Hans Clevers on Collaboration Between Academia and Biotech Industry
  Hans Clevers     Biography    
Recorded: 29 May 2008

Yeah, so can companies help academia? It’s complex because stem cells is—basically when you’re using stem cells for therapy you’re doing cell therapy. In cell therapy there is very few examples of commercial cell therapy. There’s a lot of cell therapy, but that’s usually done by blood banks. I’ve already referred to blood therapy, blood transplantations, and bone marrow transplantations. And these are typically done by government organizations that are non-for-profit, because cells—there are lots of inherit problems with selling cells. They derive from a person; they are usually worked with in labs of university hospitals, given to patients in university hospitals. So I think that the complexity of working with cell based therapy makes it difficult for a company, for small biotechs in particular, to come up with commercial applications. Big pharma has tried, has invested a lot and has not really been very successful and there are quite a few biotech companies that are trying to make commercial products out of cell based products, but they are not very successful.

Yeah, so what we also did with Corcell was, I should say that in Holland it’s not really well developed how academia and biotech integrate. So, for Corcell we cofounded a company with my employers, with the hospital at the university I then worked with. And me and a friend of mine, so we were all stock owners. We’ve done the same thing with Angomexis[, so my current employer, the Royal Dutch Academy of Science, is the major stockholder, and me and a friend of mine are two minor stockholders. And between the three parties we organized this company, and part of making the Academy the major stockholder has to do with the fact that I can now allow in my lab one of their employees to work, and use the facilities for the shared of the Academy.

There’s one that might not be on your list. I founded—I cofounded [unintelligible], that’s a vexing company, so that really doesn’t have much to do with stem cells. They are doing very well, I very occasionally advise them, but I have no other input anymore. Sumaya is merged with a French company and is doing well. They are now public, and I no longer work with them. I recently founded another small company, which is very small but hopefully doing well.

This just focuses on the insides—I should probably—shouldn’t answer your question. focuses on our insides that we’ve gotten in the gut, to try to develop drugs for disease called Barret’s Disease, a very common disease. One to two percent of Americans have it. It’s a problem of the esophagus, usually caused by heartburn, and many of these patients will go to develop cancer of the esophagus, which is invariably deadly. So we’re trying to come up with drugs solutions to—local drug solutions to remove Barret’s Esophagus.

Hans Clevers obtained his MD degree in 1984 and his PhD degree in 1985 from the University Utrecht, the Netherlands. His postdoctoral work (1986-1989) was done with Cox Terhorst at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of the Harvard University, Boston, USA.

From 1991-2002 Hans Clevers was Professor in Immunology at the University Utrecht and, since 2002, Professor in Molecular Genetics. Since 2002, he is director of the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht.

Hans Clevers has been a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2000 and is the recipient of several awards, including the Dutch Spinoza Award in 2001, the Swiss Louis Jeantet Prize in 2004, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Katharine Berkan Judd Award in 2005, the Israeli Rabbi Shai Shacknai Memorial Prize in 2006, and the Dutch Josephine Nefkens Prize for Cancer Research and the German Meyenburg Cancer Research Award in 2008. He obtained an ERC Advanced Investigator grant in 2008. He is Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur since 2005.