MIMETAS is one of the rising stars of Leiden Bio Science Park. Co-founder Jos Joore talks about his company’s claim to fame, a possible revolution in personalized medicine and why most bio science conferences are ‘bloody boring’.
A few months back, MIMETAS won the GameChanger of the Year award for the most disruptive company in its field. And this week you’re the Dutch entry for the TEDxBinnenhof: Ideas of Europe conference, giving a talk about MIMETAS’ OrganoPlates. What makes your company so innovative?
“Well, I think there are two reasons why we’re a game changer. One: we develop organ-on-a-chip models for faster and better drug development. With our so-called OrganoPlates the pharmaceutical industry can more accurately predict whether a certain drug will work. On the plates we can build 3D cell models consisting of human organ tissue, complete with multiple cell types. In other words: we can build true to life models of specific diseases to screen drugs. This is a tremendously more effective and predictive model for developing therapies than using lab animals or the classic 2D cell models.”
Ok, so that’s one. What’s the other?
“We want to revolutionize personalized medicine. Right now, modern drug therapies are like keys, designed to fit one specific lock. But often patients suffering from the same disease have different reactions to one and the same drug. Of course, a lot of people are working on personalized medicine using DNA and RNA sequencing. While it’s true that sequencing can tell you things like whether a patient will respond to a certain component of the drug, it doesn’t show you what actually happens on the cellular level. It’s very useful information, but it’s not the whole story. With OrganoPlates we can build a model of a disease using a patient’s own cells, test all of the drugs that could possibly work and select the most effective treatment to give to that individual patient. This application is still in the R&D phase, but when our OrganoPlates eventually end up in clinics to the benefit of patients, that would be an enormous milestone.”
“I am a ‘veelvraat’ as we say in Dutch; a person who wants a lot of things at the same time.”
That is quite a broad scope you’re covering. And MIMETAS is not even your only company.
Well, MIMETAS is my main focus and takes up 90 percent of my time, if not more. But it’s true… I am a ‘veelvraat’ as we say in Dutch; a person who wants a lot of things at the same time. I also have a small protein profiling company called Pepscope, and a consultancy firm with my wife Kitty. She is a graphic designer and we advise biotech companies on their websites and marketing. Furthermore, me and my theatre director friend developed a public speaking training for scientists. I am a passionate improvisation actor and noticed that a lot of scientists could benefit from a few acting tips and tricks. Most conferences I attend are just so bloody boring that the biggest challenge is to stay awake during the presentations. All in all, it’s a fun mix and match of activities, all of which I work on with a lot of pleasure. Though I can’t deny it’s sometimes hard to keep all the balls in the air.
I’m almost afraid to ask, but do you have any spare time left?
Sure, I do! I practice the little-known sport called floorball. It’s a kind of ice hockey, but without the ice. We play in teams of six and use a very light ball. It’s super fast - much faster than regular hockey, and it has a lot less rules. After playing for two minutes you’re already completely exhausted. It’s so much fun it doesn’t even feel like working out! I’m also in a theater group, and me and my wife have three sons. What can I say, I’m quite a busy person.
MIMETAS is getting a lot of attention from American companies. Ever feel the urge to pack up the business and move to the other side of the ocean?
Not at all. If you look at Leiden Bio Science Park there are only a few places in the world that could measure up. There is a nice mix of big pharmaceutical companies and small and medium-sized enterprises like MIMETAS, together with a top notch university and a renowned and cooperative academical medical center. All within a few square miles. So no, this place is not easy to beat.
Interview by Julie de Graaf