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UZH Innovation Hub

Innovator Mornings – Exchange among innovators

Innovator Mornings are events to foster exchange and share insights within the UZH innovation community. The events also serve to inspire and build knowhow about science translation and entrepreneurship. UZH Entrepreneur Fellows and Innovation Grant recipients get the chance to receive feedback on their startup projects, meet UZH founders and exchange with entrepreneurship coaches.

In an interview with Josua Jordi, CEO and co-founder of EraCal at the Innovator Mornings our community had a special opportunity to learn about the intricacies of building a BioTech company. Josua shared how it all started, how they needed to drop their lead candidate two years ago with an unsure future and why the licensing deal was the plan from the beginning.

Josua Jordi, CEO and co-founder of EraCal, interviewed by Eva Maria Hakanson

Killer-experiments, focus and timing as the secret sauce behind EraCal recent success

It all started with the development of a platform to measure food intake. For this, Josua initiated the work on zebrafish and develop a specialized microscope at Harvard. With some clever tricks of screening the brain of the zebrafish, the platform could be further developed to measure appetite suppression. It soon became apparent to Josua and his research team that their platform provided unique capabilities for phenotypic drug discovery. 

In the beginning, the team was looking not only at obesity but also other indications and markets. “What has helped us to focus is designing and performing killer experiments”, says Josua. Killer experiments are tests and questions that will allow a company to stop funding a product idea before it is too late. “I think it’s crucial to learn that as a BioTech Entrepreneur, you need to be smart about gathering information to stop the work on any assets that will not make it in the market. The sooner you can “kill” a molecule or indication, the less time you’re wasting”. He explains that at EraCal they had to kill many projects, including their initial lead target. However, this is typically not the information that you share in a press release, so from the outside it looks different. 

Josua shares the story of how they needed to stop their main project two years ago. They had found out that the asset, they were working on, would not be possible to deliver orally. He emphasizes the importance of strategy and decision criteria. Only thanks to the predefined criteria for whether to move on or not with the molecule, they managed to keep the emotions out and make the right strategic decision to drop the first asset. At this point, the team could thank their innovative platform for the fact that they already had a second molecule in the pipeline. And it looked promising! This made it possible for them to keep the investors onboard and go on to develop that molecule. 

It was around this molecule that interest was raised with NovoNordisk. The company had been collaborating with EraCal since several years, mainly to use the platform to screen NovoNordisk molecules, and was invited to take a closer look at EraCal’s newest asset. It turned out that it looks very promising, which led to a collaboration and license agreement with Novo Nordisk A/S to develop and commercialize EraCal’s oral, small molecule program. Check out our News 

Now that the partnership is in place EraCal will contribute mainly as advisors to the drug development. But even though the initial results look very promising, it will take 10+ years until the new treatment will reach the market. It will now go through a drug development process with very clear milestones and de-risking work. For EraCal, the major initial milestone of the company has been achieved. “From the very inception of the company it was the goal to partner with a larger pharma company to bring our products to market”, says Josua.

Weiterführende Informationen

EraCal Therapeutics Ltd.

Founded: Josua Jordi and Simon Breitler, 2018
Company: Biotech with a focus on combating obesity, UZH spin-off ​​​​​

EraCal Therapeutics Ltd.

Focus: Adressing the significant health challenges posed by obesity, which includes reducing life expectancy and causing various complications such as type 2 diabetes and cancers. Through their innovative approach, EraCal aims to develop first-in-class drugs with improved benefit/risk ratios to effectively combat obesity and its associated complications, ultimately improving patient outcomes and quality of life.

Innovator Mornings

Save the date for upcoming Innovator Mornings:

– 26. June 2024
– 12. November 2024