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Starting up a company requires a different way of working

"Always consider and evaluate multiple scenarios, including the not so bright ones. As long as everything runs smoothly, all parties will be cooperative. But the reality is that in the life sciences field most start-ups will have difficult times. That is why you have to think carefully about your role and future as an academic researcher.  Make sure your line of research is not affected by company-related problems." Frank Baas, co-founder and cso of Regenesance and professor of Genome Analysis, Academic Medical Centre.

Regenesance, a spin-off from the Academic Medical Centre (AMC), develops novel therapies for neurodegenerative diseases like ALS and MS. Co-founder Frank Baas has devoted his career to this field. "In 1992, I started my research at the AMC into genes that are involved in neurodegenerative disorders. When in 2006, we discovered that regulators of the complement system, a part of the immune system, are expressed in nerve tissue we landed on completely new territory. Furthermore, we found a link between this activation of the complement system and the severity of disease. That gave us a potential target for developing a therapy and that is when we started looking at our work from a more applied and commercial angle."

Together with the IXA team, Baas filed a patent application on their findings and secured a 'SKE' Pre-Seed Grant to map the potential market and the competition. "The IXA team also really helped us with defining and assessing the feasibility of our idea and objectives." Additional financing was attracted from different sources and in 2009, Regenesance was founded. "Right now, we have an antibody that is ready to be tested in humans", say Baas. "What we are now working on is organising and funding the clinical-grade production of this antibody."

So far, so good, but Baas remains realistic. "The chances of success in drug development are really small. As a scientist, you have to think about what happens when it doesn't work out. Make sure you have and retain the freedom to publish your results and clearly define what belongs the company and what belong to your academic work." For fellow academics who are about to engage in entrepreneurial adventures, he has one, very clear advice. "Get a professional on board as ceo as soon as possible. Being a researcher, your focus is on science and it should stay there, because a young company will still need a lot of research. What you need is someone who has industrial experience in drug development, who knows what needs to be done to get a new drug to the market." In spite of his warnings, he enjoys being part of a new venture. "It requires a completely different way of working and that is still challenge, but a very attractive one. I can definitely recommend it."