CEO interview

CEO Interview

Interview with Dr Werner Lanthaler, Evotec SE (November 2021)

Werner Lanthaler has been CEO of Evotec SE since 2009. In an interview with BIOTECH Insight he talks about the current company strategy, the importance of precision medicine and the role of data in drug development.

Evotec wants to accelerate its expansion abroad and completed a secondary listing on the US stock exchange NASDAQ at the beginning of November. Why is such a step so important to you?

Lanthaler: It makes sense for us to map out our operational structure as a global company with a US listing. North America is and will remain the largest pharmaceutical market in the world. For many years we have been working in various extensive partnerships with US pharmaceutical and biotech companies, as well as foundations and academic institutions. With the construction of our first biopharmaceutical production facility, the J.POD® in Redmond, Washington, our operational set-up has once again expanded significantly. The secondary listing on NASDAQ brings us closer to some of our largest and most important partners.

Precision medicine is one of the topics that are to be supported further with the capital raised from the listing. Why is this area considered the medicine of the future?

Lanthaler: 90% of the drugs available today only work for about 50% of the patients who take them. Given the possibilities of modern medicine, this is an absolutely unacceptable situation. Imagine if only every second car and cell phone would work - unthinkable, but it is like that with most medicines. In the past, medical conditions were described in terms of their symptoms and as generally as possible. Describing symptoms used to be the up-to-date approach ­– but in the age of modern sequencing techniques, with which the complex human organism can be assessed in much more detail, going only by symptoms is no longer state of the art. Take chronic kidney disease, for instance. After sequencing thousands of patient samples, we now know that these are actually a few hundred different clinical pictures. Of course, the answer to such a heterogeneous indication cannot be the same active ingredient for all patients. And then it suddenly becomes clear why in the past proving clinical efficacy has often not been successful with exactly this approach - although the research hypotheses would have been entirely valid for subcohorts with special manifestations of this disease. For personalised medicine, we have to rethink the way we look at health and disease. That means: turning away from symptoms and towards a solid database. Only in this way will we be able to dramatically improve the early detection of diseases and address the cause rather than the symptoms of a disease with really effective therapeutic interventions.

Which technologies (AI, gene and cell therapy, mRNA) play a role here and how is Evotec positioning itself in this field?

Lanthaler: All technologies of modern drug research and development and all therapeutic modalities are essential in precision medicine. The most important thing is the integration of the various technologies on a common platform. This is the only way to achieve true multimodality - i.e. an openness to the therapeutic option that is really best suited. The backbone of such a platform is the constant enrichment of the database - and the platform’s ever better utilisation of these data along the entire value chain. Evotec sees itself exactly as that: We are the platform for all technologies needed to research, develop and manufacture the precision medicine of the future. That is why we want to work with as many different partners as possible. Nevertheless, we do not act as mere stirrup holders, but rather we are directly involved in the potential success of our own work through the model of "co-ownership", which means that we participate directly from any potential success of our research projects.

What are the greatest challenges in implementing data and technology-driven precision medicine?

Lanthaler: At the beginning of every major technological transformation, energy, labor and capital needs to be expended without any immediate monetary benefit. It starts with the textbook at the university and ends in the licensing authority: the entire process of pharmaceutical research and development is based on old paradigms and must first adapt to the new circumstances. Overcoming these “institutional rigidities” is not an easy task - it takes a lot of patience - but it will pay off when we then end up with a new precision medicine of the future, in which diseases can be recognised much earlier, identified much more precisely, and therefore, can also be treated much more successfully.

How do you rate Germany as a biotech location? Has it gained momentum not least thanks to the success of BioNTech in Mainz in the vaccine sector?

Lanthaler: Germany is still extremely well positioned internationally, especially in the academic field. But the jump from the academic to the industrial context that we call “translation” is more difficult here than it is in many other places. Biotech lighthouses such as BioNTech, Morphosys and Evotec show that it is possible in Germany to conduct internationally leading pharmaceutical R&D but this level of success is by no means representative across the spectrum. There are many reasons for this. One of them is certainly the traditional reluctance of local venture capitalists, especially when it comes to early-stage research. Additionally, the translation often fails due to a lack of willingness to take risks on the part of the developers themselves, or unrealistic ideas from the universities involved. With our BRIDGE model, we have created an incubator with which academic research projects can initially be validated on Evotec's industrial platform. With an industrial-grade validation it becomes much easier to "partner" them in pharmaceutical development or to raise capital for your own spin-off.

What makes the Heidelberg location so special, in which Evotec is involved with the BRIDGE beLAB2122?

Lanthaler: The special thing about the BRIDGE beLAB2122 is that Evotec for the first time is cooperating not only with a single academic institution, but with five absolutely first-class institutions from the Rhine-Main-Neckar region. With Bristol Myers Squibb we also have a partner at our side who has the necessary resources to support the academic assets from this region in the best way possible in their further development. We recently announced the first project that is being developed in beLAB2122: It comes from the German Cancer Research Center ("DKFZ") and the University of Heidelberg and aims to develop small-molecule inhibitors of a nutrient transporter that is essential for the survival of certain cancer cells. Further projects will follow.

Dr. Werner Lanthaler has been CEO of Evotec SE since March 2009. During his tenure, the company developed from a specialised drug developer to a highly innovative science group with more than 4,000 employees at 14 locations worldwide. Previously, Dr. Lanthaler was CFO of Intercell AG, Head of the Austrian Federation of Industry and Senior Management Consultant at McKinsey & Company. He received his doctorate in business administration from the Vienna University of Economics and Business and received his master’s degree and a degree in psychology from Harvard University.

 

About the company

Evotec SE, headquartered in Hamburg, is a science group with a unique business model to research, develop and make highly effective drugs available to patients. With more than 4,000 highly qualified people in 14 locations, Evotec is working on building the world's leading co-owned pipeline of innovative therapeutic approaches. The company uses its multimodal platform, the “Data-driven R&D Autobahn to Cures”, for both its own and joint drug research with partners. With the help of innovative technologies, first-in-class and best-in-class pharmaceutical products are to be identified and developed. Evotec's network of partners includes all of the top 20 pharmaceutical and hundreds of biotechnology companies, as well as academic institutions and other healthcare players.

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