SpiroChem’s CEO, Thomas Fessard, shares his vast knowledge in the field of synthetic chemistry and entrepreneurship with BaseLaunch participants.
See the interview below.
Thomas, please tell us about your background and the reason you formed SpiroChem.
I am a synthetic chemist by training. I gained a PhD at University of Nottingham and finished my Postdoc at ETH Zurich before I started my career in a biotech company in Zurich. So I ate chemistry for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the best part of the last two decades! But more than just chemistry, I always had a profound interest in developing useful molecules or methodologies to accelerate discovery in pharmaceutical research, with a particular taste for efficiency.
My first industrial experience was as head of medicinal chemistry in a newly founded biotech company. It was a steep learning curve right after my postdoc, but with hard work and smart ideas, our small medicinal chemistry team was able to deliver a pre-clinical candidate with best-in-class status very rapidly.
This was the concept we wanted to make available to the biotech/pharma industry at large: how could one make better molecules, faster? Hence we founded SpiroChem.
What enabled you to grow SpiroChem into one of the most innovative medicinal chemistry companies?
We started SpiroChem as a catalog company for rare and exotic building blocks with good intrinsic properties. But a pure product-oriented business is very competitive, especially with fierce competition from low-cost copycats. In order to survive, we needed to be more efficient than anyone else, and (even better) develop things others cannot do. One can copy products but cannot copy knowledge, quality, and talent. With this sentence as a mantra, we kept developing internal know-how and started to offer contract R&D services – and boom, we had met our market. Not because we were the only chemistry contract research organization (CRO) around, but because unlike most, we focused on knowledge and quality, not on cost. Of course, our FTE rates are higher – we are in Switzerland, after all – but not that high. We are more or less on par with Western CROs. What really makes a difference is that because of the way we operate, our scientists deliver more value for a similar budget, whether value comes from the number of molecules synthesized, how fast they are delivered, or the ability to make them at all.
SpiroChem has been operating in the discovery chemistry world for a decade, so we also know the tricks of the trade. We can proactively participate in a project and be a valuable sparring partner for strategic and scientific project planning.