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[AsiaTechDaily] Novelty Nobility - Developing World-Class Therapeutics In Ophthalmology And Oncology
Date : 2020.04.23

Jin Cho, CFO Of Novelty Nobility Inc- Developing World-Class Therapeutics In Ophthalmology And Oncology


by AsiaTechDaily Writer  PUBLISHED: April 14, 2020 UPDATED: April 14, 2020 in Interviews, Product Launching

Click here to read the original article from AsiaTechDaily: 

https://www.asiatechdaily.com/jin-cho-novelty-nobility-inc/ 


 

 

Jin Cho is the Chief Finance Officer, Head of BD at Novelty Nobility Inc., a South Korea-based private stage biotech startup


Novelty Nobility is a private biotech company focused on the research of novel angiogenesis targets and develops antibody-based therapeutics in ophthalmology and oncology, where angiogenesis plays a key pathogenic role.


Novelty Nobility, a unique name for a biotech company, stands for what we pursue – Novel Science, Noble Management.



In an exclusive interview with AsiaTechDaily, Jin says:


Globalization is not required or even not recommended for some businesses. The answer is not industry-dependent, but the business item-specific. For example, while most biotechnology is global, autologous cell therapy is a local business due to its heavy reliance on logistics, and drugs. Targeting specific patient cohorts whose responses vary depending on their ethnic profiles are better focused on particular territories.


Startups where always lack talents often confuse language skills with functional expertise. When they happen to hire a person who is fluent in a particular language, they give him/her all works that need to be conducted in that language. However, for example, in Korea, nobody asks one to write a book or interview on a press just because he/she is a native Korean.



Read on to know more about Jin Cho and his journey.



 

 

Please tell me about your personal background, and what are you working on currently?

 

Jin Cho: I am a CFO and head of business development at Novelty Nobility, a South Korea-based private stage biotech startup. At Novelty Nobility, we are dedicated to developing new drugs that could provide new therapeutic options for patients who are not sufficiently benefitted by the currently marketed therapies. 


Our current focus is to research novel factor for angiogenesis (the induction of blood vessel growth) and develop therapeutic antibodies, treating diseases caused by the growth of aberrant blood vessels, such as retinal diseases and solid cancers. Incumbent therapies are useful in some patients, but not for everyone due to the heterogeneity of the disease profile. That’s why we work on novel factors. 


I have a diverse background. I have an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and completed my undergraduate majoring in advertising and public relations at Hanyang University. Before joining Novelty Nobility, I was a COO at KONEX-listed biotech company. Before then, I worked at a corporate planning division of a hospital group where I could put my first step in the healthcare industry after an MBA.



What motivated you to get started with your company?

 

Jin Cho: Starting a startup is always almost about the people I work together. My lifetime goal has been to become a successful entrepreneur. The problem was where and how. 


Based on my past two failures of building an internet platform company and running a gourmet coffee distributor in my early 30’s, I made a few critical criteria to choose “where,” which are:

 

  • Industry that has high barriers to entry
  • Must-have products that directly impact people’s daily lives
  • A small number of projects to concentrate on plus huge upside potential if succeeded.

I quickly realized that the biotech business was precisely at the center of the intersection of these three criteria. The next was to find “how.” Biotech is the extreme of high-risk, high return business. It is similar to the mobile game business in many aspects.


In essence-

 

  • They both require a considerable upfront investment
  • It takes longer to launch the first product
  • The concept of the minimum viable product(MVP) does not apply well.Therefore it is hard to know if I am on track
  • A couple of well-trained talents easily outperform a troop of unskilled hard-workers.

 

But there was a considerable difference between the two—the magnitude. Biotech business needs at least one more “0” in almost every area, from the initial investment to the time to the first product. This unique characteristic of biotech business makes the industry ethically vulnerable. 


The opportunities were everywhere. The state of the art bioscience has uncovered only 2~3% of human biology and the evolution of new technology gears up the innovation to the next level. However, I needed to find a way to mitigate ethical vulnerability before deep diving. The solution was to find the trustable researcher with the highest level of data integrity because I could only build up the business based on the data he/she has generated. I knew what I couldn’t do. 


Back to the first sentence of this long answer, I met my CEO, who has deep scientific expertise in antibody research and the highest level of data integrity. He is hard-working and great at communication. I was confident that I could make a vast synergy when my business acumen meets his science, and that was what motivated me.

 

 

What is your current main product, and (If there is any) can you share any product pivot story from founding to the current product?

 

Jin Cho: (You will need a bit of background knowledge in biology and drug development to understand from here.) 


Our main products are human therapeutic antibodies binding to CD117, the receptor of Stem Cell Factor (SCF). The antibody is under preclinical development in both ophthalmology and oncology, aiming to provide brand new therapeutic options to patients who are resistant to the existing treatments. NN2101, the antibody’s application to ophthalmic diseases, will enter the human clinical trial in the 2nd half of 2021. 


We have no pivot story. Biotech assets are not built overnight. They take a couple of years or even a decade to reach the PoC(proof of concept) stage, and we could attract investors’ interest only then. 

 

 

How much money (funding) have you raised in total so far? When was the recent funding round? 

 

Jin Cho: We have secured 11.2B KRW (USD 10M) accumulatively to date. The most recent one was Series A, where we have raised 10B KRW (9mil USD). 

 

 

How have you attracted users and grown your company from the start? And Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

 

Jin Cho: As a preclinical stage biotech company, we currently focus on three things from the marketing perspective.


  • Build the sharp identity of the company 

 

There are 1,500 biotech companies in Korea alone and tens of thousands globally. For standing out, it is critical to clearly define our specializations and how we design our identity based on our expertise. 


We specialize in making useful antibodies. As various innovations are using an antibody as a backbone evolve, and manufacturing gets more standardized, the importance of having a suitable antibody emerges. However, an antibody is a biological product that has inter-functional dynamics. If you engineer a part of an antibody to improve a particular functionality, the other parts will be impacted, and the whole balance will break. 


We are a biotech company that delivers therapeutic innovations based on our deep expertise in making suitable antibodies. We pursue innovation that is appropriate, evidence-based, repetitive, and expandable to various applications. 

 

  • Define the right audiences 

 

We have audiences in three categories. 

 

  • Investors with scientific background – As the biotech sector got hot in the IPO market and recorded an excessive return on investment in recent years, an increasing number of investors without scientific background invest in biotech companies. We are keen on the creation of fundamental value and decided to communicate with investors who are capable of understanding our business
  • Other biotech/pharma companies – A successful development of one brand new drug costs 2 billion dollars, including the cost of failures, and takes 10~15 years. Most startups cannot afford the whole process of new drug development, making partnerships with other biotech or large pharmaceutical companies critical to its survival and success
  • Employees – Internal communication is just as important as communication with two audience groups above


  • Communicate

 

After determining what and whom to communicate, we communicate. Through news releases, a company website, presentations at the global partnering events, academic publications, awards, recruiting, and any other media you could imagine, we communicate. 


We do not make an effort to adjust the difficulty of our message to the eye level of middle school students. We are taught that such an adjustment is a golden rule of any excellent communication. However, that is beyond our marketing strategy at this moment, and we will consider the modification in a few years when the IPO comes in our visible range. 

 

 

What were the internal decision processes in determining when to begin fund-raising, and what were the logistics for this? And how many investors have you met so far, and how did you meet these investors and which channels worked best for you?

 

Jin Cho: As a CFO, I plan a yearly budget at a granular level and update it every six months. Each of the later six months in this projection overlaps when I update the next one-year plan. 


I usually start a fund-raising eight months before the run-out of cash. It is good to start earlier, but my experience tells me that it is hard to draw the post-investment plan if too soon. Right investors with a clear focus on a particular industry interconnect well. I was fortunate to have access to their inner circle, which I have built from my past performance in this industry. I met a handful of investors first, made a few convinced, and asked them to act as liaisons and attract more. It was because, due to the large size of biotech fund-raising, it is common that several investors make a consortium to subscribe together. 


The whole process of my series A took seven months, and the most time consuming was to find liaisons. I have contacted approximately 20 investors, and half of them ended up with participation. 


My advice to CFOs are: 

 

  • Be well versed in your business – The role of a CFO is not just connecting with investors but making them your liaisons. Be prepared for not only the elevator speech but also hours of discussion about your business. 
  • Connect with investors when you are not raising money – Stop complaining that you have no network with investors. Attend the opportunity where you could access to investors when you have no urgent fund-raising needs. 
  • Understand that fund-raising is a lot more than just money – Regardless of its investment amount, each institutional investor usually has a veto. Fit is much more important than valuation or the size of an investment. Not all money is the same. 

 

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles in the process of fund-raising? If you had to start over, what would you do differently? (Your insight or advice on this would be very helpful for startups)

 

Jin Cho: The most challenging was to find the first liaison – an investor who convince us and is willing to promote us to the other investors. It was inevitable to see that some investors did not like our business. But many whom I met, in the beginning, did not understand what we are working on and what our competitive advantages are. 


In hindsight, the problem was that our presentation was not sufficiently refined. The fact that investors have a Ph.D. degree in a related field does not guarantee that he/she could understand our technology at ease. 


Because every biotechnology is highly specialized, successful communication requires starting from where we are familiar with – the disease and the market landscape – and ending with what patient benefits our biotechnology could bring up, without sinking into the trap of the complexity of the technology. 

 

 

What are your milestones for the next round? And what are your goals for the future?

 

Jin Cho: We are preparing Series B round in 2021, with two milestones as below. 

 

  • GLP toxicity results of NN2101: Before entering the first-in-human study, every drug candidate must go through animal toxicity studies that help clinical investigators to predict its tolerability in humans. The research must be compliant with the regulatory guideline called GLP. A successful GLP toxicity results mean that we are ready to enter a human trial. 
  • PDX data of NN3201/ NN3202: The efficacy of our antibody-drug conjugate candidates, NN3201/ NN3202, will be reconfirmed in PDX models. Patient-Derived Xenograft (PDX) are mice models of cancer into where patient tumors are implanted to maximize the predictability of the drug’s efficacy in humans. 

 

Our long term goal is to become a global biotech company that successfully develops brand new approved drugs, saving the lives of millions of people. In the near term, we’d like to concentrate on enhancing our sustainability by making multiple sources of revenue. Technology licensing out would be an appropriate strategy. 

 


How do you plan to expand globally?

 

Jin Cho: Biotechnology has no geographical limitations. We do not expand globally because we were born to be global. All of our current R&D plans, business development strategies, intellectual property strategy, and communication practices set to be comprehensive. 

 

 

What are the most common mistakes companies make with global marketing?

 

Jin Cho:

 

  • Not considering if their business items are suitable for going global

 

Globalization is not required or even not recommended for some businesses. The answer is not industry-dependent, but the business item-specific. For example, while most biotechnology is global, autologous cell therapy is a local business due to its heavy reliance on logistics, and drugs. Targeting specific patient cohorts whose responses vary depending on their ethnic profiles are better focused on particular territories. 

 


  • Not distinguishing language skills from functional skills 

 

Startups where always lack talents often confuse language skills with functional expertise. When they happen to hire a person who is fluent in a particular language, they give him/her all works that need to be conducted in that language. However, for example, in Korea, nobody asks one to write a book or interview on a press just because he/she is a native Korean.  

 

 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And What advice do you have for someone who is interested in doing similar things like yours or in a similar direction?

 

Jin Cho: Take the most advantage of being a non-expert: 


The highest demand in the biotech sector is a communicator who could inter-connect science, development, business, and finance. This multidisciplinary position requires the highest level of intellectual capability, relentless curiosity, concentration, and excellent understanding. 


Most non-PhDs like me have a wall in mind, believing that they cannot understand science and development. PhDs promoted to the general manager position say that they cannot understand finance and business. What they do not know, based on my experience, is how to take the most advantage of being a non-expert. 


No one can be perfect. Admitting this is the starting point. However, at the same time, we should have self-confidence in our intellectual capability, which has been proved by our trajectory. The key is to have the courage to ask anything when we do not understand. When I first stepped into this industry after my MBA, my first question was to ask what protein is. (It is like asking what 2 to the 2 is.) 


But even such a stupid question was allowed to me. If one who got a scientific training asked the same question, it would have regarded as he/she has a brain disorder. I had the freedom to ask anything in the field of science because no one expects that I will know about that. And that freedom grew me at a fantastic speed.


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