PIR International interview with Anja Harmeier, CEO, Rewind Therapeutics

Anja Harmeier is an experienced drug developer, scientist and entrepreneur in neuroscience and rare diseases. She brings extensive R&D and operational capabilities complemented by a strong track record in company development and venture capital. In this blog, PIR International presents an interview with Anja Harmeier, CEO of Rewind Therapeutics, as part of their BioLeader interview series.

Key milestones in your career journey to date?

My PhD from the Free University of Berlin shaped my thinking around science and taught me the value of collaborations, how to build and nurture network and be curious about other technologies, to thereby strengthen and advance scientific hypothesis and encourage a wider view.

My early days at F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd instilled in me how to professionalise drug development. Especially the experience to help build the rare disease department with a blank sheet, from defining the strategy to executing the plan, this was such a creative and successful time which enriched all of us who were involved.

Joining the investor world with the Roche Venture Fund (RVF) was a highlight as it gave me the ability of supporting great people and ideas in order to create successful companies and therapies for patients. Making use of the huge Roche network and learning about finance, strategy and early-stage investment.

Who has had the greatest influence over your career?

There have been many throughout my career who have influenced me, but the ones who were particularly influential:

Marius Hoener, who gave me a unique opportunity when he first hired me at Roche, he saw my potential and encouraged me to go beyond.

Carole Nuechterlein, who leads Roche Ventures, allowed me to explore and supported me in defining the investor I became.

What top three attributes make an outstanding and relevant leader in today’s world?

Consistent and transparent communication.

Fully support the team; allow them to explore whilst backing them.

Visionary thinking; daring to dream a little, which helps create balance in such a regulated industry.

Describe your approach to motivating and leading high-performing, multi-generational teams in a flexible hybrid working culture

Challenge and question yourself regularly: am I communicating effectively, are we on the right track?

Create a culture of learning and sharing differences, and talk about these in an open and safe environment; disagreement is encouraged whilst maintaining mutual respect.

Encourage mutual support to bridge the age gap (at Rewind Tx, our team is aged 60-24), playing to the strengths of each generation, e.g., capitalise on the IT skills of the younger cohort.

Spend time socialising and making memories; we are located across two sites in Belgium with colleagues working across Europe, but relish getting together when we can.

Are there particular leadership characteristics which have encouraged greater cultural diversity in your company, resulting in different behaviours and outcomes?

Always hire the best candidate available rather than ticking a diversity box.

Don’t hire clones; actively seek skills and characteristics that are missing in the organisation.

This allowed us at Rewind Tx to build a diverse team.

What are your learnings from the Biotech Winter which has engulfed the sector since 2022 and are you feeling quietly confident that a thaw is in process?

Investors continue to cautiously invest whilst increasing their reserves and staying loyal to existing investments. However, over the last months, there was a sense that investors were sounding more confident.

If the science, data and team show a positive outcome, investors will commit. However, there is a resetting of the valuation process.

An upside of recent events is that CROs are now negotiating their prices to a more realistic level.

How do you believe the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) 2022 will impact the biopharma sector, particularly investor habits?

As we all know, small molecules are most impacted by the IRA.

However, there remains an appetite for small molecules in some disease areas, like CNS, and investors will support this if it makes sense to their investment criteria.

Today, I have not heard from an investor that IRA is part of their investment selection criteria.

How do you switch off and strive for a healthy work/life balance?

I have many activities which enable me to switch off: kite surfing, running, photography.

My friendship group is invaluable in encouraging me to get involved in joyous events and remain in the moment … without my mobile phone and other devices! … when possible.

Tell me something about your company that you would like to share with the PIR community

Rewind Therapeutics is working on groundbreaking therapies to repair myelin damage in diseases such as multiple sclerosis. In Myelin-related diseases, the myelin sheath which protectively and nourishingly surrounds nerves is damaged, leading to deficient nerve transmission that may affect multiple functions, including sensation, cognition and movement, among others. The damage can be caused by genetic factors, infections, autoimmune diseases, exposure to toxins, or other types of brain injury. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for these types of diseases. Rewind Therapeutics was founded by KU Leuven’s Centre for Drug Design and Discovery (CD3) and Axxam S.p.A. (Milano, Italy), a leading provider of integrated discovery services for the Life Sciences. Rewind Therapeutics works closely with organizations and academic institutions to advance their research and development efforts. The company is supported by life science investors Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund, M Ventures, the Flemish investment company PMV, Sunstone, CD3 and KU Leuven Gemma Frisius Fonds.

What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?

Don’t run before you can walk.

Nothing beats experience, and that only comes with time.

Words of Wisdom?

Best Advice I was given: My Dad encouraged me always to remain curious.

Advice I’d give: Trust your gut, and don’t sell yourself short.

What I wish I’d known: The strength you can gain from a trusted community. Pause, reflect and enjoy every moment.

More about Anja 

Anja joined Rewind from Pureos Bioventures where, as Partner, she was responsible for investments in innovative life sciences companies in the US and Europe including Vico Therapeutics, Corlieve Therapeutics (acquired by UniQure), and River Renal 2 and River Renal 3. Prior to Pureos, Anja held several positions at F. Hoffman-La Roche, initially joining the Neuroscience R&D group before working in positions of increasing seniority, including franchise and senior project leader in rare diseases. Starting in 2016, she served as an Investment Director at Roche Venture Fund, where she was on the Board of Directors at several of the fund’s portfolio companies, including Vivet Therapeutics (which Pfizer has an option to acquire), Entrada (IPO) and NMD Pharma.

Anja also holds a PhD in Neuroscience/ Biochemistry from the Institute of Biochemistry at Freie Universität Berlin and an MBA from Instituto de Empresa (ie) Madrid.

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