On 25 September we will announce the 5 startups that win the Brabant Startup Awards. In the run-up to that event in Tilburg’s Wagenmakerij we look ahead with the judges. Today Andrea van Elsas, Chief Scientific Officer of Aduro Biotech in Oss.
After a career at Organon in Oss, Andrea van Elsas co-founded BioNovion to develop innovative therapeutic antibodies in the field of immuno-oncology. In 2015, his company became part of Aduro Biotech. But it took him a lot of effort to get there. Van Elsas: “At the start of BioNovion, with a research portfolio of candidate drugs from the former Organon base, we were immediately recognised by Brabant financiers such as BLSF and BOM. The team of three founders – Wiebe Olijve, Hans van Eenennaam and I – combined a wide range of skills, knowledge and experience in science and the development of medicines, with credibility and entrepreneurship. The opening of our headquarters at the Pivot Park campus in Oss, financed by the municipality of Oss and the Province of Brabant, gave the final push to a flying start.
Van Elsas says drug development is a process of infinitely diverse skills, long breath and full of difficulties and setbacks. “All the hurdles that BioNovion encountered in the first two years were taken successfully, sometimes with internal expertise but much more often by calling in the right external experts. As founders, we had a large international network from which to draw. Each time the company came out stronger. Above all, as founders, we set a clear course, built a strong team, and were always in search of the customer.”
After two years, part of the spin-out portfolio could be sold back to MSD, the company that had acquired Organon. After that, the young company was able to grow on its own. Another year and a half later, the company was taken over by Aduro Biotech, an American Nasdaq listed company that, according to Van Elsas, had the complementary knowledge and a strong financial basis, “so that the BioNovion programmes could be clinically tested in the fastest way”. Aduro now employs a total of 160 people, 120 of whom work in Berkeley and 40 in Oss.
The innovative ecosystem in Brabant has meant a lot to BioNovion and Aduro, says Van Elsas. “Brabant has a disproportionately strong pool of people with a highly educated background who have been trained in or around Organon in skills that are important for successful drug development, from lab to registration and market. This is truly unique in the Netherlands. After the closure of the former Organon R&D organisation, this pool of former colleagues has expanded and has resulted in an enormous network of knowledge and expertise.”
When assessing the startups for the awards, Van Elsas first pays attention to the ‘problem solvers’. “I am very interested in companies that solve a real problem, now or in the near future. Brabant is in an enviable position, with the concentration of companies and a university around Eindhoven, with world-class high technology and the recent recognition of pharmaceutical knowledge and entrepreneurship in Oss. In new companies, I like to see the same ‘can do‘ mentality, not only focused on Brabant or the Netherlands but globally and without any timidity.”
Van Elsas does not have a golden tip directly, but he does have a ‘golden combination’: “Brabant sobriety coupled with boundless entrepreneurship and ambition, just like Americans often show.”
Main photo: State Secretary Mona Keijzer visits Aduro at the Pivot Park in Oss.