Malcolm Kendall (President & CEO), Indel Therapeutics, Inc.

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Malcolm Kendall, President & CEO, Indel Therapeutics, Inc.

Interviewed by Dr. Barry Bunin, CEO Collaborative Drug Discovery, Inc.

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Edited Transcript

Barry Bunin
Tell us about the Indel approach and how it’s different than the traditional approaches to finding antibiotics and why that’s significant.

Malcolm Kendall
I think it is important to start with why we do what we do, to put our technology in context. Most people are familiar with the global crisis of antibiotic resistance, which has spread rapidly over the last several decades. This problem would be manageable if we had new antibiotics to deal with these drug resistant pathogens, but we don’t. The discovery, development, and approval of new antibiotics, which is what you need to deal with antibiotic resistant organisms, have plummeted over the last couple decades. There are innumerable reasons for this including Pharma consolidating, to their analysis on an economic basis that acute indications aren’t as profitable as chronic indications and a shifting of resources. There is also the issue of R&D productivity issue; in a sense, all the easy targets have been discovered and so now it’s more difficult to find new ways to inhibit these pathogens. This in turn has created a significant unmet medical need and an interesting commercial market opportunity. As for our technology, there’s a sense of simplicity and obviousness to what we do sort of after the fact, but on the surface, it is paradigm changing. If you put it in the historical context of antimicrobial drug discovery, when you were looking for a drug to inhibit a pathogen, you looked to target pathogen-specific essential enzymes or proteins and in doing so, you intentionally avoided a set of proteins that were evolutionarily conserved and were found both in the pathogen and in humans. So this is an area of proteins that are evolutionarily conserved across the pathogen and the host but because of concerns about toxicity, people would not go after them as potential antimicrobial targets. That made a lot of sense in the context of what they knew then, but flash forward a couple decades and the technology has advanced to a point where while we can appreciate how similar these evolutionarily conserved proteins are, we can also appreciate how different they are. Time, evolutionary pressure and mutation have resulted in areas of difference that now allow you to target the pathogen protein specifically, without effecting its human ortholog. By nature, these are really good targets. They are conserved across species, tend to have sort of higher order functions and are more important or more critical and tend to be essential to the pathogen’s survival. So if you were able to target them, they would be good targets. Through our targeting strategy we unlock the ability to do that.

Barry Bunin
Great. So obviously, it’s a somewhat challenging environment and maybe even more so for pre-clinical than clinical, and you’ve had success actually raising financing to get Indel going to validate this revolutionary approach. I’m just curious as to what the keys were and what advice you’d have for someone else who is a researcher with a new insight that wants to raise capital around a scientific idea as opposed to a clinical play or some later-stage arbitrage.

Malcolm Kendall
Raising money in the current environment was not easy. It’s after the fact, when you have the money, that people say, “Wow!  How did you do that?”  But we started the company in September of 2008, weeks before the market crashed.  We did not raise much money in that initial financing. We just hunkered down and leveraged grant funding and survived for two years, and I think the key to success is several-fold. First, just an absolute stubborn persistence; we persevered. I think we also had a very, very interesting technology, although early stage. Finally, one of the things we did right from the beginning is surround ourselves with experienced, successful people. Our Board of Directors is a good example of this. We have more directors than we have employees and they have been involved since founding the company. We proactively went out and got the best and the brightest involved early and this provides both credibility and, most importantly, guidance, as we move the company forward. Finally, just you have to be out there selling all the time so every person you meet and every conversation you have, that person could be a potential investor. You have to communicate what you are doing, the opportunity, and see how they respond. Fund raising, at the end of the day, is about finding the right person with the right story at the right time. You have to talk to lots of people to do that.

Barry Bunin
Just general interest, moving away from Indel for a little bit, I believe you were just at the BIO Conference and you meet all sorts of folks all the time. So could you share something else interesting that you saw at the conference or came across through someone in your network, either another company or technology that just caught you eye as something interesting, worth sharing with other similar-minded people.

Malcolm Kendall
Sure. The atmosphere was generally positive and it usually is at events like BIO. Although there have been a couple years where the mood wasn’t all that positive. In terms of sort of new things I learned, I went to the conference to start warming up potential partners for partnerships and encouragingly, there seems to be interest in earlier stage technologies from pharma companies. This is somewhat cyclic. There also, for the longest time, was this sort of absolute focus on products. Now platforms are re-emerging as an area of interest both on the partnering and grant funding sides – this is good for us. I was also at the conference looking to meet potential collaborators and vendors and exploring different options there. One of the things we’re trying to do, which I think might be meaningful to other entrepreneurs out there is leverage grant funding.  So there are a lot of agencies within the U.S. grant context that are having funding cut and not that they are agencies that would necessarily fund you, but there are agencies that you could potentially collaborate with. We had a fantastic meeting with a group that’s affiliated with the U.S. military and developing better ways to handle wound infections. So there may be a collaboration that will come from that. In talking to all these different groups, the funding is pretty static but they are ways to increase your ability to raise that funding and also partner with people that can help you execute on that funding and moving your technology forward.

Barry Bunin
So moving towards our collaboration, just tell me a little bit about your core staff and your collaborations and how CDD has helped.

Malcolm Kendall
CDD is a G=d-send. We are a virtual company. I’ve got people spread from Montreal to Vancouver to L.A. and we really needed some way to kind of bring it all together and capture the data that we were creating and be able to share and analyze it. So it’s become sort of a critical part of our existence, in a sense. Before we were capturing data on spreadsheets so having a web-served application like CDD, allows you to collaborate real-time with your people, spread across two countries and several time zones. It is easy to use, has lots of features and because of it we can now better use and share the data we are creating.

Barry Bunin
So tell me a little bit about your background and maybe after that, a few of the key folks that compliment your background there.

Malcolm Kendall
So, Barry, somebody’s ringing my front door and my dog is barking. Would it be okay if I just walked up as we talked and check it out?

Barry Bunin
Yeah, go ahead and we can wrap up. It will be funny if it’s recorded. Go ahead. I can hear the dog.

Malcolm Kendall
My Vice President of Security, Max the Lab, is barking, hold on. It looks like the mailman. I’m going back down to the office. So I actually don’t have a technical background. I have a BA in psychology. I’m a liberal arts major. I got into this industry on the investment side as a venture capitalist, starting as a generalist and migrating into life science investing, so more of a hardcore business background from the investment-financial side. I’ve been an entrepreneur. I’ve started a number of different companies in a couple different industries, so I’m a bit of a well-rounded journeyman. I find that of all the industries I’ve worked in, which have spanned the U.S. military, printing supplies, computer peripherals, technology, investing, life science investing, and now this, life sciences is one of the industries where you really feel like you’re having a real impact on humanity. At the end of the day when you go home, you feel like you’re really doing something to help people. You’re not making one’s and zero’s move faster on a fiber optic cable or putting up a social networking website. It’s a meaningful, important industry, saving lives and improving the quality of life.

Barry Bunin
So we could do more, but I think that actually is an inspiring note to end it on.

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