Product | People | Potential – our chat with Agnieszka Janeczek at Renovos Biologics.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Jazz@ADLIB: Can you please introduce yourself, what Renovos Biologics does, what stage you are at currently and what makes your business and offering unique?
Agnieszka: My name is Agnieszka Janeczek, and I’m a co-founder and CEO of Renovos Biologics. I’m a medical biotechnologist by training with a track record in regenerative medicine and a passion for the business aspects of innovation. I worked on Renovos from an idea stage to a fully operational company: after several business programmes and accelerators, I secured seed funding and co-founded Renovos in 2017, as a spinout from University of Southampton.
Renovos was formed to further develop and commercialise nanoclays* for regenerative medicine: we are pioneering the use of these injectable synthetic nanoclays as a technology platform for therapeutics/biologics delivery, initially focussing on orthobiologics and tissue regeneration.
Renovos is based on more than a decade of pre-clinical evidence, granted patents and world-leading expertise, and we have an established in-house manufacturing process. We are a pre-clinical stage company on our way to producing the first medical grade nanoclay for clinical trials.
Nanoclays are industrial ingredients and Renovos has refined and validated RENOVITE® nanoclay gels for medical use, for better tissue formation exactly where needed. This is possible as RENOVITE®, unlike other technologies, completely retains the therapeutic agents at the target site of repair, and with time gets gradually replaced by newly regenerated tissue.
*nano is everything in the range of 1-100nm.
There is a huge potential clinical market for our first application, delivering one particular molecule for bone regeneration, and when expanding that market to other clinical indications across other geographies this will be relevant for many patients.
Jazz@ADLIB: Can you share the story behind the origin of your business and Product?
Agnieszka: Our academic founders, prof Richard Oreffo and Dr Jon Dawson, from the University of Southampton Bone and Joint Research Group, have been working with various scaffold/material/stem cell technologies in the context of regenerative medicine for decades. They have discovered that synthetic nanoclays can form hydrogels that act as tissue templates and can be used to encapsulate, deliver and crucially, retain various molecules at a required site to influence tissue regeneration. Due to this ability of the nanoclays to localise and retain molecules and create those regenerative microenvironments, this type of local delivery application offers improved safety and allows for significantly lowering of the effective dose of many biologics that can be otherwise toxic or lead to serious side effects and complications, or simply be ineffective or too expensive to use for certain applications.
Jazz@ADLIB: Starting with of People, can you share some challenges you have faced, are facing, or are anticipating around scaling and growing your team? Do you have any top tips you could share with those businesses faced with the same issues?
Agnieszka: An initial challenge was ensuring that the staff we recruited during the pandemic were well integrated into the team despite lockdowns. And that they had sufficient access to all laboratory facilities for R&D. As restrictions eased, and the social element is back, it is much easier for all of us to share a common vision for Renovos and move towards a common goal.
We are still small but are currently fundraising and working on multiple projects – attracting talented individuals is key and being outside of the golden triangle and in a post-Brexit environment can pose a challenge to a small company to attract great scientists. However, Renovos’ vicinity to the University and being based at the Southampton Science Park, neighbouring other innovative companies, helps.
Jazz@ADLIB: Moving to Product, what has been your approach to understanding and implementing product market fit or sales cycles?
Agnieszka: Conducting market research with key opinion leaders, clinicians, and potential strategic partners to understand the technology pull was what initiated Renovos. It provided initial feedback on the need in various sectors and helped us narrow down on first potential clinical indications for the RENOVITE® nanoclay platform. Also, more importantly it provided crucial input on the product design to create a truly differentiated offering, as it pushed us to develop the nanoclay technology as a fully injectable matrix which could also be applicable to minimally invasive procedures in orthopaedics, for which commercially available bone grafts aren’t optimised for.
Our injectable material (rather than implantable) was a huge motivation for us to form the company as this is very unique and will allow us to serve a large patient population.
Continued discussions with our end-users, KOLs, payers and strategics are key throughout the lengthy product development cycle, to ensure the fit is still there and will be in the future, years from now, when you reach the market, and are competing against other technologies already there or also currently in development.
Jazz@ADLIB: And then Potential, can you share some challenges or barriers you had to overcome to create a Product with potential?
Agnieszka: The motivation for Renovos to develop the novel nanoclay technology has always been to overcome the key efficacy and safety issues in regenerative medicine, by providing complete retention of therapeutic agents (drugs, cells) localised at the target site of repair. RENOVITE® allows for a significantly reduced effective dose, improved safety, and cost of goods for potent and expensive biologics, so can extend their use case to other patient populations, in more price sensitive clinical segments and geographies, unlocking their use across wider regenerative medicine field.
The lengths and cost of the regulatory pathway before we reach the market can be a barrier to investors. This is not a “me too” technology, as we are pioneering the medical use of nanoclays for tissue regeneration, and this requires a high level of clinical evidence. Convincing investors that this is an attractive growing sector that has been lacking genuine innovation and safer and more cost-effective solutions, with high potential exits, requires involving multiple stakeholders. We were fortunate to secure endorsement from Orthopaedic Research UK, a charity and a key stakeholder, by making their first ever equity investment in Renovos.
Jazz@ADLIB: Investment can often be a challenge for start-ups & scale-ups. Do you have any piece of wisdom you could share around best approach?
Agnieszka: For each fundraising round; don’t give up, it takes extreme resilience. Raising finance for a pre-clinical stage company is difficult. When approaching the funds that usually invest in your space and at your stage of development you can still often hear a “no, not a fit”, but build relationships for the next rounds and improve on the storytelling. Likewise, the investment criteria and focus of investors can change as they raise new funds, so worth approaching the same group more than once. A “no” can often be “not now” and investors like tracking the opportunities and follow progress.