Building a neo-biotech: It's all in the (dream) team. Meet them

I’m often asked how I can lead a deep tech biotech company that’s at the intersection of AI, biology and chemistry without a PhD. One investor once told me that they wouldn’t invest in Cyclica because I did not have a PhD.

I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t admit that those comments weren’t a bit vexing, but at the same time it helped solidify my convictions. I’ve always felt that a company is more than just one person - it’s truly about the collection of people that come together to solve complex problems in a meaningful way. 

As CEO, I believe that my primary job is to obsess over and build the best team in your industry - everything follows that. Funding follows a great team, platform development is built by a great team. Commercial growth is driven by a great team.  Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work alongside some incredible people. Cyclica is now close to a 70 person company (FTEs, consultants, advisors, etc) with offices in Canada, the US and the UK with business operations in Asia and Europe. None of this would be possible without Cyclica’s leadership team - many of whom have joined Cyclica in the past 2.5 years. As a group, we have the privilege of leading an incredible team of Cyclicans who are at the cutting edge of innovation in our space.

I want to highlight a few people:

Most recently, in February 2022, Mike Palovich, PhD, a long-time leader of medicinal chemistry at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) joined us as Chief Science Officer and Head of Drug Discovery (press release here and a video introducing Mike here). Mike’s background and experience is in medicinal chemistry, executing small molecule lead identification and small molecule lead optimization across a variety of target classes including 7TM's, proteases, kinases and ion channels. He has directed many interdisciplinary teams of drug discovery scientists and has been directly involved in the discovery of a variety of clinical assets including the discovery of Umeclidinium which is found in the medicines Anoro, Incruze and Trelegy. Listen to a quick overview of Mike in the video below.

 

Melissa Landon, PhD, Chief Strategy Officer, joined us in January 2020 (press release). Trained as a computational scientist, Melissa (Mel) has spent nearly two decades at the intersection of technology and drug discovery. Prior to Cyclica, Mel assumed multiple leadership roles at Schrödinger, a leader in our field and one of our primary competitors, as well as roles in various small and mid-sized pharma and tech companies. Since joining Cyclica in Jan 2020, Mel has been a key strategic partner in the creation and industrialization of our vision. Now, Mel will oversee a large team developing a technology flywheel that is being used by our drug discovery team to create and advance a sustainable pipeline of assets. Mel is on my back right shoulder, looking better in black than me, and fittingly positioned as one of my right hands and key trusted partners on business strategy. Listen to Mel speak on the Alldus Podcast on the topic of AI in Action focused on drug discovery.

 

Mel is based in Boston along with our Chief Innovation Officer, Andreas Windemuth, PhD, a computational biophysicist with deep roots in machine learning. Andreas joined Cyclica in  February 2016 as Chief Science Officer, and has been integral in the development and validation of all of our methodologies and platforms. Over 6 years as Cyclica’s Chief Science Officer, Andreas brought and continues to bring a wealth of knowledge and a steady hand to help guide our scientific and business strategy. Andreas has taken over as Chief Innovation Officer and will keep Cyclica on the bleeding edge of innovation. Prior to Cyclica, Andreas led scientific programs at multiple companies with successful exits including Firefly Bioworks (acquired by Abcam). Andreas is sitting directly to my right. Read one of Andreas' most recent blogs on a Year in Review on our work related to DeepMind's AlphaFold2.

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Stephen MacKinnon, PhD, Chief Platform officer, was one of Cyclica’s first employees and oversees the development of Cyclica’s internal drug discovery platform.  A computational scientist and biochemist by training, Stephen has been an integral member of the team and brings a wealth of knowledge. He’s a close friend, a mentor, a brilliant scientist, a better leader and someone I’ve leaned on since the very beginning. Stephen is standing behind Andreas' back right, dressed in plaid. Listen to Stephen MacKinnon talk about drug discovery, how to monetize predictions, and AI.

 

Vern De Biasi, PhD, Chief Partnership Officer, joined Cyclica in Sept 2019 to scale out our drug discovery pipeline and strategic partnerships to build a technology flywheel and drug discovery pipeline (press release). Vern is pharma industry veteran and brought to Cyclica a wealth of experience and expertise from his 20+ years working across the globe in the pharmaceutical industry. Prior to Cyclica, Vern served as Head of Digital, Data and Analytics, and Head of Emerging Technologies at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). I've been lucky to have learned so much listening to and watching Vern in action. Vern is on the very far left side of the pic - prim and proper sporting his famous stylish glasses. Listen to Vern talk to Andrew Faller, PhD, CEO of Slowave Therapeutics and former Head of Chemistry at Lilly on How Molecules Become Drugs (from Target to Drug).


Pratik Shah joined us as our Chief Financial Officer in April 2021. As both a chartered public accountant and chartered business valuator, combined with his extensive experience in pharma, tech and cannabis sectors, Pratik positions Cyclica well to scale into a high-growth "biotech factory" - hence why we refer to ourselves as a neo-biotech.

I'm grateful to this team, and the many Cyclicans with whom we work closely. All of us, together, are dedicated to achieving our vision of building and advancing the most robust and sustainable pipeline of drug discovery assets in the pharma industry.

Naheed Kurji, Chief Executive Officer

Naheed Kurji, Chief Executive Officer

Naheed Kurji is the Co-Founder, President and CEO of Cyclica. Naheed is passionate about building AI-augmented technologies that enable researchers to make more strategic and informed decisions in Healthcare and the life sciences. He spends the majority of his time obsessing over Cyclica’s culture, defining its strategy to best effect change in the pharma industry to achieve the company’s vision, and exploring opportunities for continued innovation.

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