For over the past three decades, gene therapy has consistently tried to improve its method to cure diseases by developing several mechanisms. Industry experts have researched meticulously to allow doctors to treat a disorder by replacing genes. Javier García, the CEO and Co-founder of Viralgen Vector Core, has incorporated new technologies for medical treatments that improve the health and lives of people.
In recent years, Javier García has led the strategy and implementation of several projects that have marked the forefront of the global biotechnology sector. He has become a global reference as a manufacturer of AAVs for gene therapy. This prompted its acquisition by Bayer in 2020 as part of the AskBio acquisition, for $4 billion.
He is also the co-founder of Columbus Venture Partners, a venture capital firm focused on driving the most disruptive early science and its translation into the market. After the success of Viralgen and other projects in the first two funds, he has just launched a third one with 120 million euros.
Social responsibility is a key aspect of his activity. He is the co-founder of Columbus Children’s Foundation that started in Spain in 2017 and expanded into the US in 2018. The Foundation is specifically aimed at accelerating treatments for children with ultra-rare diseases.
We at Insights Success caught up with Javier García to know more about his journey and how Viralgen is meeting the unmet needs for manufacturing gene therapies.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at Viralgen. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?
My main professional motivation has always been the creation of value and transformation in the healthcare industry. To devise and develop new projects that have a real impact on people’s lives and wellbeing has been a constant. I started my first entrepreneurial experience in 1986.
I end up working for Eli Lilly for 25 years. I developed my career in Information Technology and later in Business Development. In IT, I lead the digital transformation of the company in the R&D and commercial areas. As Vice President of Business Development, I was involved at the core of innovation acquisition and licensing.
In 2012, I became an independent consultant for biotech companies and research centers. It was in those years that I met my partner, Damià Tormo, with whom we decided to create Columbus Venture Partners in 2015. We have now three funds and more than $250M under management.
The main challenge I faced was to ensure that I really could have the freedom to create a vision and execute it outside a pharma company. Pharma companies are great places to work and learn but leaving a pharma company from an executive position and finding a meaningful place to make a difference is not so simple. It requires discipline, a very definitive commitment to learn and adapt to the world without the protection of a large corporation.
Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision.
Viralgen was born in response to one of the most pressing needs of the gene therapy market. There was a manufacturing bottleneck that Viralgen helped to address with unique technology, a world-class team, and extra production capacity.
Viralgen’s goal is to provide access to AAV gene therapy solutions for people with genetic diseases. To achieve this, its mission is to accompany its customers throughout the entire process, from development to commercial manufacturing, so that they get the best quality product at the right time and on the right scale and price.
Enlighten us on how you have made an impact in the BioTech niche through your expertise in the market?
I believe that the key is to make a correct reading of what is happening in the market, understand where it is heading, anticipate events by assuming the risks that this implies. There is great science in institutions, but there is not so much knowledge in how to bring it to the market. Ensuring people have access to this knowledge and to those who have the experience is the key to success.
In a nutshell, I believe the role I play is to bring traditional capital and intellectual capital to produce real and tangible innovation. Today capital and knowledge need to be brought together in ways never seen before. Smaller organizations can leverage this new model better than the larger ones and produce even greater results.
Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.
It is precisely Viralgen’s corporate culture that enabled us to attract highly qualified talent, suppliers, and customers. Our culture is based on four core values: expertise, empathy, humanity, and trust. Patients are at the center of our decisions. That is the reason that quality is at the top of our expectations.
This is manifested in the human approach of the organization, and how we work with the Columbus Children’s Foundation to advance gene therapy programs with no commercial interest through our contribution in manufacturing.
We are the custodian of a potent technology that can transform the lives of many people, and people that work at Viralgen honor that commitment.
The commitment and pride of belonging that drive the corporate culture is synthesized by this idea – inspired by Dr. Jude Samulski (one of the fathers of gene therapy, and founder of Askbio): “people at Viralgen don’t only come to work, but they come to change the world”.
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for Viralgen?
I will be developing innovative projects that drive a relevant benefit for the wellbeing of people. I feel that this is my vocation, my passion, and my place in the world. Combining for-profit with non-for-profit makes lots of sense, and I believe it is the new model for the pharma industry and biotech.
I also believe we have to transform the world by giving global access to cures. It is almost as wrapping non-for-profit biotech as part of what we do. This is why we value so much the work we are doing with the Columbus Children´s Foundation. It is a reality that if we don´t do anything about neglected diseases and global access nobody will as we are the ones who understand the technology and what we can do with it.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the BioTech sector?
There are four areas that entrepreneurs need to develop: a vision to establish a differential position on what they want to achieve, leadership to ensure they know how to drive toward the vision and face the challenges, courage to overcome the barriers and deal with setbacks, and compassion to be able to understand patient suffering and urgency.
Anybody in this sector needs to be ready to get feedback, network, and listen to perspectives from different angles. Science is not everything; it is necessary but not sufficient. I see many great projects failing because the leader didn’t take the right actions at the right time.
The final advice is that failure is not a negative thing. I know that myself firsthand, and we need to take a different attitude about that. Attrition of projects in biotech is high, and failure is expected, but there will always be a great project waiting, and the accumulated learning from failures is very valuable.
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