Anker Lundemose, the CEO of MISSION Therapeutics, talks about securing funding and working on the relatively unexplored area of DUBs – enzymes that could be important for treating diseases from cancer to Parkinson's
What is your role and background?
I'm chief executive of MISSION Therapeutics, my fourth CEO job. Previously, in the UK, I was founder and CEO of diabetes and obesity company, Prosidion, which was acquired by OSI Pharmaceuticals, itself bought by Astellas in 2010.
What areas do you specialise in?
We develop novel drugs for cancer and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's using a new platform involving deubiquitinating enzymes, or DUBs. Our aim is to develop first-in-class small molecule inhibitors of these enzymes; we've profiled a large number of different DUBs and we know that we can inhibit some of them to ameliorate certain diseases.
Why are DUBs an exciting area for you?
At the end of the day a platform is just a platform unless it can develop some great compounds that have an impact on disease. DUBs are an unexploited area and it's been very difficult for people to produce drugs with them. A compound that acts against one DUB will often have activity across a number of others, so they are difficult to develop as pharmacological agents. However, if you are able to generate a very selective and specific molecule, you can have an effect on certain diseases. That's what we find interesting.
What do companies need to take into account when working in a relatively unexplored area like DUBs?
When parts of the science are still unknown there will always be hiccups and delays. You must be prepared for surprises and the fact that it can take longer to understand the biology. Overall it is not much different; you apply the same strategies and tactics to your execution process.
Which pipeline programmes are you excited about?
Our key programme is to develop inhibitors of USP30, a DUB located in the mitochondria. It's a negative regulator of mitochondrial degradation or mitophagy, so inhibiting USP30 increases the breakdown of impaired mitochondria. This is very beneficial in neurodegenerative disorders because impaired mitophagy seems to play a role in a number of diseases including Parkinson's, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – the most common form of motor neurone disease – and even ageing. It's very exciting because people have been trying to test similar principles in Parkinson's patients with potentially very good effects so there is disease-modifying potential for USP30.
What are your biggest challenges?
At an early stage it's about getting access to capital and investing in bright ideas. We've been lucky enough to secure £60 million worth of funding recently, but the general challenge when working on a platform is that you need enough capital to go through a number of programmes and understand the biology to decide which are the best ones to take forward.
What challenges do you face when looking for funding?
It depends on the type of company; most tech companies make the mistake of talking more about the science and less about the commercial aspects of the business. Companies should focus on why patients and doctors will want to use their product and how it is different to current therapies.
How do you think the industry is changing?
We've really had some breakthrough drugs in the immuno-oncology area over the last five years, which is fantastic for patients. We have done a lot of good biology and we understand it a lot better than we did, which will probably continue. There will be more breakthroughs over the next decade in a number of different diseases, provided we can keep funding it, whether within big pharma or biotech.
What important lessons have you learnt from your career?
It's all about people; it is important to have people with the right skills in the right positions. We've employed a world-class leadership team and DUB experts within the company, and, as we transition into a product company, we will look to hire the right R&D expertise.