Today I have the pleasure of introducing Juan R. Garcia, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of the Biotechnology Business Institute, in Spain, and BioSeed Capital in the United Kingdom. He spent the initial part of his career in the laboratory as a researcher and has since become an entrepreneur. Juan, could you give us a brief overview of your professional career?
Sure. I am a molecular biologist by training. I started my research career at the hospital clinic, at the University of Barcelona performing basic research in oncology at the Faculty of Medicine. We worked with different types of tumors, e.g. head and neck, leukemia and colorectal. Although the basic research we did was incredible, and the group was fantastic, I felt I wanted to be in another part of the value chain; new drug discoveries. I decided then to complement my education with an MBA in the pharmaceutical industry. In the meantime, I spent one year working at AstraZeneca in Madrid in the marketing department for the Infectious Diseases franchise. After that, I moved back to Barcelona. It was at that time that I decided to start my first company, the BBI, being twenty-five years old at the time. Finally, three years ago, we created BioSeed Capital, at The Shard, in London, with the objective of linking early stage projects to investment and to the pharmaceutical industry.
Apart from your great development as an entrepreneur, how necessary are business schools and companies such as the BBI and BioSeed Capital today?
Before, pharmaceutical companies were taking care of all the steps in drug development: scientific discoveries, pre-clinical and clinical phases and sales, etc. When the first biologicals appeared, the industry started working more and more with smaller biotech companies to develop new drugs. There is now a clear cross-link in late stage drug development between the two, which is one of the main reasons why the biotechnology sector has grown so much in the last few years. In our opinion, we are now entering a third phase where we will see an increase in newer strategic alliances between academia and the pharmaceutical industry; another big cross-link in early stage drug development.
Due to this development, on one hand we think that it is important to grow young professionals in life sciences with a mindful, global, and accurate perspective about this changing sector. On the other hand, BioSeed Capital’s work, like some other companies, links early research and helps young professionals achieve private equity, which, in turn, helps to create more traction in the sector due to new lead compounds.
What would you consider to be the most important skills that you required during the foundation of your companies and what helped you during the most difficult moments?
Let me start with what we called the ecosystems, and I will return to personal skills, because the two are connected. The location where you decide to establish a company will make a difference. It’s true that there is no geographic restriction for innovation, but there are some spots where it is more likely for things to happen in this sector. London, Cambridge, the East and West Coast of the US, the North of Europe and Japan are some examples where innovation is concentrated. Although this is changing, resources and mindsets vary across different geographic locations and it is important to consider public and private initiatives to decide where to settle your business.
That being said, let’s talk about the necessary personal skills as an entrepreneur: one of the most important ones is decision-making and always focusing on your objectives. If you have an idea, you try to push it forward. It will be hard sometimes, but there are people that will always be there for you and who believe in you.
Being patient is, for me, another important skill, and probably the opposite of the previous skill I mentioned. It is important to find a balance between how much you would like to run and how much you can rush to achieve the best deals. Specifically, in our sector, another important skill is to have an international mindset. In our field it is crucial not to hold back. If you need to take a plane somewhere, you just take it. Finally, taking risks will open new business opportunities that you were, perhaps, not expecting.
You mentioned the importance of the ecosystem. How do you compare the UK within Europe, and Europe with the US now, specifically regarding innovation?
Well, there are not that many innovation spots in the world regarding life sciences, as I mentioned before. Decision makers are important. The US and the UK have always had great mindsets and resources, and Europe is balancing itself more and more nowadays. Europe is becoming a hub and a good opportunity for new investments and new developments.
We need to understand the world as a unique hub. Innovation can be in any good university in the world as well, as there are lots of people investing in research and development.
The school you founded (BBI), aims to place scientists in pharma companies and biotechnology companies by teaching them and opening their mindsets so that they can develop themselves efficiently, but it also helps early entrepreneurs with their own business viability. What are the pros and cons of new educational models based in innovation?
At the institute, we cover the gap of knowledge in business between basic research and applied research, with a real-life perspective. We have more than 60 national and international professors from different types of companies who help our students to specialize in different fields.
The mission of the BBI is to educate students with different scientific degrees in business and applied research during new drug discovery processes. This year we are happily celebrating the 5th anniversary of the BBI.
Our approach is to provide our students with knowledge of the main topics in drug development, such as early and late investment, licensing agreements, portfolio management and HEOR. We do all this by preparing and implementing, along with internships, individual mentorships and team building weekends, so we are assessing our students at each stage in their industry development.
On the other hand, as you mentioned, we work with two of the major technology transfer offices in Barcelona and the students develop, during their master program, real IP opportunities to become a biotechnology-based company or an asset to be licensed to the pharmaceutical industry. It’s actually a new educational model where the students, researchers and TTO managers work together towards technology transfer.
Our mentorship is focused on growing the potential of each student and each project. We believe that this type of educational model for scientific profiles makes us unique.
We touched upon that already, maybe you could expand on it. We were talking about the communication between academia and industry: what stage are we at currently and how much more improvement is needed?
I think that both sides are improving. Academia needs to better understand pharma and pharma needs to better understand academia, but we are getting there, thanks to this new interaction we were speaking of before. Initially, it seemed the two sides had different goals, but the truth is that they have the same goal (new drugs), and we are realizing that. Technology Transfer Offices are becoming more active in early stage development and the pharmaceutical industry is becoming more aware of the timings and work-flows when working with public institutions. We are all aligning our messages, timings and communication.
Something that may not inspire early entrepreneurs: your day-to-day lifestyle. You have a busy schedule, so how much of your life do you need to invest in entrepreneurship and how much time do you reserve for yourself?
That’s a complicated one! Sometimes people ask me, what do you do with your personal life and what do you do with your professional life? At the end of the day, we only have one life, so there is no distinction between the two; they are the same and you have to enjoy both. It’s true that sometimes I miss my family; I don’t spend as much time with them or my friends as I would like to. On the other hand, I think I am a lucky person because all of them support me; my team, my family and friends.
I think that can be encouraging. We can travel the world, meet different people and learn about business. Of course, my schedule is pretty busy, and I don’t sleep as much as I would like to, but at the same time it is exciting. It is just about the decisions you want to make in life.
To end the interview, we would like to ask you about your future plans for your companies and potential future trends in the sector.
Currently, these two projects are taking up most of our time. We are quite busy with the Business School and BioSeed Capital. Plus, we have new business lines within both, but we will need to wait a bit before we can disclose more information. We are opening another subsidiary in the United States and another one in Europe. Hopefully this year will end as good as the last one, so we can have the same conversation one year from now. I think we are touching two of the most dynamic factors that will influence biotech growth; education and innovation. The main aim is to consolidate and maintain these two.
High investment in research along with the growing interaction between different stakeholders that we have been seeing in the last past years, is giving us new horizons to cure and work hard to treat diseases. In my opinion, great and huge advances are being made today, and lots more will be achieved.