Controlled returns from drug candidates
Mikko Vesa, CEO of Montisera Ltd has taken on reforming the traditional cost structure of drug development. The company divides the development into smaller projects which interest the investors. The new kind of operating model is made possible through a global virtual network.
Montisera is a drug development company that does not do any development in-house, but searches for interesting drug candidates, finds them a development laboratory, and provides funding for the project. There is a lot going on in the company right now. It separated from Pharmatest Oy in April 2012 and is already targeting a turnover of 10 million euro for 2013. According to Mikko Vesa’s calculations, it is a realistic goal and may even be exceeded.
”We have only just begun, but molecule owners around the world have already offered us about a hundred drug candidates. If just five of them are realised, we will reach our goal. Our operations cover a very large scope; in addition to drugs, we can develop, for example, natural products and food products”, he says.
Montisera has, for example, started negotiations with a Chinese company with products based on thousands of years of knowledge suited as natural products. In Russia, the regions of St Petersburg and technology city Skolkovo are promising in terms of drug development. Montisera maintains regular contacts with the United States, and companies in India have offered certified laboratories that are interested in co-operation.
A nimble concept
Montisera’s operating model is based on a concept of a leading American pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, but it has already been developed considerably further. Montisera integrates the development work into projects and divides them into a number of smaller modules, and funding is sought for each one separately. The financiers can choose just one module or stay in the process until the end, but they will decide on their investment phase by phase when they see how the project proceeds. New investors may join in at different phases.
”The operating model has already proved its strength, and we have managed to reduce the cost of development work considerably. I believe that this way of working will become more common”, Mikko Vesa says.
Traditionally funding has been sought for the entire research period, which may take over ten years with drugs, and the investment may total a billion euro. Through Montisera it is possible to invest a far smaller sum and returns may be gained faster, because the projects have a shorter duration. Those who join in as investors in the early phase bear a greater risk, but their returns will also be bigger. The investors may be venture capital firms of pharmaceutical companies, ordinary venture capitalists, or private individuals, for whom Mr Vesa is planning dedicated investment products.
Montisera gets drug candidates through its global network e.g. from pharmaceutical companies whose product range they do not fit, and from research companies and academic research groups. The drug candidates are evaluated by Montisera’s expert council that picks out the suitable ones. After that the candidates selected for further development are given to laboratories selected though competitive bidding, and divided into projects. Their progress is monitored continuously, and the research is immediately interrupted if it provides poor results or if no real novelty product can be expected.
“We aim at choosing the very best of the drug candidates offered to us. We have an extensive database that helps us to evaluate their feasibility for the needs of the market and pick out the ones that are the most attractive to investors. Product development has been completely outsourced, so we can choose the most suitable certified laboratory for each study. We also save money by discontinuing the studies that turn out to provide poor results. When the development enters a phase where production can be started, we sell the rights”, Mikko Vesa explains.
An economist among biologists
Mr Vesa’s extensive experience in strategy development for businesses, management tools and project management especially for high-tech and start-up companies is put to good use in Montisera’ efficient management. Tight control of products is crucial for all operations. He is an economist among biologists and enjoys it.
”I like to work on the interface between research and business. It’s very interesting, and I don’t have the perseverance required in research work. When a company has interdisciplinary expertise and everyone brings in their contribution, everybody wins. We have a clear division of work with my shareholder partner Heikki Vuorikoski. He is a biologist and watches over the molecules while I watch over the money”, Mr Vesa says.
It was through a contact with Mr Vuorikoski that Mr Vesa became a shareholder of Montisera. He had moved with his family from Helsinki to Turku in 2011 and was working in Tieto Corporation, but it did not feel like what he wanted to do. Moreover, it required travelling to Helsinki four times a week, which was not convenient for a father of two small children. Although Mikko Vesa had worked mostly in technology firms, he knew the life science business and Heikki Vuorikoski from sitting three years in the Board of Genolyze Oy which later merged into Pharmatest Oy. Mr Vuorikoski worked in Pharmatest which had been planning to set up a separate development company in 2012.
From a two-room flat in Helsinki to a detached house in Turku
Turku has been a good choice in terms of both work environment and family.
”Finnish biotechnology is largely concentrated to Turku and Kuopio where there is most expertise. Montisera is based in PharmaCity in Turku Science Park, and there are a number of partners, both businesses and universities, within a walking distance. For example, we received a tip from our next door neighbour about a drug candidate. Turku Science Park Ltd has also actively helped us, and when we had Chinese guests, Mayor Aleksi Randell paid a visit”, Mikko Vesa commends.
Mr Vesa moved to Turku originally for family reasons. He knew the city, as his wife was born there, and he studied in the University of Turku himself. He also has relatives in Turku.
“In Helsinki we lived in the city-centre in a two-room flat of 70 square metres with another child on the way. Getting a bigger flat there would have meant a five-figure price per square metre, or we could have moved to Espoo or Vantaa where the connections are congested. In Turku we moved to an old detached house of my wife’s family in Kuuvuori district. We have a view to Turku Cathedral, and it would be a 15-minute walk to work, but car is for the time being more convenient, because we have to take the kids to day care”, Mikko Vesa says.
As a yachtsman and scuba-diver he is also happy about the proximity of the archipelago. And the family often spends time at their summer house in Rymättylä, Naantali.
”I haven’t had much time for any hobbies lately, because the children keep us busy and we are renovating the house. I did participate in two sailing races last summer, though”, Mikko Vesa says.
- Born in Pori in 1971, moved from Helsinki to Turku in 2011
- Education: Master of Science (Economics), University of Turku
- CEO and partner of drug development company Montisera based in PharmaCity
- Montisera separated from Pharmatest Services Oy in April 2012
- Oct 2012– Montisera Ltd
- Oct 2010 – Jun 2012 Tieto Corporation, Manager, Concept Development
- 2008–2010 SAP Finland Oy, Enterprise Sales Executive
- Jan 2007 – Dec 2009 Genolyze Oy, member of the Board (the company later merged into Pharmatest Oy)
- Dec 2007 – Aug 2008 Zen Robotics Ltd (former Zendroid Ltd), CEO (hired from Gearshift Group)
- Oct 2007 – Aug 2008 Gearshift Group, Management Consultant (technology start-ups)
- Oct 2006 – Oct 2007 ALG Nordic, VP of Professional Services/partner (management solution development)
- Jan 2006 – Sep 2006 Gap Gemini, Project Manager
- Sep 1999 – Oct 2005 Deloitte, Manager
Family: Wife and two children (Viktor, 2 years, and Sofia, almost 4 years)
- 2007– Sea Safety Scandinavia SSI Diving Instructor
- Certified SSI instructor
- Certified PADI Dive Master
- Sailing with family and in races, e.g. Gotland runt 2012 (s/y Speculator)
- Own boat in the archipelago
Text and photo: Anne Kortela