PM360 asks Garo Armen CEO, Agenus what motivates him in the face of challenge.
Q. You’ve grown Agenus from startup to player in cancer care with a robust immune-oncology pipeline. What challenges did you face?
A: When we started 24 years ago, few believed you could leverage the immune system to fight cancer. We faced a scarcity of funding. There was a point when the board gave us only one more chance to fund the company. But we persevered—and raised more than $1B—because we believed in the worthiness of the approach.
Good companies—especially in biotech, with long development periods—face challenging headwinds: Programs and trials that fail, financial challenges, and stock dips. If you believe in your mission, you overcome. I truly believe this: I have put more than $16M of my own money into Agenus—you do that out of conviction.
What are your keys to success in meeting challenges?
Everything starts with the quality of the team. When we started, there were only a few in academia or commercial settings who believed this approach would work, so building a team to carry out our mission was not trivial. Today, we are in tune like a perfect orchestra. Having the right people is key to taking everything forward from the trials and clinic to sharing data with peers. People as the answer to challenges should never be underestimated: They’re the secret of success.
Deal-making has been a foundational tool for Agenus. Tell us about a challenge to this aspect of the business.
Since our inception, we acquired seven companies. Of those, only one failed. Six produce technologies, products, and platforms we use today to advance and innovate. The one that failed was in the cancer field, but not immunology. The thinking was that we should diversify into other means of treating cancer. This underscored a key lesson: Stick to acquisitions and partnerships aligned with your mission, internal capabilities, and expertise so that you can best evaluate the integrity of the technology and establish complimentary attributes.
Can you tell me what gets you out of bed in the morning? What is it that excites you?
In this moment, I have the privilege of doing something extraordinary. Leading extraordinary people, driving an extraordinary pipeline, facing challenges—but seeing light at the end of the tunnel. This year, we file six INDs; next year we’ll file another three to four. More than ever, I’m motivated, excited to bring multiple products forward that will save lives. That is a wonderful thing to wake up to every morning.