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Celebrating StartLab’s Anniversary with HaYa Therapeutics

Interview with Samir Ounzain, CEO & CO-Founder at HaYa Therapeutics

In 2018, Biopôle SA launched its first initiative to support young life sciences start-ups. A lot has changed since then: 11 companies have joined the programme, we augmented the equipment in the laboratory and there is an inspiring and vibrant atmosphere amongst entrepreneurs. StartLab has grown and developed continuously with and for its members, trying to best accommodate their needs.

We want you to meet the first entrepreneurs to enrol in the programme. In 2021, they are approaching the end of their incubation cycle.


You joined StartLab in 2018. How has your company developed since then?

When we arrived at StartLab there was no company. Essentially it was just me and my co-founder, Daniel Blessing, with an idea and a vision. Since we’ve been at StartLab we’ve gone on to incorporate the company, iterate our value proposition, raise non-dilutive financing and begin full laboratory operations. The team has grown significantly – there are now eight of us – and the company is on a path towards translational preclinical proof of concept with our lead asset. We’re also building a pipeline of new targets with our DiscoverHAYA™ drug discovery engine.

Being an entrepreneur means wearing different hats: you are CEO and founder, you look for investors, you keep your team motivated, you develop new products. Which role is the most challenging?

The challenge isn’t necessarily each task in isolation but balancing all ‘hats’ in a productive and effective manner. My biggest challenge is keeping the company focused on the science/discovery and development path while managing the non-scientific aspects that are critical to the company’s development (e.g. financing).

HaYa Therapeutics is looking for a new solution for heart failure, working specifically on long noncoding RNAs. How do you plan to shape the market?

HaYa’s positioning in the marketplace is simple. We’re guided by three pillars: safety, efficacy and accessibility. Patients suffering with heart failure, and numerous other diseases associated with fibrosis, require three things: a therapy that is safe (i.e. it has no side effects), effective (it actually stops the pathological process that drives the disease, e.g. fibrosis) and accessible (i.e. a therapy that can be developed at speed, at scale and that is cost-effective). We believe that long noncoding RNAs represent a new first-in-class/biology therapeutic target class that allows all three pillars to be achieved in an unprecedented way.

How are you planning to develop your team in the next two years? What type of profiles are you looking for?

HaYa is growing and is looking for individuals with talent, passion and self-motivation.

Your incubation period is almost over. What’s next?

We’re focused on achieving our short-term milestones and building out the discovery engine and our pipeline of anti-fibrotic therapies.