Meet the Entrepreneur

As part of our 'Meet the Entrepreneur' series of interviews for our Seroba newsletter, we chatted to John Valliant, CEO of Fusion Pharmaceuticals.

Q: Hi John, please could you start by telling us a little about your own background?

Sure, I started my career in academia –as a Professor at McMaster University in Ontario specialising in the chemistry of radioactive isotopes. That’s where I first saw a real opportunity to develop much-needed new cancer treatments based on next-generation targeted radioisotopes.

John Valliant Entrepreneur

Q: Hi John, please could you start by telling us a little about your own background?

Sure, I started my career in academia –as a Professor at McMaster University in Ontario specialising in the chemistry of radioactive isotopes. That’s where I first saw a real opportunity to develop much-needed new cancer treatments based on next-generation targeted radioisotopes.

I have always been interested in the interface between science and commercialisation, notably how to take scientific breakthroughs developed in a lab and advance them to treat patients.

Q: And since then, you have gone about creating a very interesting Company - what was the inspiration and how did it all get started?

Well, we discovered a highly innovative method of linking isotopes to targeting molecules, such as antibodies. That was the origin of our technology. We wanted to move the technology from academia to the clinic and the best way to do that was to create a company and so Fusion was born.

We also recognised that the supply chain is critical for an advanced technology like ours so we created a manufacturing centre of excellence from the start. We also have close links with ‘The Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization’, a global leader in radioisotope production that sits beside our Fusion facility in Toronto.

Q: So how does the new technology that you developed actually work?

Using our unique technology, we attach a radioisotope to an antibody which targets particular cancer cells. Once it binds, the isotope selectively kills cancer cells without damage to neighbouring healthy cells, which is an issue with many other cancer treatments. Our targeted therapy acts like a ’smart bomb’, homing in on, and then eradicating, harmful cancer cells.

The homing mechanism also means that not only can we target a specific tumour, but we can also remove the related cancer cells that circulate around the body. Our technology also has a unique feature that allows the clinician to triage patients and identify those who are most likely to benefit before they are treated.

Q: Why do you think Seroba and your other investors chose Fusion?

We believe the attractions of the Fusion platform are the novelty of the approach and the broad range of its clinical applications.

As part of our early fundraising efforts we began talking to both U.S. and European investors. We met Seroba, and they liked what they saw. Seroba recognised the tremendous scientific and commercial potential in the radiopharmaceuticals space. We gelled around the vision to build a leading company in the space with a broad-based product, platform and manufacturing capability.

We appreciated that the Seroba team took a very scientific approach to their thinking. We like working with groups that undertake thorough due diligence and dive into the science and potential of our technology.

As part of the Series A financing, we created an Irish subsidiary to reflect that we would grow in the EU. Having a European base made sense from a long-term growth perspective.

How has the partnership with Seroba worked?

The Seroba team are very involved – they are active contributors to the Company and a great support to me as CEO. Alan and his colleagues offer the perfect balance of being both helpful and challenging with ideas and data, helping the Company to meet its corporate goals while it continues to grow. It is a fantastic relationship.

Q: What have been the highlights for the Company in the past year?

Gosh, we’ve had so many key events in the past 12 months. The start of the first clinical trial – the first patient dosing was an important milestone. And, of course, the closing of our Series B fund-raise with an impressive group of international investors, with VCs from US and Canada to Ireland and Sweden, alongside strategic investors and cross-over investors.

Q: What are your immediate priorities going forward?

Over the next 12 months, the focus is very much on executing the clinical trial. And we will advance our second product which we are getting ready to move towards clinical testing.

We are also in discussion with partners around the platform itself. Several corporates with antibodies that they know bind to cancer targets, want to work with us and access our unique technology. There is a high barrier to entry in this specialist field and we have core expertise in development technology and manufacturing advantages.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about the current clinical trial and your longer-term plans – over the next couple of years?

The ongoing clinical trial is evaluating safety across multiple solid tumours, to find the maximum tolerated dose. Once achieved, the goal is to move into a multiple dose paradigm. We will subsequently focus on the specific cancers where we believe there is the most promise. In parallel we will advance our second program and the pipeline and platform beyond.
One of our core strengths is our own discovery team which creates the opportunity to build and feed our pipeline of innovative new targeted alpha therapeutics.

Whether we look at partnering or further financing, we will be opportunist as our plan is to build The Targeted Alpha Therapy Company. We are fortunate to have the investors and team to support us and have a large number of strategic options.
We offer a highly differentiated approach in a field where there have been some highly lucrative deals such as Novartis’ acquisition of Advanced Accelerator Applications (AAA) for $3.9bn and Endocyte for $2.1bn, so the potential is huge.

Q: How do you see the industry that Fusion operates in developing now and in the future.

I see our industry building on the tremendous work done by the teams at Algeta, AAA, Endocyte and others that have advanced the field into mainstream cancer therapy. I see the technology being used for a more personalised approach to cancer therapy across multiple tumour types. We can use our platform to deliver focused and targeted radiation to cancer cells, and by simply changing the medical isotope we can use imaging to see where a drug goes, confirm the patient has the cancer target we are seeking and ensure we are selecting the right drug to meet the needs of each patient. That is a huge advance towards better and more personalised treatments for cancer patients.

Q: what keeps you up at night?

One always worries about the macroeconomic factors which include a US election next year and global trade disputes which can significantly influence key markets.

But for me specifically, my focus is on executing on the plan, finding the right partners and the right talent – bringing in more of the best and brightest. We have an amazing team so finding the right people who fit our culture is important, especially when we are growing so quickly. However, we are fortunate that we can draw from the strengths of our locations in the Boston market and in the European and Canadian markets.

Q. As a VC, Seroba knows that successful entrepreneurs tend to have total emersion in their task of creating and building their product and company. Do you have any hobbies or interests that help you find that work/life balance that we all need?

It’s true that I find myself with very little downtime in this role, but I do enjoy playing the guitar as a way to unwind and my favourite thing to do is to escape to our holiday cottage and spend quality time there with my wife and teenage daughters.

Q: If you had one piece of advice for new entrepreneurs, what would it be?

As an entrepreneur, you can spend a lot of your time raising money, but before you take it, you should do your own diligence on your investors. Ours are aligned with our vision for the Company. This has been, and I believe will continue to be, a key cornerstone for success.

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