From university to start-up via private lab: the experience of scientists Bas Blits and David Mosmuller (SanaGen)

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In a recent interview with Genscript Biotech’s European Senior Marketing Specialist Nicholas Gouw, Dr. David Mosmuller and Dr. Bas Blits of SanaGen discussed their journey through the public and private sector, as well as the state of the medical and biotech research sector in the Netherlands.

For a scientist with more than 20 years of experience like Bas Blits, working in a small company like SanaGen has been a breath of fresh air. Used to being on the payroll of larger biotech companies and working in coordination with teams of tens or hundreds of people, he now enjoys a professional freedom that he has learned to treasure.

“I think the smaller the company, the more focused you have to be, but the more flexible and easier it is to come up with your own ideas (…). The bigger an organisation is, the more you can achieve, but the less flexible it is, and I personally value that flexibility a lot,” said the researcher in a recent interview with Genscript Biotech’s European Marketing Specialist Nicholas Gouw, in which they discussed with CEO David Mosmuller the state of public and private medical research in the Netherlands.

His words are even more remarkable as they come from a scientist who has been in charge of developing ambitious gene therapies to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s and has held senior positions in companies such as UniQure, DegenRx and Syngle Therapeutics.

As Blits explained during the interview, working in the private sector (and especially at an innovative start-up such as SanaGen) gave him additional gratification compared to his former formative years: “Being able to make a difference for a patient, and knowing that you’re really doing it for them and developing therapies for them [patients], is a fantastic motivation to work every day,” he said.

Like Blits, who has had extensive experience in the private sector, David Mosmuller has a similarly strong academic background, and similar to his colleague, he too found the business world a source of motivation that has fuelled his medical vocation. “We have clear objectives and projects with one goal, and that is to bring creative products to patients. I think that’s very good, to really aim for something tangible. When I was doing my PhD, that was something I sometimes missed. Sometimes you wonder ‘where is this research going,’ he said.

In his opinion, one of the main problems for young scientists today is their unfamiliarity with the business world. The private sector and academic research are currently presented as two mutually exclusive options, almost as watertight compartments that condition the professional development of scientists from the moment they finish their bachelors program.

“I hear from many of them [young scientists] that if they decide to go to work for a company there is no way back to academic research, and I think it would be nice if we could change that in the future,” said Mosmuller, who calls for more attention, with training and internship opportunities after their studies, so that young scientists can see how the business world works and can “make the decision that suits them best”.

Asked about the state of innovation and biotechnology research in the Netherlands, Bas Blits said he was fortunate to be able to develop his activity in the country, which he referred to as “a country of knowledge” in which public-private collaboration in the field of science and research offers great opportunities. However, he did not fail to mention the funding problems that companies such as SanaGen often have to face.

Mosmuller, for his part, believes that the size of the country is an advantage when it comes to “connecting with other researchers and other universities” and that favourable research environments such as the New West Health and Innovation District (HID) have been created in many parts of the country, which generates a “very good research and development climate“, with a high rate of start-ups and scale-ups being created.

However, while appreciating the research momentum behind the emergence of these ‘science hubs’, Mosmuller advocates concentrating them in a single location, a large science district that would make collaborative efforts “even better and closer together”, he argued.

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