Artikel Arjan – My biggest mistake…

‘We can efficiently treat 80-85% of all solid cancer types’

Professor of oncology at Amsterdam UMC Arjan Griffioen has already started a company four times before, trying to market a drug. Now he takes a different approach.

He never came as far as now. Arjan Griffioen, professor of experimental oncology at Amsterdam UMC, founded a company four times before trying to bring a medicine to market. And four times his attempts failed in the infamous valley or death: the long money-consuming phase of development that 99% of biotech companies do not survive. “But this time it’s really different.”

With his company CimCure, Griffioen is working on an incredibly ambitious project: a vaccine that can cure and possibly even prevent cancer. He talks enthusiastically about every possibility that exist if, no when, it works out this time. ‘We can efficiently treat about 80-85% of all types of cancer—in theory, that is. And when we have shown that it is really possible, one can start the discussion whether or not everyone should take preventive measures and become vaccinated. Anyway, that will take a while.’

First back into the valley. Griffioen is confident this time: an investment has been made. And it’s big enough to cover the first, crucial stage of developing the production process of it and testing in humans. Last year, CimCure raised €5 million from various parties, including the relatively new tech investor Positron Ventures.

Lectures on failure
And what also helps: the experience of the previous times when Griffioen failed. Once a year he gives a series of lectures on entrepreneurship in the biotech industry, in which he elaborates on his own failures. The main mistake? ‘Thinking I could do it all by myself’.

For CimCure he has put together a team that is responsible for the business side. A CEO, CFO and COO co-run the company. They maintain contact with investors and guide the company through procedures, for example at the European Medicine Agency.

Griffioen himself can now fully concentrate on the content: a vaccine against cancer. This is an idea that has been around for a long time and many have tried to develop it. But to date, no one has succeeded yet. CimCure now thinks it may succeed because the company builds on important, relatively recent advances in immunotherapy.  ‘Blood vessels in tumors differ from normal blood vessels’ Griffioen explains, ‘and they contain very specific proteins. We target these proteins with a vaccine. The body produces antibodies, which will attack the blood vessels and thereby destroy the tumor.’

The drug has been successfully tested in mice. A paper about the results of the drug in twenty dogs with bladder cancer will be published soon. Normally speaking, those animals have six months to live after such a diagnosis. In this group a clinical response was observed in 95% of animals,’ says Griffioen. ‘The tumor is stable, getting smaller or even all gone. In addition, the overall survival was doubled to one year’.

So all signs are favorable for now. Griffioen analyses: ‘This time the idea is better, and also the execution.’