Last weekend, I uploaded a blog post that included this graphic describing success and said that it really resonated with me. Back in the day, I was the first employee of Quintessence and have been in my fair share of swirls in our efforts to build the company and move our cancer drug forward. One of the nice things about being a private biotech company is that most of these swirls are internal. While keeping developments close to the vest can be lonely (topic for another day), the upside is not having to try tell a story whose subtlety and flavor will be lost in today’s often short form news coverage.
So here I am, armed with as many words as I choose to type (I have no editor!), to tell you the story behind a recent news item: Ralph Kauten to become CEO of Lucigen. Some of you may already recognize Ralph…as the CEO of Quintessence. We were fortunate to recruit Ralph to Quintessence after he sold PanVera Corporation to Aurora Biosciences (after many acquisitions, now part of Thermo). I’ll tell you more about Ralph as my boss some other time, but for today you need to know that Ralph is a serial entrepreneur…or perhaps more appropriately from my point of view a serial company builder.
Ralph has an accounting background and got involved in biotechnology at the dawn of the industry in Madison. He started with Promega Corporation in 1979 and was the Vice President Finance, Chief Financial Officer as well as a Board Member. In 1992, he was a co-founder, CEO and Chairman of PanVera and was a co-founder and Chairman of Mirus Corporation (now part of Arrowhead Research as well as a free standing reagents company called Mirus Bio). Ralph has been on the board at Lucigen for about a decade and took on the Chairman role four years ago. Earlier this year, Lucigen talked about their goal of moving into the diagnostic space from being a straight life science reagents business, a change that would be helped by having a company builder at the helm. And I’m a strong believer of making the most of human capital.
Coming back to the announcement that Ralph is now CEO at Lucigen, you are wondering what that means for Quintessence. But to understand that, you have to know some things about the company and drug development in general. Quintessence has been working on our innovative cancer drug for a while now. We built a team that did something wonderful, something that few people have the chance to do: translate an early stage discovery from test tubes to human clinical trials. Over the years, the team has gone on to other companies as our clinical trials progressed, a very common but gut wrenching part of our industry. We’ve finished dose escalation in our Phase I trial and our clinical data indicates our lead has a highly differentiated safety profile and early signs of clinical activity in addition to an innovative mechanism of action.
Over the last year, the work at Quintessence has morphed as what the company needs has changed. We aren’t enrolling patients, manufacturing drug, regularly engaging FDA in discussions. Our charge is to find support to carry our drug forward into the next clinical trial to clearly demonstrate efficacy. My role has shifted from (internally focused) operations to (externally focused) business development. The transition has also meant less for Ralph to manage here. Depending on the type of deal we do, Quintessence may need to build out clinical trial infrastructure, outsource those functions or rely on our partner for those functions. I look forward to telling you that part of the story.
So what does the recent news mean for Quintessence? Not a whole lot. Ralph and I are both invested, financially, professionally and personally, in the success of Quintessence and our cancer therapy. Now I’m back to the swirl!