Anonymous Jan 08

Interview: The European Financing Environment and Wales as an innovation centre for cell therapy

Interview: The European Financing Environment and Wales as an innovation centre for cell therapy

Ajan Reginald is a co-founder of Celixir alongside Professor Sir Martin Evans. Ajan previously served as the global head of emerging technologies and business development director at Roche. He is a former Boston Consulting Group consultant and a Fulbright scholar, with an MSc in experimental therapeutics

Phacilitate: Why does Celixir follow a non-traditional financing model?

Ajan Reginald: It’s driven by two things, I think: first of all, we are in a new cutting-edge area, i.e. regenerative medicine. The second thing is that we’re a very British company; we’re British investors, based in the UK and funded in the UK.  

We, the founders, have put in a significant amount of the capital so far to get the company all the way to completing phase II trials. That’s quite unusual and I think that says a lot about our understanding and belief in the technology, and how we think it will be a paradigm-shifting technology. That might be based on the fact that we’re a little bit older and we’ve done a fair amount of time in biotech and pharma.

On the second point, the VC environment in Europe is a bit different to the US. There are some excellent VCs in Europe and there are some excellent VCs in the US; I just think the US has a larger number of VCs that have followed biotech, have done biotech deals, and who are therefore used to the high degree of uncertainty and volatility in biotech both from a technology perspective but also from a market perspective - so I think in Europe, the drivers to be more non-traditional are perhaps more apparent than in the US.

Phacilitate: In terms of the financing environment in Europe, many European biotechs consider the US to be much healthier in this regard; does this tally with your own experiences?  What trends do you see developing in European private sector funding?

Ajan Reginald: In the US, you’ve seen better valuations for platform technology companies and for earlier-stage companies. I think Circassia last year is a great example of a company that has a platform technology having a very successful IPO in Europe, in London, so I do think that trend is changing.

Our own experience, which is relatively recent – we’re doing a large private funding now – has been pretty similar. We picked 20 of the top European institutions and 20 of the top US institutions, and our hit rate is about the same at both.

I think in that top tier of the very sophisticated funders in Europe and the US, they’re just top people; they understand it. It’s not necessarily that they’re going to invest in you, but they definitely understand what they’re doing and how quickly they understand it is pretty much the same.

Phacilitate: Did you consider Horizon 2020 as a potential financing source? What factors influenced your decision on whether or not to pursue this route?

Ajan Reginald: Yes, we did consider Horizon 2020. I think the key driver there is the specificity of the call from Horizon 2020. If Horizon 2020 has a call that really fits what you’re doing as a company anyway and you have some good European collaborators, I think it’s an excellent programme.

I think the secret to this, which is the same for this grant as it is with any other, is make sure that what you’re doing as a company is critical to you and then look for a grant that fits, not the other way round – don’t try to manufacture a project to fit a particular grant.

Phacilitate: Wales is becoming a force in the regenerative medicine space. What particular elements make it the ideal location for Celixir?

Ajan Reginald: For us, we’ve been in Wales from conception, so hopefully we’re the spark for some of that. Very simply, for us it’s where our scientific founder, Sir Martin Evans, was based; it’s where he won his Nobel Prize, it’s where we have a lab, it’s where we have fantastically skilled scientists and where we’ve had significant support from the Welsh Government. I think the Welsh Government for us has been a very strong supporter, they are committed to developing an innovation-based economy and I congratulate them on that.

Phacilitate: Tell us about Celixir's priorities for the remainder of 2015 and beyond, particularly for the lead product, Heartcel.

Ajan Reginald: 2015 is going to be a big year. We are focused on Heartcel, but we also have completed phase II for our second product, Tendoncel, and the results for that were presented in June at the International Society of Stem Cell Research. Then also Skincel, our third product, is probably going to report in Q4, so 2015 is a busy year.

For Heartcel, we are interacting with the regulators currently. We’re looking to get orphan designation in place for Heartcel in Europe and we may then also apply for some of the US regulatory pathways as well. So yes, it’s going to be hopefully a very positive year in terms of our interactions with the regulators.

Ajan Reginald is a co-founder of Celixir
Ajan Reginald, Cell Therapy Limited