out manual processes electronically have not yet embraced digitisation. For me, digitisation is an attitude and a matter of placing the customer at the centre of everything we do. Many companies adopt an inside-out approach rather than one looking from the outside in. There’s still a lot to be done in this respect. We all – including insurance providers – need a strategy for a digital world. Who would have thought twelve years ago that we would be buying our shoes and clothes almost exclusively online? Perhaps we will also reach this point with insurance someday.

Do insurance products also need to be modernised and brought in line with the times?

Yes, of course. The younger generation of customers are taking an increasingly hybrid approach to purchases. They buy M-Budget cottage cheese and at the same time FineFood olive oil. We are also seeing this in terms of insurance. While it should be clear to everyone that 25-year-olds have no need for CHF 5,000 of frozen food cover in their household insurance, this item is still a standard component of many household insurance policies. However, if you live in a cheaply furnished shared apartment, for example, you might need an insurance policy to cover a bicycle worth CHF 4,000 or your mobile phone and laptop. Many insurance policies no longer match up with our lifestyles, especially in urban regions.

Another problem is the image.

Insurance companies have the reputation of always wanting to sell you something. Here at Creadi, we want to change this image and create a sense of transparency. If we don’t have the right offering for somebody, we tell them this and point them towards products that suit them better. We also don’t offer long-term contracts; everything is arranged on a short-term basis.

Creadi was presented with the DIAmond Award last year. Congratulations, albeit belatedly!

Thank you. We have programmed the Simpego Snap vehicle registration document scanner. It takes a photo of the vehicle registration document and processes it using image processing before the program subsequently makes an appropriate offer for the type of vehicle. This program is based on a clever algorithm that tells you the types of vehicle coverage available, depending on the model, category and year of registration. This allows customers to take out vehicle insurance in one minute flat. The program is designed for mobile devices, as the vehicle registration document is usually stored in a vehicle’s glove compartment. I think products such as these are great, as they make life simpler.

What do awards such as this one mean to you?

It was important for us that the award validated our product in front of over 1,000 people from the industry. We have proven and confirmed in our industry that we are on the right track. This is a very valuable proposition and facilitates access to other partners. Our development and performance show that we are much more than just an insurance broker.

There are 15 people working at Creadi at the moment. How easy was it to bring new people into the company?

Basel is a difficult place in which to set up a technology startup. Despite this, we made a conscious decision to be based in Basel. Some of our employees moved here especially for us. Basel is certainly an attractive location that has a great deal to offer in terms of culture and infrastructure. The city also has an international flair. Nevertheless, it is of compact size and our employees are able to find affordable housing.

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“Momentum for blockchain in healthcare is growing in Basel”

03.12.2018

Marco Cuomo and Daniel Fritz from Novartis got engaged in blockchain two years ago. Today, their aim is set high: With other pharma companies under the Innovative Medicines Initiative, they formed a “Blockchain Enabled Healthcare” program, due to kick off in 2019. The program that they presented at the Blockchain Leadership Summit in Basel – Switzerland’s largest conference in this field - wants no less than to define how blockchain is applied in healthcare.

BaselArea.swiss: You both work for Novartis that is known for pharmaceutical products but not for technology. How come you started to explore the possibilities of Blockchain in the first place?

Marco Cuomo: We got curious about blockchain and wanted to know which problems we can solve with the technology. A handful of interested people had an informal meeting, we formed a group and basically got to the essence of blockchain. That started two years ago.

What did you find?

Marco Cuomo: First of all we found use cases to learn more about it. This is how the supply chain got on our radar because Blockchain is applicable to tracking and tracing. We involved Dan who is our Supply Chain Domain Architect to build a supply chain from the manufacturer to the pharmacy with LEGO robots…

Daniel Fritz: …where we integrated IoT sensors for temperature and humidity as well as a counterfeit product check. We learned for ourselves about the power of blockchain and what is possible.

Marco Cuomo: Our LEGO demo clearly helped to illustrate our point internally as well as externally. We also quickly realized that other pharmaceutical companies must have the same discussions. So we brought other companies to the table.

Why did you not just develop something on your own?

Marco Cuomo: Of course, you can have for example your own cryptocurrency – and then what? To exchange it, you need other parties who use the same cryptocurrency as you do. No, blockchain is not just a new technology that you learn, implement and benefit from. The key feature is to transfer something valuable from one party to the next. Take the supply chain of pharmaceutical products that involves the manufacturer, the distribution center, wholesale, pharmacy, doctor and hospital. Here, blockchain starts to make sense. 

How so?

Marco Cuomo: With blockchain, you do not have to change any supply management system on your side. Instead, you create a kind of common ground. You do not need an intermediate as blockchain is taking that role. We tend to say that it is a team sport because everybody has to play by the same rules.

What is in it for the life sciences industry?

Daniel Fritz: When we show and explain what blockchain is about, we not only cover the basics. Instead, we also look on what we could potentially design as a solution to build upon the regulatory framework. People think, wait, we can even go beyond the law and uncover some business value. I think most people can quickly see that blockchain offers many benefits over the existing technologies that we have in place.

Marco Cuomo: What is in it is efficiency which comes down to saving money, be faster and more secure. Electronic records can be transparently shown in the blockchain. If something fails in the cool chain, everybody can see what happens immediately. Now you wait till a product arrives at the target to then find out that it is flawed and finally start the process for a resend. With blockchain the flawed product never even has to leave the manufacturer.

Daniel Fritz: With other supply chains it is similar. People want to buy organic food – how do you know it is bio? With blockchain, we can guarantee the provenance of a product and remove or reduce counterfeits from the supply chain. This benefits the industry and the patients.

Marco Cuomo: Speaking of patients: It is the holy grail to bring patients in control of their data. Today the data sits in the different silos, with the hospitals, with physicians for example. With the blockchain, we think there is the potential to open that up so that patients can decide who sees my data.

Where do you see other advantages of Blockchain based healthcare?

Marco Cuomo: Our CEO Vas Narasimhan has the vision to create a medicine based on data only, from real world evidence. Blockchain can help to track and trace the data to guarantee its proper provenance. Another opportunity are data marketplaces where you can offer your data to pharmaceutical companies and researchers. Blockchain could help with that. Where normally it would take time to build up the trust for such an exchange of very sensible and valuable data, there is no need for that with blockchain. Novartis hopes that we can use this data to create new medicine in the future. We are also looking into third party risk management.
How can we make sure that our suppliers comply to our labor and safety rules? Why should we have the same audit ten times a year instead of once? Why should these assessments not be owned by the supplier – if we are guaranteed that the supplier is not manipulating them?

You started two years ago as a small group. Where are you now?

Marco Cuomo: We realized that we need to define certain standards to lay the infrastructural ground for Blockchain in healthcare. That is why we submitted the project “Blockchain enabled healthcare” with the Innovative Medicine Initiative where Novartis is already heavily engaged with more than 100 projects. We convinced eight other companies to join: J&J, Bayer, Sanofi, AstraZeneca, UCB, Pfizer, Novo Nordisk, and AbbVie are part of it. The money comes half from the industry, the other half is from the EU, in total 18 million Euro for three years. Applications for the consortium that should include hospitals, labs, patients, SME and universities to work with us closed in October. After that, we will form a project together and start with it late next year.

What is blockchain enabled healthcare about?

Marco Cuomo: The main goal is to define standards to create a governance body that will last longer than the project itself. Like the W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium that is defining technical standards of the web, we hope to be the same for Blockchain in healthcare. Take the internet – it also needed someone who defined some standards so everyone could build on that. The same will happen here, hopefully. Imagine if Novartis was to implement their own blockchain and has to convince thousands of suppliers to use it. If the next company does the same, end-to-end product tracking becomes impossible for the parties involved. Why should doctors use our system or the other one? Also, the patient journey does not only include pills from Novartis. You need a standard.

How easy was it to convince the other companies to come on board?

Daniel Fritz: Some of the companies we asked jumped on board immediately. Others needed to understand our vision in more detail. So we had a lot of talks which were very positive as we were able to establish a high level of trust and collaboration within the consortium, which is really what blockchain is about.

In which ways did it help to be in Basel to start this journey?

Marco Cuomo: It started here and Novartis is leading it. All the companies and the academia we talked to form the initial approach to the program are close. It also helps to have a CEO who strongly supports digital initiatives and a CDO who sees the potential.

Daniel Fritz: Momentum for blockchain in healthcare is growing in Basel, in Novartis, and globally. It will benefit patients and the industry, but we have a lot of hard work in the consortium and with public partners to get there.

About

Marco Cuomo is Manager of Applied Technology Innovation and a Senior Digital Solutions Architect with Novartis. He started with Novartis in 2005 as a Business Informatics Engineer and gained a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.

Daniel Fritz works as the Supply Chain Domain Architect at Novartis. Before that he was an engineer officer with the US Army and a Materials Manager. He studied at the US Military Academy at West Point and gained a Master of Business Administration from Duke University.

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