How an American innovation, spotted by a British financier and developed in Germany, ends up taking off economically in Awans…
The Belgian pharmaceutical ecosystem, we often talk about it. A little too much perhaps. But it sometimes materializes in an astonishing way and the Liège adventure of CryoTherapeutics is the perfect illustration of this. A priori, absolutely nothing predisposed this company, active in the prevention of myocardial infarction, to set up in the Liège region. The story begins with British investor John Yianni, already active in several cardiology biotechs. This entrepreneur at heart is looking for patents that he can acquire and develop. He thus came into contact with two Americans (an engineer and a cardiologist) who had developed a technique for locating coronary plaques, the cause of many heart attacks. “They preferred to work with me than to sell a license, remembers John Yianni. So we founded CryoTherapeutics together (also with a Canadian investor, Editor’s note).” This was in 2008 and they are still associated.
The Belgian pharmaceutical ecosystem, we often talk about it. A little too much perhaps. But it sometimes materializes in an astonishing way and the Liège adventure of CryoTherapeutics is the perfect illustration of this. A priori, absolutely nothing predisposed this company, active in the prevention of myocardial infarction, to set up in the Liège region. The story begins with British investor John Yianni, already active in several cardiology biotechs. This entrepreneur at heart is looking for patents that he can acquire and develop. He thus came into contact with two Americans (an engineer and a cardiologist) who had developed a technique for locating coronary plaques, the cause of many heart attacks. “They preferred to work with me than to sell a license, remembers John Yianni. So we founded CryoTherapeutics together (also with a Canadian investor, Editor’s note).” This was in 2008 and they are still associated. John Yianni then activated his networks in order to find the means necessary for the development of this innovation. Funding will come from Germany, with the intervention of the High-Tech Gründerfonds. Consequence: the company left the United States to join Cologne, where it continued its work for ten years. Over time, it will welcome new investors, including German banks and the private equity fund Peppermint Ventures. It is the latter that will bring CryoTherapeutics to the Liège region. Peppermint Ventures, a fund based in Berlin, is indeed one of the shareholders of Miracor, a firm of Austrian origin also active in cardiology and which chose to settle in Liège in 2018. “We have never regretted it, concedes Olivier Delporte, CEO of Miracor. There is of course the financial support of public actors, including repayable advances from the Walloon Region, but also logistical facilities and good access to the talents we need.” Miracor arrived in Awans with 16 people, it now employs twice as many. This firm has developed a system, called Picso, consisting of a console and a catheter (like the Cryo Therapeutics device) and which aims to considerably reduce the after-effects of a heart attack. This device is the subject of a clinical study in Europe with 144 patients, the results of which should be published at the end of the year. Miracor is also working on other indications of its innovation, still in the field of interventional cardiology. CryoTherapeutics has therefore chosen to follow Miracor’s example and come and develop its innovation in Wallonia. It even follows the example very closely since the two companies occupy the same building in Awans and share a series of logistics and administrative services. We are well within the logic of an ecosystem where the presence of some attracts the arrival of others. “Our economic fabric is well diversified in the life sciences, but we have built a strength in medical devices in Liège, analyzes Joanna Tyrekidis, member of the Noshaq management committee and head of the Liège dome for activities related to life sciences. We are beginning to see clusters emerge, particularly in interventional cardiology, which are fueling the ambitions of a series of companies to set up in Liège, regardless of money issues.” In this cluster, there are also companies such as CMD Coat, a spin-off from ULiège which develops devices to prevent complications related to the use of medical devices (including catheters). Or Cardiatis, which manufactures stents for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. “I recently participated in panels in the United States on medtech hubs around the world, abounds Olivier Delporte. We mentioned California, Minneapolis and Ireland, but also Belgium. There is a real momentum here to promote the medical device and it is visible to investors. When Miracor or CryoTherapeutics develop in Liège, it does not go unnoticed.” Let’s go back to the Liège projects of CryoTherapeutics. The company employs 10 people and should recruit five more during the year. “The Belgian ecosystem allows us to find excellent clinicians, engineers or regulatory experts, explains CFO Sébastien Collart. But when we are looking for very specialized profiles, such as engineers specializing in catheters, we have to broaden the area recruitment. It is thanks to this that I have Swedish, Irish, Italian or Danish colleagues. We did not wait for the Covid-19 crisis to work partly remotely.” CryoTherapeutics will now initiate a clinical study to validate its preventative approach to treating vulnerable plaques. To that end, it has raised some €12.3 million from its existing shareholders – including Noshaq who came on board in 2019 in a €7 million raise that coincided with the company’s move. . Shareholders to which is now added Yellowstone, a Swiss holding company focused on medical technologies and which has a solid network in Asia. The clinical study, involving 25 patients, should be carried out this year. It will not be conducted in Belgium but in Scandinavia, where patients with similar profiles have already been recruited in the context of other studies. On the other hand, Belgian establishments could be integrated into a second, larger study, which should follow before the launch on the market envisaged for 2025 or 2026. “With more than 110 million people affected throughout the world, the potential market is huge, around 5 billion euros, continues Sébastien Collart. If we could capture even a few percent of it, everyone would already be happy.” “We are very pleased to support the continued development of this breakthrough technology,” adds Alfred Wong, who represents Yellowstone on the CryoTherapeutics Board of Directors. “We believe it will have significant impact and benefit for heart attack prevention and we We look forward to its commercialization in the near future.” Such a potential market obviously implies the transition to industrial production of these medical devices. “The manufacture of a series of components will no doubt be outsourced, but our intention is to internalize production here, in Wallonia and Belgium”, assures Sébastien Collart. Which specifies in the process that the research teams are already busy developing the new generation of consoles and catheters with which CryoTherapeutics will arrive on the market. The objectives are similar at Miracor. “We will move towards more and more assembly and manual work in our company or with Belgian partners, confides Olivier Delporte. This is the goal of an ecosystem and we intend to follow this logic.” In order to anticipate these developments and maximize the impact on the regional economic fabric, the Walloon economic tools are leading a reflection with Agoria and the Mecatech cluster. “The first task will be to carry out a correct mapping, in order to identify the missing links, specifies Joanna Tyrekidis. It is not easy because the needs in terms of production vary very strongly from one company to another. also have sufficient expertise to meet the requirements of the medical device.” At the same time, the infrastructures likely to accommodate pre-production units (such as at the WSL in particular) will be extended both to respond to the expected growth of the market and to be able to specialize them further.