From Academia to Biotech: An interview with Gonzalo Fernández-Miranda, IRB Barcelona alumni

Gonzalo Fernández-Miranda, IRB Barcelona alumni.
Gonzalo Fernández-Miranda, IRB Barcelona alumni.

Gonzalo Fernández-Miranda is a Molecular Biologist specialised in oncology research and mouse models of cancer who is passionate about medical innovation and entrepreneurship in the biotech sector. In 2012, he joined IRB Barcelona’s Translational Control of Cell Cycle and Differentiation Laboratory, led by Raúl Méndez, as a Research Associate.

Gonzalo now wishes to support the development of therapeutic programmes, boost innovation in the healthcare sector and acquire a financial understanding and strategic vision of biotech companies. In 2017, he was awarded a CaixaImpulse grant for bringing biomedical research closer to market. In June 2020, he was appointed Chief Scientific Officer at Ninevah Therapeutics, a biotech company that develops novel gene therapy treatments for genetic kidney diseases. He also collaborates with Chasing Science, a biomedical venture builder whose goal is to get life sciences ventures off the ground by leveraging knowledge and resources that are shared between partners and collaborators.

Gonzalo enjoys running and spending time with his family. He also practices meditation, which helps him to enjoy life more. Life is sometimes so fast that we are not aware of what is happening to us!

 

Did you ever imagine yourself working in a biotech company? 

Not really! Since I started my Biology degree, I always wanted to do research inside academia. However, in 2016, two things coincided that changed my mind. First, I got some very interesting results in the lab with the potential to be transferred and reach cancer patients; and second, IRB Barcelona’s Innovation Department created a new figure called the Entrepreneur-in-Residence, who, together with the innovation team, gave me a lot of support to try to convert our results into a spin-off. I really enjoyed this process and I decided to reorientate my career to the biotech sector. 

 

"IRB Barcelona has been fundamental for my career decision. They definitely gave me all the tools and personal support to get trained and start a career in the biotech sector".

 

 

After working in academia for 14 years, what was it like leaving it? 

It was a long and sometimes hard process, to be honest. I started to look for positions as an investment analyst in venture capital firms and went through a couple of long and competitive selection processes. In both, I learnt a lot and reached the end, but finally I was not selected. So, I realized that this was probably not my path. I then started to look for positions in small biotechs and I rapidly found a position in Ninevah Therapeutics, a biotech that was recently created. After an exploration stage, I feel that I have found what I was looking for.

 

Tell us about your current role at Ninevah Therapeutics.

My position combines science with management. I am in close contact with experts in gene therapy and kidney biology from the Vall d'Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) and other EU and US institutions. Together, we are developing two gene therapy programmes to cure rare kidney diseases whose only therapeutic option is a kidney transplantation. Targeting the kidney with gene therapy has been challenging so far as the viral vectors used in the clinics have little tropism to this organ. We are optimising these vectors in different ways to efficiently target the kidney. 

In the management part, I am learning all types of operations inside the company related to intellectual property, fundraising, finances, strategy etc...

 

At a professional level, how do you think IRB Barcelona has contributed to your current career stage?

As you can infer from what I said before, IRB Barcelona has been fundamental for my career decision. Thanks to the Innovation Department, I got trained in different aspects related to technology transfer and innovation. That department also helped me in the grant application and execution of Caixaimpulse, a programme funded by "la Caixa" to create spin-offs from the lab. This programme included a mentor from industry who also guided me through the transition from academia to industry. The encouragement I received from Raúl Méndez to enter this entrepreneurship career was also very important. IRB Barcelona definitely gave me all the tools and personal support to get trained and start a career in the biotech sector.

 

As a former participant of the #IRBstartup programme, what did you learn from it? Would you recommend it to current IRB Barcelona scientists?

Absolutely! It is the perfect place to share and test your crazy idea to create a bio-business. You will also be updated on all important events related to entrepreneurship in the biotech sector. I remember that we were invited to attend, as volunteers, the biggest partnering event for biotech called BioSpring, which was held in Barcelona in 2017. Participating in that event was great because we got to learn first-hand how the biotech world works. 

 

Do you have any special memories or anecdotes about your more than 8 years at IRB Barcelona that you want to share with us?

I have many, but If i had to highlight one I would say filming the dance video in 2014. I remembered it as a moment full of energy and commitment of the IRB community. Many of us were terrible dancers but still wanted to do our bit for the cause. The filming itself was great fun and the result was amazing! My kids really love the video and they ask me to put it on YouTube from time to time.