Biopôle speaks to Ronald Kempers, President, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer at Mymetics, an international biotechnology company focused on developing virosome-based vaccines to combat infectious human diseases. Ronald Kempers also sits on the scientific advisory board of the Biopôle start-up fund
Could you describe your background briefly?
Biopôle’s entrepreneurs share: Journey and tips from Ronald Kempers, CEO and CFO at Mymetics
Born in the Netherlands, I studied aerospace engineering before obtaining my MSc in business administration from the Rotterdam School of Management. My industry experience is diverse, with over 25 years in sales, business management and finance with leading global corporations (Unilever, Hewlett Packard, Oracle) and in medtech, biotech and IT start-ups.
How did you become CEO of Mymetics? What attracted you to the company?
Mymetics was founded in 2004 with a clear focus on developing an HIV vaccine, and I was appointed CEO in 2012. However, I first joined as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer in 2009, when the company was going through a difficult time.
I was initially appealed by the dual challenge of entering a new industry and helping restructure the company, but Mymetics had several other attractions for me. The first was its vaccine technology platform, called virosomes, which can be used to develop vaccines for infectious diseases – like HIV and Covid-19 – and cancer immunotherapies. The second was its ambition to develop vaccines that not only trigger serum antibodies and cellular responses but also mucosal immunity through intranasal administration, the port of entry of many pathogens.
What benefits do you get from being part of the Biopôle community?
Mymetics was one of the first companies to establish itself at Biopôle. The campus’s location is exceptional and easily accessible. Over recent years, Biopôle has developed enormously to become one of the most dynamic biotech hubs in the region for all life sciences companies and a perfect incubator and accelerator for start-ups in this space.
Several HIV vaccine candidates are known to have failed, but Mymetics has its own vaccine in the pipeline. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Before Covid-19, vaccines took an average of 14 to 16 years to develop, with a success rate of anywhere between 5% and 6%. HIV is probably one of the most difficult viruses to develop a prophylactic vaccine against. Indeed, many years of research and significant funds have been dedicated to developing HIV vaccines – and all, so far, have failed. We are eagerly awaiting the results of our NIH-funded project and collaboration with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where our HIV vaccine candidate is being tested in non-human primates.
What innovative approach does the Mymetics HIV vaccine candidate take?
The first element is our virosome platform and the thermostable powder we have developed. Most significantly, though, we try to stop HIV at the port of entry, which is mainly the mucosal layer. Some people have shown natural protection against HIV infection through mucosal immunity in their rectal and vaginal compartments. Mymetics has used these findings to develop two antigens that aim to trigger that natural immunity. These antigens are integrated into our virosome vaccine platform and are administered intramuscularly and intranasally.
What tips would you give a young entrepreneur entering a challenging market?
- Even if you have a great idea or invention, you still need to ask yourself: is there a business opportunity? Can my service or product make a difference – in other words, what is the advantage, what issue does it solve? And then, are there people willing to pay for this? This last point is important if you intend to create value and become profitable. Additionally, you need to understand the market you are addressing and current and potential competitors.
- A second important point is focus. Be clear on what you want to achieve with the company, where do you want to be in a couple of years’ time?? – communicate this clearly internally to your team and externally to stakeholders. It is extremely productive, rewarding, and powerful to have everyone in your team standing behind those objectives, all working in the same direction. It creates purpose, productive teams, and resilience.
- A third element is to build a team from diverse backgrounds, with different educational history and different industry experience. Diversity brings different perspectives and solutions to the challenges you will face as you pursue your goals.
- Finally, you need to be able to adapt and deal with challenges, Get out of your comfort zone. There will be failures and crises, but the way you deal with these will teach you a lot and help you develop persistence.
Ronald Kempers joined Mymetics in July 2009 as Chief Operating Officer and was appointed President and CEO of Mymetics Corporation in November 2012 while assuming as well the function of Chief Financial Officer. Mr. Kempers is a senior business leader and entrepreneur, with over 20 years of international business management, business development and finance experience with leading global corporations (Hewlett Packard, Oracle) and medical and IT start-ups. Mr. Kempers has a M.Sc. in Business Administration from the Erasmus University, Rotterdam School of Management and has continued further education with various executive courses, among which at IMD, Lausanne and holds the FT Non-Executive Director diploma.