Immunity against cancer: dedicated to prove it does work for patients

DCPrime’s founder and CEO Ada Kruisbeek is an expert in immunology. Her career has been dedicated to immunity against cancer. With DCPrime she’s now developing vaccines for Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Multiple Myeloma and ovarian cancer.

After more than three decades in the academic world, what made you decide to switch tracks and start your own biotech company?
I have worked my whole life on developing a better understanding on how the immune system can best be stimulated to raise resistance against cancer. However, after many years as a researcher, I noticed that my affinity was shifting more to the actual application of my research. And when you are not a doctor, the only way to express that affinity is to work for product development companies or to start developing products your self.
This career change from researcher to entrepreneur is not a small one, but my focus always was and still is on cancer vaccines, only now I translate my knowledge and our research into products for patients. And doing so from a company, allows you to access financial resources not available to academic researchers.

How does a vaccine for cancer work?
For a lot of tumors, the primary treatments are pretty well-established: surgery to remove most of the tumor (if possible), and/or chemotherapy and radiotherapy to kill the cancer cells. Even after successful primary treatment though, the cancer can still come back. And even when cancer cells are no longer detectable on scans or in the blood, there is always the risk they are lurking in some hidden corner of the body. Patients who underwent successful primary treatment and who are reasonably healthy again, are the target population for cancer vaccins, but also patients with established tumors have successfully been treated by stimulating their immune system. With a vaccine, we boost patients’ own immune response against their cancer, and there is now abundant clinical/scientific evidence that this can work. I cannot stress enough how happy and excited I am to be part of this turn of the tide.

What qualities do you need to make it as an entrepreneur in the biotech industry?
I believe the qualities of a top researcher and top entrepreneur are not that different, regardless of how different their roles are. A scientist in the field of medical biology wants to discover how something works, from the believe that when you fill that knowledge gap, you can better identify ways to apply it. The biotech entrepreneur wants to translate that knowledge into new products and create opportunities to bring these products to patients.
For both jobs you need to be very flexible and able to oversee a wide range of options, you need to be good at handling uncertainties, and you need to have the guts to make tough decisions on what to take forward and what to abandon. On top of that, you need to be creative, and you need to be good at fund raising----which comes down to making other experts believe in what you want to do, get them to share your own excitement. Combine those properties with an incredible drive and lots of passion and energy, and you are good to go.

Find out more on DCPrime.
Interview by Julie de Graaf, Blinde Paniek