The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in an era of rapid innovation in the biotechnology industry. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies alike joined in the race to create an effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine, one of which is Arcturus Therapeutics, led by the President & CEO, Joseph E. Payne.
Joe has spent a majority of his career in various labs discovering new drugs. While the world witnessed the value of mRNA-based vaccines in the two years of the pandemic, Joseph had been aware of its potential almost a decade before. He founded Arcturus Therapeutics with co-founder Pad Chivukula, Arcturus’ CSO and COO, in 2013 to develop medicines for new diseases using innovative RNA technologies. Today, Arcturus has developed platform technology used in the vaccine and rare disease areas.
The program farthest along in Arcturus Therapeutics’ development pipeline is the self-amplifying mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The company calls this technology STARRTM (Self-transcribing and replicating mRNA). The self-amplifying mRNA technology allows a lower dose of the vaccine which has potential manufacturing and safety benefits.
Joseph’s love for science, innovation, and his wish to help the world is reflected in the values, goals, and culture of his biotech company. Attracted by Joseph’s enthusiasm for his field, Insights Success interviewed Joseph Payne to explore his journey as a business leader, converse about changes he wants to bring to the therapeutics industry and understand his vision for Arcturus Therapeutics.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at Arcturus Therapeutics. What challenges have you had to overcome and reach where you are today?
There were many obstacles to get to where we are as a business today, but there are two fundamental experiences that have shaped us.
The first event is with Arcturus’ inception in 2013, based on my and co-founder Pad Chivukula’s belief that there was a future for mRNA therapeutics in medicine. It was a long process developing the company to what it is today. One that took innovation, hard work and our personal savings to persevere.
The second undertaking was pivoting into the vaccine space with mRNA technology. At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, we knew we had the technology to develop a vaccine that could address the global crisis of COVID-19. While we were confident in our technology, it was a change from where we were as a company to add a new vaccine program when we had focused solely on rare disease indications before. This move has allowed us to expand the potential of mRNA in medicines and vaccines.
Tell us something more about Arcturus Therapeutics and its mission and vision.
Ultimately, we are here for the development of innovative medicines for rare diseases and vaccines that address unmet medical needs.
Enlighten us on how you have impacted Biotechnology Research through your expertise in the market.
Our aim is to create safe and effective RNA and lipid nano particles (LNPs) for their delivery into the human body. The lipid mediated delivery technology we use is called LUNAR® We are one of the few companies in the world that have high manufacturing capacities with mRNA. Further, outside of intramuscular delivery, we are in the unique area of delivering mRNA intravenously with systemic applications.
Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.
We built our company around valuing innovation and collaboration. Each year, we give an award for both characteristics. Innovative, for pushing the edge on what we can achieve scientifically and the collaboration (likeability) award, based on being competent, approachable, and humble. Other adjectives I would use to describe our work culture would be passionate, happy, diverse, positive, respectful of one another, professional, dedicated, open, and inclusive.
Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?
Our platform technology can have thousands of applications to help others. Collaborative efforts have a high impact and a long reach to ultimately allow us access to areas that would not be accessible on our own. These collaborative efforts include the partnerships we have made with Johnson and Johnson, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Ultragenyx, and other biopharmaceutical companies.
What change would you like to bring to the Therapeutics industry if given a chance?
This would be on the side of regulations. To bring modernization of current regulations in line with the type of medicines we are developing today. Decreasing the timeline for drug approvals can have a huge impact on those waiting for those innovative treatments, a population that normally doesn’t always have much time to wait.
What, according to you, could be the next significant change in the Biotechnology sector? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?
RNA technology has had an enormous impact on the way we view what is possible in medicine, and we expect that potential for change will only grow. Our company has been a part of this evolution with our expertise in purification, synthesis, and delivery of mRNA. We anticipate continuing the development of additional mRNA programs in both the rare disease and vaccine spaces.
Where do you envision yourself in the long run, and what are your future goals for Arcturus Therapeutics?
I would like to see us as one of the largest biotech companies in San Diego. Another form of success would be if we are able to partner one or many of our programs with a larger pharmaceutical company. mRNA allows us to address diseases that others cannot, and our expertise in the area will only continue to build value.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the business sector?
When in doubt, don’t do it. If there is a suspicion of deficiency in skill set or work ethic don’t move into this. If you are capable and have confidence in your ability, move forward.