Genmab Success in the Netherlands is Powered by Innovative Life Sciences Ecosystem
Openness and a willingness to collaborate are two of the key fundamental elements driving the ongoing success of Genmab. Genmab is a biotech company with Danish roots, and has operations in Utrecht, the Netherlands, the US, and Japan. The company was founded in 1999 and went public in 2000, raising DKK 1.56 billion – a record IPO for a European biotech company at the time.
Strong links between Genmab and the Netherlands
Genmab has had strong links with the Netherlands and the Dutch Life Sciences & Health ecosystem from day one. CEO Jan van de Winkel is a professor in immunotherapy at Utrecht University (UU) and, through his academic work, came in contact with a small American company called Medarex, from New Jersey. He was invited to become Scientific Director of Medarex and subsequently formed a subsidiary company called Medarex Europe – an R&D unit. In 1998, a group of Danish investors who were keen to invest in Medarex’s human antibody technology base approached the company, and the decision was taken to set up a new company called Genmab. Involved in writing the business plan for Genmab, Van de Winkel was, for the first 11 years, CSO, before becoming CEO in 2010.
Innovative R&D base for Genmab in Utrecht
From the outset, Genmab had a solid R&D base in Utrecht, close to the university. ‘It’s a great university, with a fantastic immunology department,’ explains Van de Winkel. ‘There is also the Hubrecht Laboratory and several hospitals such as the Princess Maxima Center for pediatric oncology, the UMCU – one of the largest hospitals in the Netherlands, and of course Utrecht University; the largest research university in the Netherlands. So, it is a perfect innovation ecosystem and a wonderful place for a biotech company to have an R&D base.’
Genmab Netherlands focus on therapeutics
‘We, as a company, focus primarily on cancer, because it is a disease with very significant medical needs. We have a very good track record in the cancer therapeutics field. Few biotech companies have created multiple drugs that are already on the market as successful products, and we believe that we need to focus and stick to that disease area.’
Open collaboration on biotech
Genmab developed a number of novel next-generation antibody technology platforms. One example is the Duobody® platform, a bispecific antibody technology. Bispecifics are the primary focus right now in antibody therapeutics, and some sixty percent of growth in the future is expected to come from bispecifics.
Van de Winkel explains: ‘Some years ago, we described precisely how to effectively make bispecifics via our unique DuoBody technology and made this knowledge available worldwide. We published all the ins and outs. Often, companies keep those company-specific secrets to themselves, as they see it as a competitive advantage. However, we were completely open, because I think that when 10,000 scientists across the world can dream up something smart, then we can combat things that we never could have imagined. We will help them to patent their inventions and create those novel molecules. Of course, because of our IP position, when they go to the clinic, then they need to speak with us.’
The company has always been open to collaboration and currently has 17 key partnerships in place: six pharma and eleven biotech partnerships. ‘We are very open-minded and are open to interacting with other companies and other industries. It’s embedded in the DNA of Genmab,’ asserts Van de Winkel.
Global biotech connections via Utrecht
These connections with the outside world are vital for Genmab’s ongoing development, not only with pharma and biotech but also with data sciences companies and medical electronics companies. Van de Winkel believes that real advances are made by combining expertise from different areas in an intelligent manner. To facilitate these connections and collaborations, the company is expanding into new premises.
Van de Winkel: ‘We started with around 15 people in 1999, and today we have around 300 people in Utrecht alone and a brand-new iconic R&D center opposite the Hubrecht Laboratory. Within two years we outgrew that site, so we are going to add significant new space in a brand new building next door, called the Accelerator – a unique hub within the innovation ecosystem of the Utrecht Science Park.’
Seamless interactions with biotech companies
Genmab will occupy the majority of the new space together with some other biotech companies. The underlying open space design concept means there will be easy access and seamless interactions among different teams. ‘It’s all about connecting with one another,’ states Van de Winkel.
The current Genmab R&D center in Utrecht has a professional coffee bar and a Science Café, not only for Genmab employees but also for scientists from other institutes like Utrecht University, the Hubrecht Laboratory and researchers and doctors from the various hospitals, providing a place where they can meet and consult. ‘The idea is to connect and to create interaction and talk about your work and that’s where you make these unexpected encounters where you can actually make real steps.’
Close-knit ecosystem in the Netherlands
Van de Winkel cites the current location as ideal for the continued development of the company. ‘We are literally 40 minutes from Schiphol Airport and have excellent road and railway networks, so it is very easy to travel to Leiden and Amsterdam. It takes around 45 minutes to get to the Life Sciences hubs there, and there is a very great willingness to interact, share experiences, and share projects. We are currently working together with the Netherlands cancer institute in Amsterdam across several projects, with the Hubrecht Institute, with University Medical Center Utrecht, to name a few. There is a great willingness to work together with academic teams and with other companies, and I think that’s quite unique to this innovation ecosystem, that’s why the Netherlands is a very good place to be. This eagerness to communicate and connect is one of the central reasons that we are so successful up until now.’
Entrepreneurial mindset in the Netherlands
Genmab is the largest biotech company, by market capitalization, headquartered in Europe and Van de Winkel attributes much of that success to out-of-the-box thinking. ‘We actually stimulate our scientists and drug developers to think non-conventionally and reward them for doing something totally creative, and that’s why we are so very successful. In the 21 years of our existence we have moved 35 antibodies into the clinic and today 20 of them are in full-blown clinical development – a success rate of over 57%. That’s unheard of – and three of the twenty are on the market as commercial products. We are willing to take calculated risks and push them through.’
Around 300 of the 600 Genmab employees are situated around Utrecht, in the Netherlands. The company is expanding at all four of its locations with a planned 170 new hires in 2020. Research and pre-clinical development is centered around Utrecht. Genmab aims to enter additional laboratory and office space in the Accelerator in 2022 once construction work has been completed.
Caring & sharing in Dutch healthcare
In response to the coronavirus crisis, the company has mandated its employees to work for hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions in the public healthcare if needed, and Genmab will continue to pay their salaries.
Van de Winkel adds: ‘Our scientists will also use their knowledge to help with the response to coronavirus disease, to add our expertise and our insights to create an effective therapeutic candidate much more rapidly. Over the coming years, we are an integral part of the ecosystem here, and we need to be good for the people around us and the world around us. At the end of the day, we need to help each other.’