cover art for Beyond the Breakthrough featuring Stephan Christgau

Stephan Christgau is a founding partner of Eir Ventures, a €122m life sciences venture firm backed by six Swedish universities and, through a sidecar vehicle, University of Copenhagen. He joins us to discuss the opportunities and challenges of investing across multiple countries, and ponders the unique strengths that the Nordics have in pharmaceutical.

Christgau, who previously helped establish and run corporate venturing unit Novo Seeds for 12 years, also talks about the importance of training the next generation of investors and why it is crucial to have diversity in fund and company management teams.



Please note, the intro and outro have been omitted.

Stephan, welcome to the podcast.

Well, thank you for inviting me, Thierry. Happy to be here.

It is a great pleasure having you. To start with, can you give me an overview of Eir Ventures?

So Eir Ventures is a new life science venture fund based here in the Nordics. We are a Swedish fund and have an office in Stockholm. We have an office in Copenhagen where I am based, and then we have an additional member of our founding team, Amanda Hayward, who is in New Haven, Connecticut. We were launched in the summer of 2020. We recently did our final close just before Christmas last year. We are now an approximately €125m life science venture fund.

Amazing. I did not realise you hired someone in the US as well. What prompted this set up, Nordics and the US?

We are four founding partners of Eir Ventures, and I think all of us, including Amanda in the US, have a long track record of working with Nordic innovation. We have all been involved in various funds, so we supplement each other as well. Combined I think now we have close to a hundred years of life science venture investment experience. For us, it makes a lot of sense to have Amanda, not only because Amanda in herself contributes to the team with her insight and network, but also to have sort of a foothold in the US.

The US is the biggest life science market you can say globally. Of course, we have all been there and know people in the US, but having someone in the US gives us, I think, an added advantage compared to many other teams, which are purely European.

What prompted you to be registered in Sweden and focusing primarily on the Nordics? Is that just because that is where most of your expertise is? Is there particular opportunity still?

It is a little bit all of the above. We are based here, so I have been involved in life science here in the Nordics for many decades and Magnus Persson in Stockholm as well. Amanda has worked with Nordic opportunities also for more than a decade. So, we have the network, a very, very strong network here, but then we also see this region as one which is interesting because there is really high quality innovation, and there is a relative scarcity of professional investors. There are really only a handful of life science investors here in the Nordics and it is a region where there is a tremendous abundance of innovative science.

Actually, after the UK left the EU, we can say that the two top universities for medical innovation is actually Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm and Copenhagen University, number one and two respectively, which is a good indication for the quality of the innovation you find here.

When you said there is only a handful, one of the first ones that came to mind was Karolinska Development, which obviously is really big, I think public as well. You have got, I think, six universities among your partners in the fund. Can you tell me a little bit about more of that and how important that is to have universities directly involved?

So, this is very unique. Even though their investment in the fund is small, almost bordering on being symbolic, it is nevertheless important symbolism, and it was important in the genesis of Eir Ventures. It was a big element in our strategy to be able to take innovation from universities here all the way from early-stage university spin outs to clinical stage companies, we have all done that.

The involvement of the university is a tangible demonstration that the universities see the use of this, so we were very happy to see them involved in our first close. We know that for some of our anchor investors, this involvement has been very important. I should say that our interaction with universities is non-exclusive. Certainly, they can go to any fund and we can go to any university. So it is not so that we are restricted or they are restricted, and neither the universities nor us want any kind of restrictions.

It is more a matter of getting their recognition and we are present at the universities and we are present in their thinking, and when they see new exciting opportunities, they can come to us and discuss and get input on and hear whether this could be something that eventually could be developed into a biotech company.

That makes sense. You have already mentioned the importance of the universities to anchor investors. I think one of your other LPs is the European Investment Fund. Can you tell me a little bit about what the non-university partners are bringing to the table?

You mentioned the European Investment Fund. They are our biggest LP. We have Saminvest, which is a Swedish government funded fund investor. We have Vaekstfonden, a Danish government funded fund investor. We have Noble Holdings and then we have a number of private family offices. I think if you look at the core of our four biggest investors, they are very, very experienced fund of fund investors, in particular EIF.

Without EIF, there probably would be little European venture industry because they invested in the majority of the successful venture funds. So, we think there is a lot of recognition in getting those funds on board. I think also here in the Nordics in particular where generalist investors are unfamiliar with venture in general and in particular with life science venture, we have the hope that getting, what we consider, the best possible fund of fund investors in our investor base, hopefully can help convince other people, other potential investors, at least in the second fund or third fund to maybe take a look at us and consider to become investors in the fund and see life science venture as the interesting asset class we believe it is.

How easy was it to convince investors for the first fund to invest in you?

Well, you can see all my hair has fallen off. So, that is one data point that clearly this is not easy. I have been saying so many times, I do not know if it is true, but probably there are more people who have been in space than have succeeded in raising a first-time life science venture fund in Europe. It is very, very difficult.

Of course, it is difficult because we are asking people to commit in a fund that is being constructed. When you raise a fund, you do not have any assets, you are going with the commitment, then we are selecting the companies we want to invest in. So, it is not an easy thing to do, but I think in the end we prevailed, and we are very happy and grateful for the support of our anchor investors in launching Eir Ventures.

One of the more direct partnerships you have is with Copenhagen University. I think you already mentioned them, the UCPH Ventures. What prompted you to seek that more direct partnership?

So, already before we had the first close, we worked with universities and six Swedish universities were able to join in the fund. Copenhagen University had a strong interest in participating in this and have been trying for many years to play a more active role in the venture area.

There are some legal constraints around how Danish universities can operate and how they can commit in a fund that made it very, very difficult to find something that could work. It took a long time from outside and from the university side and from the lawyers involved, but we are very happy that we finally managed to find a model where we could also have a committed involvement with the University of Copenhagen.

One of the leading universities in Europe for medical innovation and a university with so much potential, but where so much unexplored potential has not yet found the right path into becoming real biotech companies. So, yes, it took a long time, and we have had a model where technically they invested in a little side vehicle alongside Eir Ventures. But this is the model that hopefully can work. And we are now looking forward to fulfil the promise of this collaboration.

It certainly sounds very interesting. I think it was at DKR 15bn?

Yes. About €2m.

Very exciting to see what comes of that. What are the challenges of commercialisation in the Nordic countries in general?

To some extent, of course, they are the challenges that commercialization is facing anywhere in that respect, the Nordics are not on a different planet. There is a scarcity of professional capital for the early stages. It is a difficult space for professional investors because you invest relatively little money, but spend a lot of time.

So, for an investor, it is much more attractive to go in at a later stage clinical stage company where you can deploy a larger amount of capital, the company is more self-sustaining, there is a professional management. All that has to be built when you do a spin out from a university. Typically, of course, it is excellent science that is sort of the whole basis of forming a company, but maybe there is no experienced management team. There is a need for developing a plan for reaching a credible inflection point, that in and of itself, the development of the plan, can often be a big sort of impediment.

Very few university researchers know how to do that and there may not be people around them in the university that can help them. A lot of great science is out there, but not really in a form which is investible. To build the biotech company and let it become investible is something that is a challenge and where you need to get some kind of management on board, some kind of credible plan and some kind of visibility about the commercial path of this. Why is it this is interesting to invest, and what is the ultimate benefit of the product you are aiming to develop? All this, you have to draw from scratch. That is the challenge here as it is in most other places in the world.

Are there any advantages that the Nordic countries have?

I think there is a strong legacy of pharmaceutical development here. Denmark is one of only three countries in the world where medical products is the largest part of exports. Obviously, there are some big pharmaceutical companies here in Sweden as well, a pharmaceutical heritage. There is also a good sort of ecosystem of CROs, service providers, regulatory experience.

So, there are a lot of the components you need to build the biotech companies around. There is a lack of professional capital. Even after we have launched there are still not that many professional investors. Of course, there is a scarcity of management talent. Again, this is not only founded in Nordics, it is found elsewhere, but there is not an abundance of seasoned repeat entrepreneurs that can step in and help create the opportunities.

You said a few interesting points that I want to come back to. I want to start with, how easy is it to find co-investors? Do you find them in the Nordics typically, or do you go into wider Europe or internationally?

It is always a challenge to syndicate, and we definitely like to syndicate all our deals, even from the very early spin out stage to clinical stage investments. Of course, the more mature the opportunities are, the easier it can be to syndicate. We have a good collaboration, I think, with the Nordic investors, but we are very adamant that we are open for anyone, European or US investors that want to collaborate with us. I think in the investments we have done so far, we have been reasonably successful in building capable syndicates.

But I think given the scarcity of professional capital here, we have also in some of our portfolio companies we have gone in and we have made investment rounds together with, you can say, more generalist investors or at least non-specialist investors and I think this is something you probably have to do in this region to access the capital that is needed to build opportunities. So, with a little bit of flexibility from our side and from everyone involved, then hopefully we can build the companies and do the investors syndicates that can bring the opportunities forward to real inflection points.

What are the round sizes typically and the valuations? Is it still doable or is it starting to inch towards unicorn territory?

So, interesting times right now, and of course, on a very tragic basis, given the events in the last month. Who would have thought that we are looking in 2022 at a full-scale occupation, or at least a war. Already before this tragic event there were clouds on the horizon. I think the boom years that have been persisting pretty much through the last many years, they were sort of running into a little bit more choppy waters.

Definitely now we are in a situation where risk aversion is becoming prevalent on the public markets. We can see all the public companies, public biotech companies. There are challenges, and this is likely to also move into the private space. I think right now we are in a slightly difficult time where evaluations are moving down. I think we have seen an upward trend before last year, year on year there has been an upward trend in valuations across the board from the early-stage companies to clinical stage opportunities and that is reversing. It will take some time before that has been fully implemented and no one knows exactly where it will end, but there have been challenges with high valuations here in the Nordics definitely.

It has been this region where the stock markets in Stockholm have been the most vibrant for biotech IPOs outside the US and so many biotech companies were able to go to the public markets at relatively high valuations to get access to generalist investors. I think this has been a problem for us and other professional investors and I think we are probably likely to see different times ahead. We remain to be seen where exactly it will end.

I suppose if you had that crystal ball, you would be an incredibly rich man. 

I cannot claim to have any particular crystal ball here.

Another thing that you picked up on was the struggle to find experienced management, serial entrepreneurs. Do you still find the management within the Nordic countries? Or are you looking elsewhere? Especially now with remote work being so ubiquitous.

With remote work, already before the Corona pandemic, there were examples of successful virtual companies, and this has only been more common. So, to answer your question, yes, we will find talent wherever it is. However, there is still something to be said for face-to-face interactions and teams being able to meet in a room once in a while at least.

Every year there is of course more experience being accumulated here in the region and more entrepreneurs gaining more experience. So again, this is not a particular Nordic problem. It is a problem found most places in Europe. I think it is slowly getting better, both by accumulating experience among the existing entrepreneurs, new entrepreneurs, entering the area, as well as an ability to source the experts wherever they may be in virtual teams.

Do you find people are coming to the Nordics? Are the experts coming to you, especially if there is such a big historical pharma industry, is it an attractive place? I mean, I really like it as a tourist, but is it an attractive place as an entrepreneur?

That is a good question. We are not seeing a big inflow of seasoned entrepreneurs here. But there is maybe a trickle of people from outside the region coming in here, maybe because there is a growing ecosystem. So that is gaining recognition. There is an increasing awareness also among other investors about the opportunities here.

So again, this also attracting talent from outside the region here through Scandinavia. It is a place where you of course can say there are pros and cons. It is quite family-friendly countries to live in with a well-organized place to be, also with high taxes. So, nothing comes cheap in this world, but I think in general, the Nordics is probably a region which is reasonably attractive for people to move to. So, it is at least possible to move people.

Then again, as we talked about earlier in this day and age where a lot of the connections can happen virtually, in many situations it may not be necessary to move here. But if you are somewhere in Europe, you are within one or two hours flight from Scandinavia, and that enables you to meet on a reasonably regular basis.

You have two student interns on your team if I am not mistaken. It might be more now, how easy is it to find experienced investors in the Nordics? How easy was it to build your team?

This is always something that should be at the centre really of any investment team, to build the team, to make sure that you get great talent that are sharp minds, and that also supplement. I mean, the last thing you want to do is to have a lot of clones of yourself. So, you need to find that diversity and different expertise and network and have it work together in a good way. This is a key element for any team, wherever it may be.

Even in Boston, where you can go to the local Starbucks and everyone there would work in life science, but still you have to really take great care to build a great team. I explained briefly about the four of us who founded Eir Ventures and we built the team with three additional investment professionals, two principles and an associate. We are very happy with the recruitments we have done so far. We also recruited a coordinator.

Then as you allude to, we have interns, we have two interns here in the Copenhagen office and two interns in Stockholm actually. This is something new, we started here this year. I think this is important that we try to build the next generation in the business. As a small venture fund, we do not have a streamlined career path, but we nevertheless think that we can gain something from working with young, bright people and hopefully they can gain something by working with us and see how we do things and get some experience in the venture industry. We have been extremely happy with our interns.

We think this is great. The first batch of Eir Ventures can hopefully be the first in the long series. And who knows, hopefully some of them may also one day end up as permanent members of the Eir Ventures team. I think there are a lot of bright young people. To answer your question on is it difficult to attract people to venture. No, a lot of young, bright people, regard this as an attractive place to be. There is a lot of interest actually among students from universities here to become part of a venture team.

The challenge is just for us to be able to accommodate them. It is first now after one and a half years operations and when we have some investments and some processes in place that we had a space where we can take in interns, but we have been very happy with the experience so far.

That makes sense. You need work for the interns, otherwise they are just running around getting coffee. Are there any marked differences between the Nordic countries, either with regards to money or people?

Actually yes, quite pronounced differences. I mentioned the Swedish situation where there has been a very vibrant market for IPOs. There are a couple of smaller stock exchanges that have been very receptive to biotech IPOs. That means that a lot of the Swedish companies have simply got used to go and seek money on the public markets. There are two sides of this coin as there are on most coins. The one thing is that, obviously this is great.

This has enabled funding for a lot of companies that probably would have struggled to find funding otherwise. But the other side of the coin is that it has been a lot of companies going public and maybe not all of them should have gone public. I think as we are now entering, as I mentioned before, a little bit more turbulent times with darker clouds on the horizon, it is not certain all these companies are able to get money on the public markets.

I think with private life science, professional investors, like us and other venture funds, we are more used to times it goes up and down and looking at life science on the long haul and taking companies through difficult times as well as more straightforward times. There will be some companies that probably will struggle a little bit, but this is a very Swedish phenomenon. There has been a number of Danish companies actually going public in Sweden, but the stock exchange in Copenhagen has certainly not been receptive to the same extent to biotech companies. So here there have been probably less companies formed than in Sweden because there have been more early-stage companies been able to early on go public and therefore bring in money, even though it has been small financing rounds.

But less companies here, but maybe you can say that partly by being forced to do it, then the Danish companies have more sought funding from European venture investors. So, if you look back, the last couple of years there have been actually some quite impressive larger rounds here in Denmark among biotech companies. Then you have Finland and Norway. It is also part of the Nordic countries.

Each have their different situations. In Finland, the ecosystem is quite small, but there is some good innovation, but probably the problems we talked about with the challenge of lack of capital or lack of management is probably even greater in Finland. In Norway, it is maybe in between, but the four countries are quite diverse.

So, it definitely has to be regarded as four different areas. I think, again, it is an advantage for us in our ventures that we have a strong presence of actually physical presence and network in both Sweden and Denmark. We have a good way to access the innovation from these two different ecosystems.

It is quite interesting to hear that they are that different because especially from a UK perspective, it tends to be just Scandinavia as one nebulous concept without really any defined differences. So, it is quite interesting to hear that.

You can find books on the differences, but yes, on many levels we are similar. The languages we speak at least in Norway, Denmark and Sweden are kind of similar. Although here in Denmark, we mumble and swallow half of the letters, so the others cannot understand us. And similar culture and similar way in the societies.

But there are actually quite distinct differences as well. It is a little bit of an illusion to think that you have one person in one country and you can be able to reach all the Scandinavian countries. It does make sense to have presence in more country than one if you want to be truly Scandinavian.

Speaking of a long-term view as well, when you select companies, do you invest in line with any ESG criteria?

Yes, certainly. For us, like for any other fund that manages other people’s money, this is a core element, and actually last year there were regulations introduced. The terms SFDR, sustainable financial disclosure regulation where every fund manager, this is not only for life science, but any fund manager will have to declare according to a category. We are what is called a category eight fund, which is the second highest, meaning that we are not investing specifically for ESG but when we do invest, we have ESG considerations as a very important part of our diligence and assessment of opportunities.

Of course, many of these guidelines are only being developed as we speak. You can say life science in itself is not maybe the industry that people have been thinking about when they designed the rules. It is more to prevent people from investing in coal mines and weapon manufacturers and these kind of things.

But there will be an increased focus on this and a focus on diversity. For instance, one thing we are happy about is that almost half of our CEOs are female. Again, it is not that we do that especially for selecting companies, but nevertheless it is something that we monitor and we think it is important that there is diversity on gender and other elements in the management teams. We also do monitor ESG and we will do more of that, but that applies I am sure for most professional investors in the field.

It is not something that is unique to Eir Ventures, but more sort of the way the world is developing.

I want to look at your own career as well. You were a partner at Novo Seeds for just over 12 years before you launched this fund. What lessons did you learn during your time with Novo Seeds?

Good question. I learned many things. One thing is lessons from building a team. I started Novo Seeds together with Henrijette Richter, who is now in Sofinnova, and we supplement each other well. We were building a team with great people. I think again, I cannot talk enough about how important the team is, both when you are an investor, but of course also in any other setting in life, the people you work with are of utmost importance.

Of course, in Novo Seeds, in most of the companies and most of the investments we did, we were investors from the very beginning, so there was a lot of learning on company creation, how to set a strategy, how to reach out and build a syndicate, how to work with the founders and try to find the best possible ways that can work for people in creating new opportunities. There were a lot of learnings that I hope to leverage here in Eir Ventures where we also have as one purpose to do early-stage investment.

I will stress though that we are not only an early-stage investor and in many of the companies we have entered in later stages rounds, or even in one case in a crossover round. So, it is not that every single company and every single project we invest in here in Eir Ventures, we have to be there all the way from Adam and Eve, but we have the experience and all of us founding partners have been operationally involved in companies and have been involved in forming companies. So, I think that knowhow and that lived experience is something that can help us in navigating our interactions with our portfolio companies.

I think you mentioned earlier that you invested in clinical stage companies as well. So obviously much later than seed rounds. What changes have you seen in the Nordics, or Europe at large, over the course of your career so far?

I think we are seeing a general maturation of the ecosystem as I talked about before. More entrepreneurs that have experience from having tried raising venture rounds, having tried and brought companies successfully to an exit. Investors that get more experienced, I think a general maturation. If I think way back to 15 years ago, when I started in Novo Seeds, maybe in commercialization it was not highly regarded in many universities. Certainly, I think there is a much higher awareness now, among universities of the importance of commercialisation.

It is not good enough to do great science and then publish everything and then hope that someone else develops it into a product because if there is no one to take the product, to demonstrate the product, to file a patent, to take the first steps, no one else will do it. Fortunately, I think we see among universities and among university researchers a greater recognition and also a willingness to work on getting the commercial potential out of the great research.

So that recognition is also increasing, and the collaboration among venture investors, the European life science venture ecosystem is also maturing. I think there are not maybe more venture funds now than there were 15 years ago, but I think there is a maybe more established network and collaboration among the funds that exist. Of course, in a few situations, we are competitors, but we are much more collaborators. I think there is a genuine collaborative spirit among the investors that has also progressed over the last couple of decades.

I suppose it helps that there are still not that many of you, so you need each other more than you are competitors still.

Indeed, yes. Had there been an abundance of venture investors maybe we were a little bit more competitors and of course in some situations we may be competitors. Some companies have competing term sheets and, but that is only good that there is a little competition.

What is still missing from the ecosystem?

Professional capital I will point to that. And here in the Nordics, we have some large pension funds, for instance, that allocate very little to venture capital or life science venture capital and if they allocate it will be mainly in the US. I think there is certainly room for improvement on that. I think we can all point to more seasoned management.

It is slowly coming, but it is not something you build from one day to the next. It is something that will come over the years. So, I feel confident that with every year there will be more and more experience gained. On the incubator area, which is maybe, I did not mention before but the very first step for many university spinouts is life in an incubator, and I think that is where we are seeing also a greater professionalization.

In this context, I will mention the BII incubator, that has been set up here in Copenhagen. Good for them, they are funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation with I believe a grant of more than €500m. But that is just one example of incubators here in the region that are maturing and helping companies and projects taking the first step and bringing them closer to where investors like us can engage and look at projects and see the opportunities. I would like to see more incubators, of course, not every university and every place can copy the €500m BII, but there is room for improvement in that space as well.

Then what I would like to see, I think the legal. Again, you are talking about Scandinavia and just as a fund that operates in Denmark and Sweden, I mean, that is not straightforward. Certainly, you could wish for a little bit more harmonized legal framework between countries in the Nordics and in Europe. But I guess there are people working on that.

So it is maybe not a major impediment, but some countries in Europe still have an element of bureaucracy, or you have to have a notarial system within and of itself, not a big problem, but if you take every little stumbling block in the life of a company, then the more you can remove stumbling blocks, the better you can ensure the success of companies and there is still some work to do, I think, on the legal framework, which are, I would consider, low hanging fruits because they would not cost anything. But of course, I am not a parliamentarian to make these laws.

That makes sense. It does surprise me that I have spoken to a few people who have invested around Europe, imec.xpand, V-Bio Ventures, and it does surprise me that there is not an EU-wide framework for how to invest, because surely that is, as you say, in everyone’s interest if you have a fund in Denmark that can invest in Sweden without having to employ a team of lawyers.

I would not overblow it because they are always solutions. Our last investment was in Holland and worked pretty well. It is just, there is room for improvement, as I said. Of course, what we can probably agree here in this conversation is why are there these, they make no sense in biotech?

But they have been introduced centuries ago, maybe in the national registration in different countries, and there are always special interests that fight against any harmonization, but surely there could be something done on a European level to make it a little bit more smooth and frictionless.

If anyone in Brussels is listening, make it part of the acquis, as they call it. What is your vision for Eir’s future?

We are a first-time fund, so our first and foremost vision is to build a team with us and our new colleagues that can bring Eir Ventures forward. One next step will be in a couple of years when we are starting to raise fund two. Hopefully Eir Ventures will then be a sustainable business of funds. We are too early to say exactly what we would do in fund two, but hopefully more of the same. Hopefully we can play our part in being a citizen here in the Scandinavian ecosystem and help commercialize great science here and elsewhere.

It is important to say we can also invest outside Scandinavia. As I said, the last investment we did was in the Netherlands and we have done investments in the US. But be a part of bringing great innovation to patients. I think all of us in the life science field, we may not think about it every day, but we are here because we are part of developing novel medicine that can really help patients that have unmet medical needs. Hopefully we can be part of bringing some great medicines to patients in need thereof.

What would you say to a researcher thinking about setting up a company?

It is a great endeavour, but think first if you really want to be part of it or not. There is no right or wrong, but if you want your science to be commercialized but you do not really want to do the work, then that is one part, then you need to find someone who can work with you. You have to realise you will give away the control, and this could be great in some situations. If you want to work with it yourself, you have to realise that that is a real commitment.

You would still have to find other people that can help you because no one knows everything, and then take it one step at a time. It may seem a jump into the unknown, but in effect a very rational approach, take it one step at a time. Look at the science. What is the actual unmet need you can address with the science?

Try to be clear on the product you are developing and the plan to develop that product and the key experiment, the killer experiments, along the way. What is the funding required to reach that? And then, take it one step at a time and you would slowly but surely be able to make your way. If you are a researcher and you have made scientific innovation that can actually be translated into a healthcare product, what better thing could there be than to be part of actually bringing this innovation forward towards patients?

It is a privilege, but it is also a lot of work, but do not be scared by the task. It will be difficult and there will be tough times ahead, but if you take it in slow pieces and do not get overwhelmed and seek help from other people. There are many people out there that can guide and provide input. No one can do it all by themselves. There is no harm in asking people for help to bring forward the innovation.

I think that is very sage advice. Can you give me some examples of companies that you have invested in?

Definitely. I will start with mentioning Pretzel. This was a company where Arch Ventures is the main investor, Arch Ventures is from the US, but actually science that we knew from way before. It is great science out of the Karolinska Institutet, Gothenburg University and Cambridge University. So, three prominent researchers that are leaders in the field of mitochondrial diseases.

The mitochondria, they are the small energy suppliers in our cells, and there are a range of diseases, either often diseases associated with genetic defects in mitochondria or other pathologies where mitochondria are involved, and Pretzel actually is a company set up to take the innovation created by three research groups.

Now, with the funding where Arch Ventures have provided the major ticket, but a bunch of other investors around the table as well, including Eir Ventures with a much smaller ticket, have now given the sufficient funding to actually translate these innovations into products. So that is an example of an ambitious, highly innovative company building on excellent research from three different groups. It is not often you can do that and combine three different groups in one.

Then I can mention IO Biotech. It is a company we participated in the series B about a year ago. The company went public last year and is building on research out of the Copenhagen University Hospital in Herlev, where Prof Inge Marie Svane — she is one of the pioneers in immuno-oncology even before immuno-oncology was fashionable — they have developed a very clever approach building on immuno activity they have seen in cancer patients to make some therapeutic vaccines that can boost the immune system in cancer patients and have phenomenal clinical data that are now in phase three development. In my former life at Novo Seeds, I was involved in the very first investment in IO Biotech.

It is very great to see this company having moved along so well, and now being in phase three. Also, an example of something that has been created out of innovation here in Scandinavia.

Then if I should give a last example, maybe one of our seedlings, one-carbon out of Karolinska Innovation, Prof Thomas Helleday, he was one of the pioneers in PARP inhibitors, which is a well-established drug class now for treatment of cancer. He has made a completely new discovery that one-carbon is now building into a novel product for treatment of cancer. It is still an early-stage company, but very exciting science. I think the common denominator for the three companies I mentioned here, is great, great science. That is the raw material on which biotech is built, but in and of itself is not enough.

So, each of the companies and they are moving along in their path towards commercializing the science, but are well underway and we are happy to have been part of all three of those companies.

Three very fascinating choices. We are almost out of time. Is there anything else that we have not talked about that you want to know or something you want to stress?

No, I think we covered a lot of ground. I can only say that the life sciences is an interesting space to be. Even though I talked about the gloom and doom and the turbulent times ahead, I think the underlying fundamentals for the sector are still good. There are still a lot of unmet medical needs that need to be addressed. There is still a lot of innovation.

So, I think this is still an industry where there is tremendous opportunity and where both researchers and young people looking for a career, as well as investors who want to invest in something that can be a real meaningful innovation, this is a good place to be. So, on the long perspective, I am very bullish on the prospects and potential of life science. Although we probably will face a few months now in a little bit more uncertain and turbulent times.

Hopefully they are very short turbulent times. Stephan, thank you so much for talking to me. It has been a real pleasure to chat to you today and learn more about Eir Ventures.

Thank you very much for having me here on the programne, really appreciated the conversation.

Thierry Heles

Thierry Heles is the editor of Global University Venturing, host of the Beyond the Breakthrough interview podcast and responsible for the monthly GUV Gazette (sign up here for free).