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From big pharma to biotech start-up

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Jonas Hallén - From big pharma to biotech start-up

If you want something done, start it yourself

By Johanne Kloster Ellingsen, published 10 June, 2022

With the ambition of treating an autoimmune disease, but struggling to find a company matching his ambitions, Jonas Hallén took matters into his own hands. In collaboration with a colleague, he founded Arxx Therapeutics in 2018, which, just four years later, is approaching its first clinical trial. By giving insight into his world in Arxx, Hallén illustrates the entrepreneurial spirit of getting it done.

Hallén illustrates the entrepreneurial spirit of getting it done

After finishing his PhD, Jonas was planning on going back to the hospital as an MD, however, through the act of fortune he ended up as a medical advisor for a large pharmaceutical company. After over a decade in big pharma, Jonas wanted a change. With the aspiration of working for a smaller biotech firm, but failing to find the right match, he, together with his colleague Riswan Hussain, decided to be the makers of their own fortune. Benefiting from over 30 years of research, Arxx is developing therapies for patients with the autoimmune, fibrotic disease systemic sclerosis based on the monoclonal antibody AX-202.

Every meeting we have serves a clear purpose

As the chief medical and development officer of Arxx, Jonas’s primary responsibilities include managing the pre-clinical and clinical pipeline for drug development, as well as maintaining communication with experts in the field. However, the nature of working in a small start-up makes for a flexible interpretation of what the role entails. “One of the benefits of working in a small company is the liberty of autonomy in your day-to-day work” he explains, which results in a much more flexible and varied work week compared to larger companies. When further asked about the differences between working in big pharma and a biotech start-up, he highlights the efficiency and the fruitfulness of the work put in. Less energy is directed towards internal bureaucratic processes, he explains, “every meeting we have serves a clear purpose”. This results in quicker implementation of decisions made, as less time and energy are spent on internal communication and decision-making across departments. In essence, the work you put down makes a visible impact on the future of the company, he states.

Always have a plan A, a plan B, and a plan C

Despite the intrigue of starting on your own, the task of starting a biotech firm can seem daunting. Jonas has several tips for aspiring entrepreneurs. First, do your homework. Follow the field you’re interested in closely and make connections. “Most people you encounter are nice, so don’t be afraid to reach out”. Ideally through information exchange as “having some questions makes it easier to make a connection”. Second, have a plan. The decisions made in the early stages will follow the company for a long time, so it is important to think potential scenarios through. “Always have a plan A, a plan B, and a plan C”. Thirdly, be flexible and solution oriented. With a small team you will face a varied set of completely new challenges, and so being open minded about the nature of your role is important. However, the absolute key, he says, is working with something you are passionate about, and never giving up. Starting up a business is hard, especially in a field which is as highly regulated as life science and biotech. Being passion driven and resilient will, however, allow you to put in the extra hours it takes to solve what can appear unsolvable resulting in a meaningful, dynamic, and exciting career.

He has taken the wheel of his own career

And it is perhaps this ethos which has allowed Jonas and the small team at Arxx to make important steps towards realising his dream of helping people with a disease where no effective treatment is currently available. The coming year will be an exciting one for Arxx, as AX-202 is approaching phase 1 clinical trials. Fuelled by the passion to make a meaningful difference for a largely overlooked patient group, Arxx serves as an inspiring case study in the possibility for trailblazing entrepreneurship to fulfil ambitions left unattended by larger industry. Hallén is this story. He has taken the wheel of his own career and demonstrates the empowering possibilities of doing so.

 

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About Arxx Therapeutics AS

Arxx was established in 2018 by Jonas Hallén, Rizwan Hussein, Jörg Klingelhöfer based on research conducted at the Danish Cancer Society in Copenhagen. The company is backed by Norwegian specialist investors Sarsia Seed and P53, with the administration located at ShareLab, Oslo Science Park. Øystein Soug, formerly with Algeta and Targovax, is heading Arxx as May 2022.

About AX-202

AX-202 is a monoclonal antibody neutralising the bioactivity of S100A4. S100A4 is a Damage Associated Molecular Pattern protein located inside the cells under physiological conditions. Upon tissue injury or stress, S100A4 is released into the extracellular environment alerting the surrounding cells to danger by engaging with Pattern Recognition Receptors. These receptors in turn trigger a broad repertoire of inflammatory and fibrotic responses including release of inflammatory mediators from macrophages and other immune cells, activation and differentiation of fibroblasts, and attraction of additional immune and stromal cells to the site of injury. Elevated levels of S100A4 are a hallmark of pathological tissue fibrosis and chronic inflammation and is seen in a wide range of diseases.

AX-202 has been shown to effectively ameliorate tissue fibrosis, chronic inflammation and cancer spread in multiple in vivo models

About ShareLab

ShareLab offers fully equipped and serviced wet labs for startups and industrial partners, as well as a community of industry experts and biotech entrepreneurs. The laboratory is located at Oslo Science Park amid Norwegian institutions like University of Oslo, Oslo University Hospital, SINTEF, and a range of life science companies. ShareLab is non-profit and invests all funds in cutting edge laboratories and industrial knowhow to help fuel life science.

Contact

If you would like to know more, you may contact Johanne and the ShareLab Team via LinkedIn or other social media.

 

 

 

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No plans to ever stop asking ‘why’

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Meet Johanne - the staff writer at ShareLab

Whiskey, ‘why's, and a future world of bio

ShareLab Team, published 30 March, 2022

“I was a definitely ‘why’ kid”, Johanne Ellingsen explains. And this curiosity burned all the way down to the ‘why’ of life. In the quest for an answer to her ‘why’, Johanne pursued biology as a natural field of uncovering the mysteries at the root of her curiousness. Her initial interest in the sciences has refined into a focus on biotechnology. Her goal for the future is to aid the development of biobusiness as a tool in solving pressing issues of our time. And in her role as staff writer at ShareLab, she investigates businesses wanting to do just that. 

As the tale of the dancing birds of paradise was told on TV by Sir David Attenborough, Johanne’s fascination for biology was born.

As the tale of the dancing birds of paradise was told on TV by Sir David Attenborough, Johanne’s fascination for biology was born. Throughout her school years many subjects captivated her interest, and at different points in time she wanted to become an IT engineer or study international relations. However, the interest in the system of life lingered and persistently more than all the rest. “One of my favourite exercises in school was to try to explain why some plant or animal looked or acted like it did. What can appear as a random and non-functional part of an organism generally has a logical explanation (although the logic might be somewhat obscure) which is always fun to debate”. However, it was the concept of humans using and manipulating biology to do something we want that was the selling ticket. “I find it extremely fascinating what bright minds can come up with using the toolbox of biology. Whether it be producing beer, meat, a drug or even something as theoretically ambitious as DNA for data storage.”

Johanne is currently finishing a degree in biotechnology at The University of Edinburgh.

The wave of bio-based industry is coming, and the opportunity to join it is one I feel cannot be missed

The field's capability to combine various branches of science was the second major selling point for Johanne. “A primary reason why I chose biotechnology is the interdisciplinary nature of the field. The intersection with computational sciences is an area I am currently exploring in my final year project in which I am evaluating deep learning models for automatic cell segmentation. I also think the field of synthetic biology is very interesting and a space to watch in the future.” Jason Kelly, co-founder of Gingko Bioworks, has stated that the industry of biotech, and more specifically synthetic biology, is now where the informatics industry was in the 1950s. “The wave of bio-based industry is coming, and the opportunity to join it is one I feel cannot be missed.”

...school, time outdoors, and a (cheeky) night out can all be combined

Besides her studies Johanne enjoys exploring Scotland. Having grown up involved in musical theatre, a major appeal of moving to Edinburgh was the thriving cultural scene of the city. Now that Covid is finally easing its grip, the bustling feel of the city is re-emerging. “I do try to sneak in some stand-up or concerts between study-sessions”. She also enjoys spending the weekends outdoors in the natural surroundings of Scotland. They are not always mutually exclusive, however, and school, time outdoors, and a (cheeky) night out can all be combined. “Last week we went on a whiskey distillery tour (and tasting) as a part of a “core skills” course. Consider it one of the benefits of studying biotechnology in Scotland” she smiles.

no plans to ever stop asking ‘why’

After her studies, Johanne is motivated to be involved in innovative ways of utilising knowledge gained through science for problem solving and product development of biobased products. As a member of her generation, she finds it necessary to engage in a field that is actively trying to solve our planet's biggest crisis. “I strongly believe biotechnology will be a key industry in the handling of the climate crisis, in both its root causes and its consequences.” And while she aims to contribute to the answering of many of our most pressing questions as a globalising society, she also has no plans to ever stop asking ‘why’.

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About ShareLab

ShareLab offers fully equipped and serviced wet labs for startups and industrial partners, as well as a community of industry experts and biotech entrepreneurs. The laboratory is located at Oslo Science Park amid Norwegian institutions like University of Oslo, Oslo University Hospital, SINTEF, and a range of life science companies. ShareLab is non-profit and invests all funds in cutting edge laboratories and industrial knowhow to help fuel life science.

Contact

If you would like to know more, you may contact Johanne and the ShareLab Team via LinkedIn or other social media.

 

 

 

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