Start-ups are the heart of innovation in the pharmaceutical biotech industry. In drug discovery and development, the early steps are crucial and have the potential to determine whether the start-up will make it and develop a life-altering cure. The Hive, an initiative for biotech and pharmaceutical start-up firms, was designed to empower early-stage development and generate stories that offer lessons on how R&D teams can overcome the bottlenecks and challenges that arise in the process. By sharing the stories of innovative start-ups working in early stage drug development, The Hive aims to serve as a catalyst for the wider community to learn more from one another. It provides start-ups with access to networks of scientific knowledge and research, such as Reaxys and ScienceDirect, enabling them to innovate, make key discoveries and avoid late-stage failures.
One of the first companies selected to participate was Myelo Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company based in Berlin and Dresden, Germany. Myelo develops innovative treatments in areas of high unmet medical needs. Its lead compound, Myelo001, is an innovative adjuvant cancer therapy with the potential to become the first treatment innovation for chemotherapy-induced neutropenia in over 25 years. In early October, the company announced that its Phase II MyeloConcept study has successfully completed recruitment, with results expected in the spring.
In an interview with Elsevier’s Betsy Davis, Till Erdmann, Managing Director of Myelo Therapeutics, speaks about the company’s research, challenges that healthcare start-ups face in Germany, and how Elsevier´s research tools can help tackle them.
Biotech and pharmaceutical start-ups play an increasingly important role in the agile world of R&D. They have the potential to change the industry landscape and improve the life of patients considerably. What role is Myelo Therapeutics playing in that space?
Myelo Therapeutics has several development programs in the area of cancer supportive care. Our lead compound is Myelo001, an orally applied new chemical entity (NCE) currently being investigated in a phase II clinical trial for chemotherapy-induced neutropenia (CIN). CIN is the most frequent and one of the most severe side effects of anticancer therapy and associated with the risk of life-threatening infections. As a consequence of an infection, it can become necessary to reduce dosage of or delay chemotherapy, which may compromise treatment outcomes. Myelo001 reduces the occurrence of CIN; if successful, it will be the first treatment innovation for chemotherapy-induced neutropenia in over 25 years.
What are the challenges your company faces in Germany in terms of research, especially considering the fast changing pharmaceutical industry?
There is a lack of venture capital in Germany, especially for early-stage life sciences companies. And while biotech and pharmaceutical start-ups have a clear advantage compared to big pharma in terms of speed, focus and cost-efficiency, their small size and limited resources often make it more difficult to access-in depth information and knowledge. Regarding research itself, I do not see particular challenges we face in Germany, as we collaborate with R&D partners globally.
When and how did you become aware of The Hive, and what motivated you to apply for the program in the first place?
Myelo Therapeutics got an email from Elsevier in the spring of 2016 regarding The Hive that I forwarded to our R&D team. A member of our preclinical group located in our Dresden office took the initiative to apply, and we were ultimately selected. Our motivation to apply was driven by the importance of knowledge and collaboration. To accelerate our research in an increasingly agile research landscape, we need to have access to the newest research findings as well as research networks. I am very glad that we took the initiative.
How do Elsevier’s tools help you achieve your objectives? What challenges do they solve for you?
Elsevier’s tools broaden our information basis on a variety of scientific topics. They help us to develop an independent scientific point of view, speed up our learning curve, and discover new research collaborations. This means that we can reduce the gap between us and big pharma in terms of knowledge without losing our speed advantage. The Hive also helps us:
- get an easier overview and optimized search of relevant data due to software assisted literature research.
- screen a broad range of indications and put findings from Myelo’s research in context of the vast knowledge available from the global scientific community .
- speed up our workflow by streamlining research analysis and being able to quickly connect latest data with available literature knowledge.
- make better research decision and save costs.
- connect with potential research collaborators keen on incubating scientific ideas and expand our network of scientific experts.
- speed up the transition from experimental data to novel hypothesis.
How would you rate your experience with these tools?
There is an upfront time investment to understand each tool and to be able to use it productively in day-to-day research. Once we understood how the tools worked and which tools were most valuable to us in a certain context, they made a real difference and definitely paid off.
Could you provide one or two examples of how The Hive helps you accelerate your research?
In small start-ups, literature research is sometimes limited to freely available articles or restricted by a small budget for paid-for publications. With ScienceDirect, we were able to conduct a thorough literature review of state-of-the-art scientific knowledge on a multitude of topics in nonclinical and clinical research. For example, it helps us as a virtual biotech to understand methods and techniques proposed by research partners (clinical research organizations, universities) or to develop innovative methods with their help on our own. Finally, it also helps us to identify scientists in our area of interest for potential collaborations.
Pathway Studio facilitates an organized view on recent data published on particular scientific topics. For example, when assessing new possible indications for our molecules, it is very useful to get a quick overview of a new scientific area. In one case, we were evaluating a molecule with a host-based antiviral mechanism that was efficacious in a broad range of viral infections. With Pathway Studio, we could familiarize ourselves with this very heterogeneous topic.
Speaking from experience, is there anything that you would recommend to other start-ups in their efforts to accelerate their research?
As long as you keep a “start-up-size” headcount and structure, your decision-making will almost inevitably be faster than that of bigger pharmaceutical companies. However, as a small start-up, you depend more on external service providers. Choosing them through a well-managed and competitive process and managing them tightly helps you to reach your research targets in a timely manner.
As Managing Director of Myelo Therapeutics, Till Erdmann is responsible for investor relations as well as business development. He graduated in engineering from the Technical University Berlin and holds an MBA from San Francisco State University. He has 15 years’ work experience in the pharmaceutical and diagnostics industry in sales and marketing, corporate strategy and business development.
About chemotherapy-induced neutropenia (CIN)
Cytotoxic chemotherapy frequently suppresses the hematopoietic system, impairing host protective mechanisms. Chemotherapy-induced neutropenia (CIN), the most serious hematologic toxicity, is associated with the risk of life-threatening infections. As a consequence of such an infection it can become necessary to reduce the dosage of or delay chemotherapy, which in turn may compromise treatment outcomes.
Myelo001 is a new, innovative adjuvant cancer therapy for the treatment of CIN. In preclinical and first clinical studies, Myelo001 has shown to be well tolerated and effective in reducing the risk of CIN in patients across various cancer types and chemotherapy regimens. In addition, Myelo001 possesses antiviral properties, an additional benefit in immunosuppressed patients treated with chemotherapy. Myelo001 is taken orally, starting treatment prior to chemotherapy.