How did you cross paths with Draupnir Bio and what led you to join the Board as Chair?
I have known one of Draupnir’s investors for many years and they introduced me to the company. I was immediately interested in both their scientific approach and the field they are operating in – cardiovascular disease research is a fascinating space to work in right now. Despite the significant innovations in treatment and prevention we have seen over recent decades, it remains the leading cause of death worldwide and there is so much more still to do. The approach that the Draupnir team is taking to treat heart disease is clearly differentiated from others in the sector and stood out to me. At that point I was keen to be involved and agreed to be an advisor to the Board and founding CEO, Simon Glerup, with the view to take on the role of Chair. It was a welcome opportunity to become part of the Company early on, as it builds its strategy and embarks on what I believe will be a very exciting journey.
As you say, there has been huge progress and innovation in the treatment of cardiovascular disease in recent decades, but it remains a highly competitive field of research. How will Draupnir stand out?
The cardiovascular research field is, no doubt, competitive but we’re not shying away from this. Draupnir’s unique strategy combines the existing knowledge base around PCSK9 – a well-established target in heart disease and one that has led to the development of a number of effective therapies in recent years – and the company’s novel insights into structural biology. Together, these things give us the confidence that we can develop small molecule modulators of PCSK9, an approach we believe has the potential to transform the treatment of heart disease. The huge medical need and the limitations that exist with current treatment regimens mean there is the opportunity to make a significant impact. Other players in the field are recognising this. Look at AstraZeneca, who recently acquired Dogma Therapeutics’ PCSK9 programme for dyslipidaemia. This is a further indicator of the importance of working in this area and shows that the industry is still paying attention.
The Company has a bold ambition to transform the treatment of heart disease. Where does Draupnir fit in a complicated market and what do you see as the biggest challenges?
We have bold ambitions but recognise that we are still at the early stage of discovery. Statins remain the standard of care but are not effective in all patients so there is a need for alternative therapeutics. Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) have emerged as an alternative in recent years but faced challenging launches – questions about their cost effectiveness led to reimbursement challenges, the inconvenience of under-the-skin injections and the necessary cold chain requirements. There is absolutely no doubt these are highly effective therapies, but they continue to be dogged by some of those issues. Our goal is to create a small molecule pill which overcomes the challenges presented by both statins and mAbs.
You have worked in the biotech world for more than 30 years.
From your perspective, what makes a company successful?
I am very fortunate to have been involved in many successful and varied biotech companies throughout my career. I’ve always been attracted to companies that have strong innovation – if the science is strong, that is the best foundation for building a great company. I often refer to the “triangle of success” that a company needs to be successful. You have to have the right formula of high-quality science, a strong team and solid funding – none alone are enough. Draupnir’s triangle of success is already in place. I’ve mentioned the strong scientific base, established by Simon Glerup and Camilla Gustafsen. Then there’s the team. What a team! Andrew Hotchkiss is an accomplished leader with integrity and vision, and he is supported by an expert executive team and Board who bring a wealth of experience in the cardiometabolic and PCSK9 fields. With financial backing from a syndicate of leading European healthcare and life-sciences investors, Draupnir is primed to drive the discovery and development of ground-breaking therapeutics in this space.
And what changes have you observed across the industry?
Here I would pick out the advancements and breakthroughs in both small molecule and biologic therapeutics that we’ve seen, owing to advances in biotechnology and a new understanding of biology and disease processes. More so, in recent years, with biologics where the research has accelerated, and the resulting therapies have revolutionised many conditions. However, small molecules are still in the picture of innovative drug research and development. Some say we’re seeing something of a resurgence – not unexpected as I believe patients will always have a preference to take a pill over an injection. Further, while the cost of biologics manufacturing has decreased there remains a cost advantage with respect to small molecules, which can have a significant impact on uptake and availability of medicines for patients.
You are well regarded as a ‘deal maker’ within the industry. Is this something we can expect to see at Draupnir Bio?
I have been fortunate to be involved in a number of significant early stage and later stage strategic collaborations with major pharma and biotech companies. That is the nature of the drug discovery and development ecosystem we operate in. But I would say that for those ‘deals’ to be truly worthwhile they need to happen at the right time for the companies. With respect to Draupnir, and the here and now, our goal is to drive our own programmes into the clinic independently. We’re at an exciting time, as the Company establishes itself and builds an innovative pipeline. Today is about leveraging our own expertise, with a singular focus on achieving our ambition of transforming the treatment of heart disease.