The academic entrepreneur and clinician
Akseli Hemminki (born in 1973) certainly has an interesting resume – starting with the fact that he’s Professor of Oncology at the University of Helsinki as well as Founder & CEO of TILT – and still manages to treat patients a few hours a week.
Prior to founding TILT, he had co-founded Oncos Therapeutics Ltd (currently Targovax ASA), a company involved in the clinical development of oncolytic viruses.
“At Oncos, I wasn’t the CEO and eventually I started thinking about what it would be like to run my own company,” he looks back.
Having started TILT as a one-man-show in 2013, Hemminki now leads a team of 15 professionals – with definite international flavor.
“We have people from Portugal, Spain, Germany, Brazil, USA, England…,” he lists.
Innovation rooted in patient observation
The origin story of TILT is also intriguing in the sense that it’s rooted in patient observation much more than is the case with your average health/biotech startup. During 2007–2012, Hemminki pioneered individualized patient-by-patient use of oncolytic immunotherapy under the EU Advanced Therapy Directive – personally treating 290 patients using 10 different oncolytic adenoviruses during those years.
“That’s when I really became convinced of the impact of the oncolytic viruses,” he says.
Hemminki is also an inventor on more than 10 patent applications relating to oncolytic viruses, including all of TILT’s patents and has authored nearly 370 peer-reviewed manuscripts or book chapters on cancer research and oncolytic viruses. Looking back at his career so far, he says that the key thing has always been people.
“Working with young, smart people is always very energizing.”
When you’re to avoid the outcome of death with treatment, that is just an amazing feeling.
Matter of life and death
Another motivating factor is the possibility to do good: the benefits to the patients are often literally life-saving.
“When you see the patient file with the prognosis of death and you’re able to avoid that outcome with treatment, that is just an amazing feeling.”
And then there’s the kick of being an entrepreneur – a role that Hemminki says has grown on him over the years.
“Being an entrepreneur is something you don’t learn in any school – you learn the ropes by putting your best effort in, every single day.”