In this VC Views article, V-Bio Ventures introduces one of their portfolio companies, OCTIMET. This Belgian oncology startup just added a new member to its executive team, with the appointment of Shelley Margetson as CEO. It’s exciting times for OCTIMET, who are gearing up for a series B with their sights set on potential partners in China.
Image: Shelley Margetson, CEO of OCTIMET.
OCTIMET is a thoroughly Belgian company with international/global ambitions. With new CEO Shelley Margetson in charge, these aspirations look justified for the young oncology company. As Margetson takes on the executive position, founder and former CEO/CSO Tim Perera will now focus on the role of CSO, thereby providing OCTIMET’s management team with the well-rounded and complementary skillset they need for future development.
OCTIMET’s lead compound OMO-1 is a selective MET kinase inhibitor. MET is a popular target for cancer drugs, as the receptor is mutated in a broad range of cancer types including lung cancer. The compound is currently undergoing Phase II clinical trials.
BioVox previously covered OCTIMET's 11 million series A round in this news piece.
BioVox spoke to founder and CSO Tim Perera about the company’s history and with new CEO Shelley Margetson about OCTIMET’s future.
Tim, you were one of the founders of OCTIMET back in 2016: why the focus on a small molecule oncology solution?
Tim Perera: OCTIMET is a spin-out from Janssen Pharmaceutica, where I was a drug discovery scientist for many years. This was one of the discovery projects for which I was the Biology team leader. Janssen took the OMO-1 compound into the clinic in a healthy volunteer study which went well, but then for strategic reasons they couldn’t develop it further. So, they were looking to partner it out and supported the founding of OCTIMET to move the compound forward into clinical development.
China is of interest to us for multiple reasons: the prevalence of abnormal MET gene activation is particularly high in Asia; there is a huge patient population with poor access to targeted oncology drugs; and Chinese investors have a lot of money which they are looking to invest in European companies. - Shelley Margetson
Originally, we were a part of the JLINX incubator (now JLABS). For me, this was highly valuable, as I came from a scientific R&D background rather than from business. Founding OCTIMET was a huge learning process for me; JLINX gave me access to training and opened a lot of doors.
One of the first investors I spoke with was actually Christina Takke, who was setting up V-Bio Ventures at the time. VIB, V-Bio Ventures and Fund Plus provided us with seed funding to get the company going and later also co-lead OCTIMET’s series A financing round.
When JLINX transitioned to JLABS last year, we stayed on and became a part of the JLABS community. They’ve given us a different set of added value inputs, including a much bigger network to tap into. This has been a timely transition for us as a company, as we’re now gearing up for a series B financing. Already next month, we’re attending the grand opening of JLABS Shanghai, where we’ll get the chance to meet Chinese investors.
Are you particularly interested in Chinese investment?
Shelley Margetson: China is of interest to us for multiple reasons: the prevalence of abnormal MET gene activation is particularly high in Asia; there is a huge patient population with poor access to targeted oncology drugs; and Chinese investors have a lot of money which they are looking to invest in European companies.
People were initially quite wary of Chinese investors, but I think that has started to normalize. Companies are starting to take Chinese investors seriously. Having a syndicate including Chinese investors would be very beneficial to us, especially because we want to bring our therapy to Chinese patients.
My background is in finance and business, but I love the innovation and the dynamic nature of the biotech industry. I’ve worked in several different European countries: France, The UK and The Netherlands. I’ve circled Belgium and finally hit the bullseye! - Shelley Margetson
You mentioned the Chinese have a higher incidence of MET kinase; is that a naturally occurring population difference?
Tim Perera: Lung cancer is known to be a disease related to environmental factors such as smoking and air pollution. Over time, many Chinese have unfortunately been exposed to high levels of air pollution and the incidence of smoking in China is also very high. Lung cancer is therefore a large and growing problem in China.
The sub-types of cancer prevalent in China is also slightly different to that found in a lot of Western countries: it’s not entirely clear why, but a lot of non-smoking Asian women develop lung cancer. It has been suggested that this may be related to exposure to the toxins released due to the cooking styles more common in China. Mutations in the MET kinase seems to be playing a role there, making our compound highly relevant as a potential therapy.
So, when you’re looking to China, it’s not just for investment but also towards an unmet need?
Shelley Margetson: Absolutely. What we’re aiming for is a parallel trajectory with both VCs and partnering opportunities. We’re not insisting on following this preconceived path though: we will also be talking to multiple people in the US, Europe and Asia.
We’re really excited to have Shelley on board and take advantage of her experience and skills to push the company forwards. - Tim Perera
How are things going to change for OCTIMET, now that Shelley has joined the team?
Shelley Margetson: My background is in finance and business, but I love the innovation and the dynamic nature of the biotech industry. I’ve worked in several different European countries: France, The UK and The Netherlands. I’ve circled Belgium and finally hit the bullseye!
OCTIMET really pushes all the buttons: it has great science, connections to Janssen Pharmaceutica, and a really solid data package for further development of OMO-1. We have Tim as CSO, an extremely knowledgeable scientist, and our clinical team including CMO Glen Clack and COO Annegret Van der Aa have a lot of experience. With my experience in business and finance, we now have a full complement of skills as a management team.
Was this a very conscious choice for OCTIMET, to expand and hone the skillset of the leadership team?
Tim Perera: Indeed, Shelley complements the team very well! I am a discovery scientist at heart; that is what drives me. I am fortunate to have learned a lot when setting up OCTIMET but business is still not my area of expertise. The opportunity to go back to the science, which is getting very exciting, is too much of a draw for me personally.
We’re really excited to have Shelley on board and take advantage of her experience and skills to push the company forwards. Raising new funds will also allow us to valorize our asset into multiple indications. We think this compound really has the potential to impact a lot of patients in a lot of different areas. It’s a very exciting time for us and we’re really looking forward to the future!