Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to “Spread Love in Organizations”, a podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership, and love.

I am Naji, your host for this special episode in partnership with Boston Biotechnology Summit, a bridge to collaboration and innovative synergies between healthcare stakeholders. I am joined today by Jean Garrec founder and CEO of Biophta – Bioadhesive Ophthalmics is a biotech startup company willing to transform Ophthalmology by relieving patients from the burden caused by their eye diseases. Jean is the son of 2 ophthalmologists strongly rooted in Brittany, pharmacist by training, ESCP MSM Healthcare Management alumni, and Exec MBA at ESSEC. Before founding Biophta Jean held several leadership positions in pharma and medical devices for more than 20years mostly in SMEs and family owned companies and startups. He is also a sailor who participated and won several regatas, in France, USA, carraibeans… Jean is passionate about sight&eye, entrepreneurship and innovation, and wants to have an impact in ophthalmology & changing patient’s lives.  

Jean, I’m honored to have you with me today!

Jean Garrec: Thank you for hosting me today. I’m, I’m glad, uh, having this chat with you.

Naji Gehchan: I’m really happy to have you here, and first big congratulations on winning the first prize of the Boston Biotechnology Summit. And this is why you’re, you’re here, uh, because also of your amazing leadership and what you’ve been doing in healthcare. So before going into really biota and, and your biotech that you confounded, uh, I’m eager first to hear more about your personal story. What brought you to healthcare? What brought you to Pharma MedTech and now being a c e o and founder of, uh, of this new venture?

Jean Garrec: of course. Uh, so, uh, first of all, uh, I’ve always been attracted. Not to the medical and to the science, but to ophthalmology. Uh, being born and raised from, from two ophthalmologists. I’ve been soaked very early in my life into this world. Uh, I think the first time I went to the operating room for watching an eye surgery, I was like 15 or 16 years old and, and, uh, very early been attracted by this world of, uh, so I. Um, pharmacy, uh, school, and I completed, uh, my, my, uh, doctor of pharmacy, uh, degree. And, and then I always knew a second thing beyond ophthalmology. I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Uh, I wanted to do something with my hands. It doesn’t have to be big. It could be a a, a one man show, but I had to do it, yet I had sat deep inside me. So, uh, and the third thing, uh, I learned is that brought, uh, brought me to this, uh, journey, uh, is, um, my, when, when I signed my first, uh, uh, job, uh, contract, my first employment contract, uh, it was a, after the pharmacy school and the business school. And, and my boss said, okay, very good profile, John. You did very well. Um, uh, proof is that we offer you a job after your training period, but uh, you’re still missing one thing and one thing I’m sorry to tell you, it’ll take you a long time to acquire it, and it’s very important is the utmost important if you want to be a good leader. I was like wondering, what is he telling me? Is he going to sign my contract? And he told me, what you are missing is experience, and now that you start working in our company, you will have to. Many different positions and, and try many different things in the company to, to different jobs. And at this point I say, okay, well, uh, I’m working in ophthalmology. I want to do a my own business. And now what this guy is telling me is that I have to make different jobs before I’m ready to be an entrepreneur and to do it on my own.

Naji Gehchan: I love this. Thanks for sharing this. Uh, Jean, I, I don’t know how you reacted to this, but I was smiling as you were sharing about this piece on experience. We constantly hear it. It frustrated me in the beginning of my career. I’m. Well, I, but I know how to do things. I wanna learn things. But actually, as you said, like those experiences build up and help you become an even broader and better leader and obviously be able to build the company. So can we, can we now move into biota? Obviously all those experience shaped you and now you are combining what you love, which is entrepreneurship, having those experiences and ophthalmology. Biotech biotech. So tell us more about what you do today. What’s your purpose in this company? What’s the mission and what are you trying to solve for patients?

Jean Garrec: Well, uh, a biotech, uh, is a preclinical stage biotech company, a French company, uh, but having also a footprint that is being built in the US as well, since we are going to do the phase one trial. Uh, in Boston and our company, uh, transform ophthalmology with a new standard of care, uh, which is made to replace topical hydros, but also invasive intraocular injections that are performed to treat retinal disease. And our technology is based on the new family of biopolymers, and this polymer allow, uh, topical, noninvasive, and self applied. Continuous control dose for one week for treating rein. Uh, so that’s, that’s in a nutshell what we are doing. Um, today. There are many disease, uh, of the eye that have treatment and, uh, and, and treatment which, which are efficient and marketed. But, uh, still, still millions of people continue to lose sight because of disease, which could be treated. And the reason for that is that, uh, approximately half of the patient don’t take their treatment, whether it is eye drops or injections, uh, the compliance is in. Uh, it’s really a problem, uh, that people are getting blind, uh, despite their treatment. And this is what I, I want, uh, uh, to, to fight, uh, to take one very simple example because you all know about glaucoma, about high, uh, degeneration, uh, about all these disease which are affecting our world. Um, actually, uh, the idea and the, the wish to make this company did not start it there. Besides the fact that we are doing a glaucoma treatment at the moment, that’s the first use case. But where we started is that, uh, you may have heard there is a disease named Oma. Uh, it’s a number one cause, uh, by the World Health Organization. It’s a, it’s a disease that affects, uh, 90 million people and there are, uh, 2 million people in Africa, which are blind because of, and it’s a very simple bacteria. That you can treat with Teraline. So a very cheap drug, existings. So why is there so many people who are getting blind? Because this is because it, in the area in Africa where people, uh uh, Cannot have access to an eye drops three times a day during, during six weeks. People just don’t do it. Uh, and if we were having such a simple treatment that could be applied topically for one week period, I’m sure that we would not have had two people, 2 million people blind because of tma. So this is what drives me every day. Uh, I, it, I, I think that 21st century, uh, people should not get blind because of disease. Where there are cheap treatment available.

Naji Gehchan: That’s, that’s really great. And we definitely wish you all the best as you’re, uh, really transforming patient experiences and hopefully being able to treat more patients and those who cannot be reached with your, with your technology that you’re building. Um, what are your biggest challenges? Opportunities as, as you think about it, uh, as a biotech taxi, c e o today and having started this company?

Jean Garrec: I think that, uh, uh, no wonder that, uh, money and raising, raising, uh, funds is, uh, is clearly an issue today. We, for all the, the startup, uh, founders and, and managers, I mean, that’s, that’s no surprise. I mean, uh, uh, the current economic context for that startup makes it not easy at the moment. And, uh, I’m pretty sure that we, it’ll become even more difficult in the, in the coming month. But I mean, that’s, that’s part of the game. And I would say that’s, that’s life. Uh, what the, the biggest, uh, issue, uh, I face at the moment is, um, try to, to, to convince. Uh, and convince talented people to join the company, uh, because, um, uh, as a matter of fact, uh, if the economic context is difficult, uh, people tend not to be quitting their job to go, uh, in a company where, uh, it may be even more uncertain. And, and, and that’s, uh, that’s the biggest difficulty because, uh, a startup company like ours, Uh, the most important thing is not our technology is, is the people who drive the project. Um, and we are always looking for the most talented people. And to be honest, it’s a, it’s a big challenge at the moment to, to find the right people and to find quickly, uh, the best people on the market who could drive this project forward.

Naji Gehchan:This is a great segue to my next question actually, because I, I wanted to go into people, so I’m, and I’m hearing it’s one of your biggest challenge, and you said it beautifully. There’s the technology, but also the team that will be driving this project forward. So how, how are you thinking about your team as you scale up your company, you scale up your biotech, what do you look for? The first employees, if you can share a little bit where you are now, how many employees you have, and then how you think about scaling up your team, specifically as you’re going through this first, uh, first phase, uh, on your job. Yeah.

Jean Garrec: Uh, first of all, I’m, I’m, I’m tried to be very humble, uh, about, um, about driving the company and managing the company. Uh, I had the original idea to. Uh, but the thing is that I know almost nothing. I know quite well of terminology, but, uh, I had a chance to meet my co-founder, who is named John as well, who is an expert in drug development. He’s a pharmacist as well, but he spent 20 years developing new drugs. He holds a. PhD in pharmaceutical science. He has been, uh, making, um, an academic, uh, research on, on developing new drugs as well. He has been the head of, of r and d in, in some Novartis, uh, um, uh, business units. So developing new drugs he knows, and that’s, that’s where we started the company. Uh, one knowing ophthalmology and the other one, uh, knowing how to make it happen. Uh, I mean, um, my job is to know where are my limits and, and where, uh, uh, where do I need, uh, to get some, some expertise in? And, and trying to find people who know things better than I, simply as that. Um, and, and, uh, so the first thing is, of course, uh, to bringing, uh, a chemist. Uh, our technology is based on biopolymer chemistry, so that was not an easy one. Uh, because we are looking for one specific expertise. Then we are looking for, uh, pharmaceutical development experts, uh, then, uh, an expert in pharmacokinetics and drug design. Uh, so originally, uh, as you may have understood, the team is very technical. Uh, uh, to, to, to, for the first early start of the company, uh, based on, on r d. Then, uh, we started to hire people. This is what we are doing now, uh, uh, rather in the field of clinical development, pre-clinical trial toxicology because, uh, now we are preparing the dosage, uh, to submit for the phase one clinical trials that happen in 2025. So, uh, at the moment, uh, these are the, the profiles that we are looking for. Very open to people. Again, uh, I don’t need to hire people who on things that I know already. Uh, but that’s very easy since I don’t know much to identify the people who know more and that could bring something to the company.

Naji Gehchan: I’m sure you know a lot, uh, you’re, you’re a humble leader and I I appreciate that Jean. I, I would give you now one word and I’d love your reaction to it. So the first word is leadership. Uh, teammate.

Jean Garrec: What about innovation? Transforming lives of people, of patients.

Naji Gehchan: Can you share more because you’re in the heart. Uh, with biotech, you’re in the heart of innovation. I’d love to know how you think about it since you have practically a platform, but I heard you’re specifically going for, uh, glaucoma in the beginning. So I’d love to learn how you innovate, iterate, get things done as, as you build your company.

Jean Garrec: No, the, the, the first thing we did, we did, uh, when before, uh, at the moment we were starting the company is, uh, try to understand the life of people. So, uh, uh, very simply, we contacted the patient association and ask them to, to talk to the patient, to talk to the people having glaucoma for. Uh, uh, 20 years, 30 years, and we, we were talking to people because glaucoma can’t be cured. Um, um, it’s a lifelong disease. And, um, these people are really desperate and it may mean nothing because they are not going to die because of glaucoma. They don’t have a cancer. But these people, they were telling me, okay, you know what? It may be nothing, seem nothing to, to, to people, uh, that I need to put eyedrops every day. I cannot stand it anymore. I, I put these stupid eyedrops three times a day since 30 years, and with a threat that if I don’t do it correctly, I will get blanked. So if you can do something for us, if, if you can change our life, um, and your treatment that you are explaining us once a week, uh, clearly change it a lot for us, uh, that will change my life. So, When you hear that, when you understand, uh, the perspective of the patient, what do they leave every day? Then uh, you can imagine how you can change their lives. And it’s not only, uh, about having a treatment that is easier. It, we see it that as fighting blindness, uh, half of the people don’t take the treatment. So we’re going to fight that. We fight blindness.

Naji Gehchan: I love, I love the straight purpose, and you’re bringing great examples about going to patients and really solving a real problem and a real patient need. What about sailing?

Jean Garrec: Uh, sailing is something that, uh, when I do it, I don’t think anymore about biotech.

Naji Gehchan: No, I, I love that. Can, can you, so I was, you know, as I, as I saw all you do with sailing and you say you don’t think about biotech. So I’d love to see if there’s any learning from sailing actually that you apply in your management, uh, or your leadership. Um, and probably it is not thinking about that, but like, I’m getting this headspace.

Jean Garrec: And I agree. And, and, and that’s, that’s, uh, um, yeah. Thank, thank you for bringing that because, um, uh, I’m, I’m used to sail, not alone, but in a team. Uh, so we are, we are having a crew on the boat, uh, five or, or between five and eight people. It depends of the, of the type of boat and, and clearly, uh, of course, uh, there is one that holds the steering wheel. Uh, but, uh, if there is no crew, uh, to, to, to, to, um, uh, make the sail, uh, to, to, to, to drive the, the speed of the boat and to look, uh, around, uh, where we are going, uh, the man behind the steering wheel can’t make his boat moving forward. And, uh, you have, uh, the skipper who is one who decides of the direction. But you, he needs a team. And we all depend on each other to make the boat move and go as fast as possible to, to where we, we are heading to. Uh, so, and that’s very similar to any company, of course. Uh, there is one who needs to be the leader and to, to, to, to, to, to drive the strategy of the company. But he can’t do it alone. And you need very talented people to. Uh, and that’s very similar on what it is in the, on the crew of a, of a selling boat.

Naji Gehchan: What a great example. I love it. The last word is spread love in organizations. Uh,

Jean Garrec: I see, and that’s very similar to the, to the. Is, uh, first of all, we have to help each other. Uh, we are a team, so, uh, uh, we, we, we need to, to, to work together within our organization. Uh, and, um, uh, and if we want to, to, to make it happen, to work together, um, we have to identify one common goal. And, uh, common goal is, uh, Within Biota, we all want to fight blindness and, uh, we want to have a noble cause to fight for, uh, and because, I mean, you all know that working in a startup that’s not easy. Uh, you have some days, uh, with big downs and big ups, and it’s, it’s not easy to manage. But if you always have this gold, uh, this goal in mind, which is to fight blindness, uh, then you can only spread love. Because that’s a noble cause that will help people. And, uh, I just want to, to, to make the life of people suffering from my disease better. And that’s my way of, of spreading love.

Naji Gehchan: Any final word of wisdom, uh, Jean for healthcare leaders around the world?

Jean Garrec: I think that’s, uh, it’s all about, Uh, patients. And that’s, uh, where we started, at least with the company. Uh, o of course, uh, uh, in the end we always to have to, to work with VCs and, and, and, uh, different people who change the company. Uh, but, uh, again, don’t forget, uh, the origin of the company and the, the noble cause that you’re fighting with because this what.

Naji Gehchan: Well, thank you so much for being with me, Jean today, and really all the best with what you’re doing. I love the focus that you have on patients. As you said, it’s about patients. It’s definitely about. Um, also you mentioned funding. It’s about, you know, bringing all those challenges, biology, uncertainty of business, but at the end, the heart of what we do is to make life better for patients. So never forgetting this true north is so important. And thank you so much for such an inspirational chat, uh, and I wish you all the best with biophta and hopefully we will see your product soon.

Jean Garrec: Naji. Thank you very much for hosting me. I was glad having this discussion with you. Thank you,

Naji Gehchan: First congratulations on winning the first prize of the Boston Biotechnology Summit! I am eager though first to hear more about your personal story. What brought you to healthcare, pharma, med tech and now founding biophta?

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to SpreadLove in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

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