Tag: biotech

akampion Meets… Martin Austin, Founder & Managing Director of TransformRx and Director of Alma Bio Therapeutics


akampion: When we first met, you were with Paul Capital Partners and very actively scouting the European biotech scene for potential deals. Since then, you have founded TransformRx and now you are also a Director at Alma Bio Therapeutics – how did that come about?

Martin Austin: I left Paul Capital because in my view, the market for royalty funds was beginning to narrow and only companies with sufficient revenues could really fit into the investment model. At the same time, the market trend moved more towards development and R&D. So I was wondering how to address these developments, and so I eventually acquired the Swiss subsidiary of Paul Capital and founded TransformRx GmbH.

Since I know operations in the pharma and the investment industries very well, the idea was to offer financial intermediation services. How can a biotech get money? How to invest in biotech?


akampion: We definitely believe there must have been a market for financial intermediation in the biotech sector – there still is!

Martin Austin: Indeed. But in addition, I also had clients calling up to get support in business development and commercialization, since I have been working in that space for a long time. So I took on these projects and had a request to develop a my commercial BD course with CELforPharma in Brussels into a format for a business development course at the University of Basel. It is part of a Master´s program at the European Center of Pharmaceutical Medicine ECPM which offers a range of training courses in the field of drug development, including leadership and biobusiness development. And then I had an invitation to run a course in China, which I have been running annually since 2007.


akampion: So one project led to another…

Martin Austin: Yes – and it continues! I received similar requests from France and elsewhere which led to my first book on Business Development in the Pharmaceutical Industry being published.The next book is out this year, by the way, and will focus on commercializing IP in healthcare. Just to give you some background, I have also been advising various technology transfer offices for a several years and this sparked the idea for the second book.


akampion: And now you´re also with Alma Bio Therapeutics, a company developing novel antiinflammatory drugs to treat Crohn´s disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

Martin Austin: Right. The CEO is a former “student” of mine. She contacted me because in Israel, the conditions for biotech companies are not very favorable, so the idea was to transfer IP and the company from Israel to Europe. Alma, for example, has a product licensed from the Weizmann Institute. The company is now situated at the Basel incubator and is looking for further funding from angel investors and VCs. The lead product is a synthetic gene sequence encouraging the body to produce a protein called HSP70. HSP70 acts as a transient signal to T-regulatory cells in the immune system which re-harmonises the body’s responses to inflammation. The initial mouse experiments have yielded very good results, so we have a mammalian proof-of-principle – and the manufacturing is already in place as well. I am very glad to be part of the company´s team because I believe that Alma as a start-up company is very well set. So we are ready for investment!

akampion: Thank you, Martin! We will keep our fingers crossed for Alma´s financing and hope to be able to read your new book soon.

Food for Thought: Germany Lags Behind in Biotech

These days, everybody has his own opinion about the quality and prospects of the German biotechnology industry. It even seems to be difficult to determine if biotech funding in Germany has increased, remained stable – or dramatically decreased, as recently published by the German industry organization BIO Deutschland.

If you look at key intangibles, such as the extent of media coverage on the biotech sector and the attractiveness of German biotech companies for investment banks, it is obvious that German biotech is not on the rise.

An article by Roland Benedikter and James Giordano published by German newspaper Die Welt suggests a bleak scenario if Germany is not willing to accelerate and intensify its biotech efforts. According to the authors, biotechnology is not only the most important success factor in future economic development – it will also change the global power balance: “the one who controls the chips also controls the game”. Asia and the Far East are quickly catching up in the biotech space, while the U.S. and other European countries continue to heavily invest into the sector. Therefore, Germany might gradually evolve from an export-oriented country to an import-oriented one – unless there will be a fundamental change of mind in the German government and society.

Almost two decades ago, the German biotech industry started out with the clear goal to narrow the gap to the U.S., where biotechnological markets and ventures were (and still are) much more mature. Since then, the German biotech sector has successfully produced a number of promising companies, innovations and products. However, the most attractive and advanced companies and technologies have been acquired by foreign, mostly U.S.-based, companies. Amgen´s take-over of Micromet, an oncology company with academic roots at the University of Munich, is the most recent example.

Therefore, lack of innovation is clearly not the problem. And lack of funding is only the symptom of an underlying German (and partly European) biotech phenomenon – wide-spread risk aversion combined with limited availability of true executive leadership qualities. Moreover, the public sentiment towards biotechnological innovation remains skeptical or even hostile and is mirrored by a “we don’t need this”-attitude of politicians and even Germany’s healthcare system, in which IQWiG, a decision body responsible for drug reimbursement, does its best to belittle innovative medicines.

It may not surprise you that an often-heard German term, “technologiefeindlich” (i.e. a negative attitude towards technological innovation), lacks any English equivalents.

Food for Thought: How Can Biotech & Medtech Companies Benefit from SEO?

There are a lot of service providers offering Search Engine Optimization (SEO). But what do biotech and medtech companies really need to increase their online visibility? Three things are essential in our view:

First, if someone has heard about your enterprise, he or she should find your company’s name and website among the top three entries of Google’s search engine hit list. Ideally this should also work if the user spells the name wrong.

Second, a user should find your company by typing in a short string of keywords. As an example, an investor, journalist etc. might be interested in looking for biotech companies developing novel antibodies for the treatment of baldness. In this case your company should show up on the first page of Google hits if the user has typed in “biotech” “antibodies” and “baldness” or “novel treatments” and ”baldness”.

Third, your company should show also up in search results covering a broader field. In the example given above, a search engine should retrieve your company’s name and website for “biotech” and “antibodies” and rank them as high as possible.

The rest of SEO is negligible for biotech and medtech companies as they are not selling consumer goods. Did you ever meet a potential collaboration partner who has screened thousands of Google hits related to your company? Probably not. If you are lucky, he may have read about your company in one of the important trade publications and already has you on his radar. If you are not so lucky, he may wonder why he has never read anything about your company in one of those important trade publications – despite your leading-edge technology and thousands of Google hits.

But how to accomplish the three goals mentioned above? There are no tricks involved – feel free to spend a lot of time and money trying to outsmart Google’s algorithms but you will learn that Google adapts faster than a bacterium acquires resistance to penicillin.

SEO success is based on carefully crafted key messages on your company, a bit of HTML editing and constant work to keep your website up-to-date, presenting new and interesting and – above all – relevant content.

The main task is to carefully think about the keywords important for your business. These need to be presented on your website in a way that Google’s earch engine can see and recognize them. This requires basic knowledge of HTML – not a lot more. The most important task is continuous communication – keep the world updated by adding news and novel information and by providing useful links, e.g. to pharma and academic partners, articles, patents, wikipedia entries relevant for your business, official statistics, market data, etc.

Thereby, you will not only ensure that your company shows up in search engine results prominently, but you will also build your company´s reputation among people interested in your field.

If you want to know more, please do not hesitate to contact us.