Five Questions For … Austin Biotech Entrepreneur Paul Lammers

Xconomy Texas — 

Austin—Two years ago, Paul Lammers was riding the cancer immunotherapy wave in biotech. His firm, Mirna Therapeutics, hit the Nasdaq after raising $80.5 million in an IPO.

Two years and one unsuccessful early stage clinical trial later, Mirna is history. In May, the company was absorbed in a reverse merger with Cambridge, MA-based Synologic, whose shareholders ended up with a majority stake in the combined company. Lammers, the CEO of Mirna, is no longer involved with the company, and is now doing biotech consulting while he considers his next gig.

“In Phase 1 oncology, there’s a 5 percent chance of making it; it’s a high-risk, high-reward game you play,” Lammers says.

Failed trial aside, Lammers says he pulled the plug on the 8-year-old biotech because once 2016 rolled around, Mirna couldn’t finance itself as easily as during the life sciences IPO boom of 2013-2015.

“We had a lot of money in the bank, $60 million, but if we spent it all, we might not be able to raise new money,” he says. “Should we throw another $10 million to $20 million [at development]? That would be good money after not-so-great money. That’s not in the interest of the shareholders. I’m glad the board agreed with me.”

In this week’s “Five Questions For,” Lammers, a native of the Netherlands, speaks about the importance of hiring the right people; how his background in pathology led him to explore medicine, business, and innovation; and hand-pumped lighting. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Xconomy: As an executive, what’s your blind spot?

Paul Lammers: The blind spot … I still feel the most difficult thing is to truly determine if a new potential employee candidate is a real fit with the company. I’ve hired a lot of great people; I also have made mistakes in hiring. Every CEO will say that; that’s a fact. You do a day of interviews; reference checking is very important—and not just the ones the person gives up. They always say the decision to hire somebody is made in the first four seconds of the interview. You look someone in the eyes, shake their hand, and see if there’s some kind of connection. I made the mistake once of hiring somebody against what I thought what we should have done chemistry-wise. It didn’t work.

It doesn’t matter what position, what level, if it’s a scientist or a board position—obviously it’s very important for the management team. But even a scientist at the lab can disrupt the whole bloody thing if not a good fit. I like to be very close to employees. I talk to them, walk around, stop by their cubicles, chat with them: ‘Tell me what’s going on.’ I want to establish a kind of relationship. I thrive on relationships. I think that employees … Next Page »

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