BioLeader Interview – Agnete Fredriksen, Co-Founder, Chief Innovation & Strategy Officer at Nykode Therapeutics AS (April 2022)
Agnete is a co-founder of Nykode Therapeutics and served as Chief Scientific Officer from 2007-2021, leading the organisation’s scientific strategy. Her previous employers include Affitech AS and Medinnova AS. She is the author of numerous scientific papers in the field of immunology, immunotherapy and vaccines, and has been awarded several patents in the field of immunotherapy. Agnete holds an MSc and a Ph.D. from the Institute of Immunology, Rikshospitalet Medical Center in Oslo, where she designed and developed the first Vaccibody™ vaccine molecules. She received the King’s Gold Medal of Merit for her Ph.D. thesis describing vaccibodies.
Key milestones in your career journey to date?
- My PhD in immunology was driven through personal passion and as a result of events within my own family.
- Working with the co-founders of Nykode, Professors Bjarne Bogen and Inger Sandlie; we conceived and developed the Vaccibody vaccine technology at the University of Oslo and Oslo University Hospital.
- Given the novel nature of the technology, I was able to work relatively independently during my PhD, and take on a supervision role, which is rare; and discovered a natural enjoyment for leadership.
- During 2014, cash was getting tight. The leadership team and Board honed our ability to collaborate, communicate, prioritise and to act tenaciously; resulting in a successful fund raise with investors who remain with us to this day and create continuity.
- The strategic move, in 2015, towards more individual vaccines, creating a differentiation to other vaccine technologies, took the courage and vision of the then CEO, Martin Bonde.
- Since then we have continued to be innovative, and push the boundaries; resulting in a record number of new product candidates in our pipeline in 2021; and the name change to Nykode Therapeutics in November 2021; reflecting a new phase of expanded strategy, collaboration and globalisation.
Who has had the greatest influence over your career?
- The two Danish CEOs I have worked with at Vaccibody/Nykode, Martin Bonde and Michael Engsig, have enabled us all to play to our strengths, resulting in a synergistic collaboration, as well as greater business and personal development.
Your approach to spotting and developing high performing teams?
- Identifying individuals who have the characteristics which align to our culture is way more important than the skills they bring.
- We seek those who demonstrate collaboration and teamwork, want what is best for the company rather than for themselves, are open minded and tolerant to other’s ideas, welcome challenge as well as a determination and drive to succeed.
What attributes make an outstanding leader in today’s world?
- The ability to inspire, innovate and collaborate.
How do you create a culture of continual learning, innovation and curiosity?
- The sharing of knowledge across different teams at monthly informal gatherings, with breakout sessions.
- This enables colleagues to understand how they each perform, rather than focus on a project.
- Sharing data and information as well as for instance innovation training sessions across the company.
Tell me something about your company that you would like to share with the PIR community?
- Nykode Therapeutics AS is the highest value biotech in Norway, about which we are immensely proud.
- Inevitably this, and our novel technology, attract greater interest from potential employees, investors and other stake holders.
How has your company created a more diverse culture in the last 2 years; and what do future challenges look like?
- We are a naturally diverse organisation, employing many nationalities of which 67% are female.
- Our challenge is to successfully navigate continued growth over the next few years, from today’s 135, whilst retaining a culture supporting our core values.
What will be the biggest technological transformation in your sector over the next 5 years?
- The on-going development of DNA synthesis and manufacturing along with the increased source of data through bioinformatics
What is your hidden talent or something that might surprise others about you?
- I sometimes forget, when trying a new sport, that I am no longer 19; but it doesn’t stop me, despite the inevitable injuries!
- My daughter is involved in the theatre; and I love helping out with the makeup.
What advice would you give your 23-year old self?
- Worry less and trust myself more.
- Take more time for myself, outside of work.
Words of wisdom?
- Best Advice I was given:
- Trust in and focus on my own strengths.
- Be open about what you don’t like doing and where you really add value; to ensure energy levels remain high.
- Advice I’d give:
- Assist others to improve their skills, encouraging them to reflect on what they can actively change by stepping out of their comfort zone.
- What I wish I’d known:
- It can be a strength to approach a task for the first time (without too much prior experience). Feel less responsible for others.
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