In our series “Catching up with …”, we catch up with former IMPROVERS to see how they are doing and what they are working on!
Innovation Competition alumni Kinga Matula and Francesca Rivello will be founding, with prof. dr Wilhelm Huck, Monoceros Analytics, a spin-off that will support pharma companies in the early identification of successful drug molecules by offering high-resolution unbiased molecular insights into their mode of action of the drug molecules. This knowledge will have a major impact on the drug development process as it will enable rapid decision-making during drug design cycles to determine successful drug candidates for further studies on patients and drug combinations studies. We are curious to find out what the founders of Monoceros Analytics are working on.
How did you come up with this innovative idea?
“As scientists, we always wanted to make a positive impact on the world and help patients. In our research, we are trying to understand how individual cells respond to drug molecules. By fully describing the mode of action of drug candidates, we can rank the efficacy of the compounds before further studies on animals and patients. Our main motivation was market need, because we noticed a high interest of pharma companies in our technology. Our first proof-of concept,we performed in collaboration with Aduro Biotech (Oss, The Netherlands) by using our technology (QuRIE-seq) to investigate the mode of action of commercially available drug used for cancer treatment.
What made you decide to turn this idea into a business?
“One of the companies that was interested in our idea was Janssen Pharmaceutica. They invited us to visit their pharma campus in Belgium and present our research. They really liked our idea, and saw the huge potential of the technology. Our team started a collaboration to improve further QuRIE-seq to see cell response patterns. We also started to participate in entrepreneurial events to pitch our ideas to see if more companies would be interested. Positive feedback primed us to think of it as a promising business opportunity”
What challenges did you face over the last year?
“We needed to improve our entrepreneurial skills, so we decided to apply for the Mercator Launch IMPROVE programme. During the programme, we needed to focus less on technology, and more on the business side and understanding clients’ needs. The real challenge was to keep the description of our technology simple! We worked on the validation of our idea from a market perspective as well as on its technical optimisation. Dr. Hans van Eenennaam helped us a lot to understand the pharma environment and we are lucky to have prof. Huck as a (very experienced) team member, because getting the right people around you is crucial! The investor events were especially useful, as presenting our ideas here also helped us to prepare for challenges we took on in the future!”
Did your idea change based on feedback?
“Our idea didn’t change but the execution did. We need to speed up the process as pharma companies need results in a very short time. We have to make sure that technology is well validated and the quality of data is excellent. The largest bottleneck is also finding sufficient funding. On one hand, we want to perform expensive experiments to create evidence about the potential of the technology, while at the other hand clients and investors want to see evidence (more proofs) before using our service or investing in the company.”
What is your ultimate goal with your company?
“Our goal is to help pharma companies in designing better and more efficient treatment for patients. The successful use of the knowledge gained from our service will open up new opportunities for studying (new and more effective) drug combinations, finding new disease patterns, and the repurposing of ‘old’ drugs that will reduce the overall cost and time of the drug development process. The long-term goal will be to specialize in different fields (e.g. cancer, immunology), and develop in-house research programs around machine learning algorithms to define cell-type-specific or patient-specific responses to drugs.”
What inspires you to do better every day?
“I think that having a higher purpose is a good motivation booster. To us is it by helping patients by contributing to the design of better treatments. We know how lucky we are to go to work every day working on a mission and a solution that we all feel so passionately about. What inspires us is this deep belief that every day the world can be better — and that we can raise the bar for ourselves to grow and learn more.”
Do you have one last tip for entrepreneurs (to be) who want to turn their passion into their job?
“Persevere! Keep yourself out of your comfort zone. The feeling of overcoming fears and pushing yourself in a new direction is rewarding! Dare to dream and have guts because the only limit to what you can achieve is your imagination. Dare to fail! It’s not about what mistake you make. It’s about how quickly you can learn and correct the mistake.”
Please contact us if you want to hear more about our idea and technology! We are open to collaboration!