Interview with Bill Hearl, Ph.D. – Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Board Director
Dr. William Hearl is the founder of Immunomic Therapeutics, Inc. and is an experienced and successful life science businessman and entrepreneur. Dr. Hearl is adept at brokering mutually beneficial partnerships and identifying non-traditional collaborations and investment opportunities.
The advent of LAMP technology came from Dr. Hearl’s work with Dr. Tom August of Capital Genomix, Inc. and Johns Hopkins University. From that collaboration, ITI began operations in 2006. Dr. Hearl earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Tennessee and B.S. from East Tennessee State University.
Q: Why should I know about Immunomix?
DNA vaccines are seeing a major resurgence and our company, Immunomic Therapeutics, Inc. (ITI), is at the forefront of this re-emerging technology area. We are pioneering LAMP-Vax™, a vaccine technology platform that relies on the body’s own natural biochemistry to generate a more robust immune response. ITI believes we have the potential to transform the unrealized potential of the allergy market and meaningfully contribute to the rapidly-growing cancer immunotherapy markets. We began in 2006 with an exclusive license of our technology from Johns Hopkins University and our home base is the biotech hub of Rockville, Maryland.
We’ve already executed three commercial partnerships - two with Japan-based Astellas Pharma and one with Bay Area, California based Geron/Asterias. These global partnerships provide important validation of the LAMP-Vax scientific platform’s strategic fit within pharma and support our partnering strategy. Initial license payments received to date exceed $315 million and pending milestone payments exceed $55 million. Additionally, ITI will receive double-digit royalties on future allergy products, which could have multi-billion dollar markets. Importantly, we achieved this agreement while retaining the rights to the LAMP-Vax platform for other applications, including cancer immunotherapy, a market that many say has $60B+ market potential.
Q: What is unique about your investment strategy?
What has set us apart is our unique and decidedly entrepreneurial investment and business model. We raised a modest amount of angel investment capital, totaling less than $20M, which allowed us to maintain control over the vision and strategy of our company. We have not taken in any venture capital funding to date. What’s more, we were able to blaze new trails, with a strategy that returned a portion of our licensing revenues back to our initial investors, further fueling the entrepreneurial biotechnology ecosystem. Thus, with that minimal investment of less than $20M, we created over $317 million in licensing revenue and created a return back to its investors of $90M, over 5-6x.
Our success in validating the LAMP-Vax platform through significant early partnerships is a testament to our capital efficiency and ability to reach significant milestones in a lean, cash efficient way, avoiding the need to raise significantly dilutive funds.
Q: How did you accomplish the quick return and how can others replicate your formula for success?
In the early brainstorming sessions that set the strategic vision for ITI, we matrixed several things:
Strong technological fit for our DNA vaccine platform
Disease area with a high unmet need and unrealized market potential
Time and cost-efficiency to getting clinical data to support a partnership and pharmaceutical companies’ strategic interest
Thus, we chose allergy, which “checked all of the boxes.” It fit closely with the LAMP-Vax platform proposed ability to modulate toward a specific type of immune response that is favorable for allergy re-education. Meanwhile, we recognized that one fourth of people in the world suffer from allergic disease, but the market’s potential is unrealized. Further, we knew that there was a particular type of allergy in Japan (red cedar trees) for which pharmaceutical companies were working towards a solution. This allowed us to conduct a small study with the modest capital we had raised, and in turn facilitated a targeted business development effort to forge a pharmaceutical partnership for a specific product in a specific geography. This was followed by a broader partnership in allergy. This sophisticated strategy allowed us to both grow the company through non-dilutive funding and carve out specific application areas for partners while we focus on the next application area, allowing us to maximize the full potential of the technology platform.