We talked to Ezequiel Mas of NOSTRUM BIODISCOVERY about its top notch Drug Discovery projects and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ezequiel Mas: This situation is not easy for anyone, especially for children, but they also adapt quickly. For me and my couple, the toughest thing is to live in a crowded city in a small flat. We are both from the countryside, and pandemic life there is easier.
In any case, none of my relatives or any of our employees and their families have been directly affected by COVID-19.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded NOSTRUM BIODISCOVERY.
Ezequiel Mas: I am a biochemist by training. After my Ph.D. in Biomedicine (in a wet lab), I started to be familiar with project management. When I joined the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) in May 2015, my career made a step beyond this area, getting many new skills and contacts. However, my highest interest was in technology transfer. For this reason, I coursed an MBA combining my job position and my recent paternity. It wasn’t easy, but my whole family helped us a lot. My MBA thesis was focused on a specific project of Nostrum Biodiscovery, the first spin-off of the BSC (together with the I RB Barcelona, ICREA, and U B) , where I was working. Perform the thesis on that, opened the door of becoming COO of the company in January 2020 with the perspective of becoming CEO in the future.
I was nominated for CEO in March 2020.
How does NOSTRUM BIODISCOVERY innovate?
Ezequiel Mas: NBD is a highly innovative company. Our best value is that all our technology is based on excellent science, validated through collaborations with important academic groups or companies.
Our main asset is PELE, a software transferred from the BSC. This technology is one of the fastest and more accurate molecular modeling tools in the market. The principal purpose is to discover new drugs, but we also use it to directly evolve enzymes of industrial value. Furthermore, we are continuously improving our technology portfolio by developing new tools to solve specific needs from customers and subsequently offer these to other clients to help in their research.
In summary, we keep improving our software to meet customers’ needs. We commercialize our software. We can perform Drug Discovery and Enzyme Engineering studies through it. More importantly, we can develop our own pipeline of molecules (both drugs and enzymes).
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ezequiel Mas: Given that we are a 100% computational company, we can telework at very high-performance levels (almost 100%). Of course, we miss some interactions and synergies of being together in the same working space. However, I must state the high commitment of the whole team for facing those difficult months.
Moreover, the pandemic has highlighted the need to invest in healthcare, life science, and all the related technologies. Being part of this ecosystem has also helped us to grow in these complicated moments.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ezequiel Mas: I cannot recall any specific difficult choices related to COVID. Regarding teleworking, I had in my mind to implement a policy to regulate it and make it something normal and recurrent in the day-to-day of the company. COVID has shown us that teleworking is possible and performance is even higher.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Ezequiel Mas: Mainly sport. Swimming in the sea during summer and in the pool during colder months and using a bicycle for going to the office. When the situation allows it, trekking with family and friends combined with good food and wine is the best.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ezequiel Mas: If you think in computational chemistry, many competitors appear in our minds.
Schrödinger is the clear world leader, offering a very broad range of technologies. But other big companies also have a big niche in the market. Some are Chemical Computing Group (MOE), Molsoft (ICM), and OpenEye in the USA and Biovia, Cresset, Biki, and Accellera in Europe.
However, our niche of action is so specific that we consider ourselves complementary with many cited companies, especially Schrödinger.
Regarding Enzyme Engineering, only a few companies dedicated to evolving enzymes use computational methods, but only 4 in the whole market are fully dedicated to evolving enzymes through computational tools. These are Zymvol, Protera, and Candidum. But none of these have proprietary technologies; they depend on third parties, many of them academic groups. This makes their model too dependent on others while ours is as flexible and adaptable as we want and need.
Your final thoughts?
Ezequiel Mas: COVID-19 situation is devastating to many families and economic sectors of the world, which is terrible. However, we can take some valuable lessons from this situation. For me, these are the most important:
– The most advanced and resilient countries are those who base their economy on research, development, and, very important, INNOVATION.
– Linked to this, for overcoming crises such as these, technology transfer from academia needs to be facilitated by promoting funding and simplifying bureaucracy.
– Healthcare systems cannot be abandoned like they were during the 2008 crisis. It has devastating consequences for the whole society but with special emphasis on those more vulnerable.
– And, linked to this third bullet point, healthcare systems that work and react to crises such as this are based on public systems.