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Pharm Exec Europe speaks to Cellectis CEO André Choulika about the biotech company's ongoing success and the advantages of being based in France.
Cellectis specializes in the development and production of meganucleases (DNA scissors) and is the first company to apply the Meganuclease Recombination System approach to in vivo genome engineering. Created in January 2000 as a spin-off from the Institut Pasteur, it has grown year on year thanks to a number of fortuitous partnerships with companies such as AstraZeneca, Shire, Bayer and GSK.
André Choulika, 44, the company's founder and CEO, this year also became the chairman of France Biotech. Pharm Exec Europe caught up with him to chat about Cellectis's success and the support it has had from the French government.
PEE: What's Cellectis's USP?AC: Essentially, we have created a new business model that of genome engineering. Before Cellectis in 1999, there were no genome engineering companies; people didn't even know what it was. It was being done people were taking a piece of DNA and putting it into cells but it wasn't recognised as business itself. So what we were doing was unusual at the time. But now we can say that reprogramming DNA will become one of the major trends of the future, and probably very big biotech business.
It's like it was back in the seventies, when you had every company developing their own software. And then a company came out and said, "Developing software is not your business, let us do it." Suddenly, all these software companies started appearing; it had become a real business. We were in the same position in 2000; we were like that first software company. The business model is not fully developed yet, but it is becoming more and more important; more and more companies are coming to realise that they need to come to us, or a company like us, for their genome engineering solutions.
Are you recession resistant?
Cellectis has been very healthy since its inception; we've always had revenues in line with the growth of the company. The past two years have been particularly good; however, when you look at the biotech sector in general it has been less hit than other sectors because it has always had strong cash flow; most biotech companies rely on a very strong cash flow.
Are you planning to expand beyond France?
Well, we're not a French company we're a global company. 95% of our sales and our relationships are outside France. We're based in France, but we could be based in London, Reykjavik, anywhere. We have always collaborated with foreign companies and groups; they have always been outside France. And our employees come from all over the world. We're proud to be in the Paris hub of course, and we're happy to be in France because there is lots of help from the government, but we consider ourselves as international.
On that note, how important has French, and European, government support been for you?
We've received some European grants, but even before we officially started the company we were receiving support from the French government. I was asked to apply for a competition to start an innovative company and submit a business plan, after which we were awarded a grant. And each year since our inception we have received some help from the French government. There was also the Young Innovative Company Initiative that came out of France Biotech that also helped us in reducing the amount we had to pay out for salaries.
So if you based elsewhere, you may not have received so much help
As I said, we are very happy to be in France. Not only that, we are based in a former Aventis facility; the building is awesome, with fantastic facilities for biotechnology. I don't believe we'd have such high standards, even in Boston. For a global company, it's good to be based in France.