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Former Nexvet CEO to kindle animal health innovation via new Stonehaven incubator

Mark Heffernan is to lead a new incubator designed to stimulate the crossover of technologies from human health into the veterinary medicines sector.

The incubator has been developed by Stonehaven – a Switzerland based firm that also owns Stonehaven Consulting. Dr Heffernan will launch Stonehaven Incubate next week at the Human Biotech and Animal Health Summit in Boston. The incubator will be showcased in front of a host of human health companies seeking opportunities to diversify into animal health.

Dr Mark Heffernan CEO Stonehaven Incubate

In his role as chief executive of Stonehaven Incubate, Dr Heffernan will draw on his experience of founding two start-ups in both animal health and human biotech.

He was the founding chief executive and director at Nexvet Biopharma, which was a pioneer of monoclonal antibodies for companion animals before it was acquired by Zoetis last year. Dr Heffernan also has experience in raising investment. Since Nexvet was founded in 2010, the firm secured over $80 million in capital. This featured a public listing on the Nasdaq in 2015.

Nexvet is still unique in the animal health sector. No other start-up has raised considerable funding, publicly listed and exited. This was all done without Nexvet recording any revenues. The company was also working in a space that is very new to the wider veterinary medicine industry. Dr Heffernan will also aim to tap this eye for disruptive technologies in his new role.

Before Nexvet, Dr Heffernan was the co-founder of Irish biotechnology company Opsona Therapeutics. This firm specialized in therapeutics for human inflammatory diseases and raised $50m to commercialize research from Trinity College Dublin in Ireland.

Dr Heffernan noted: "The animal health market is estimated to grow at between 5% and 6% per annum and be worth in excess of $30 billion by 2020. With an increasing number of human health companies gaining interest in expanding into animal health applications, Stonehaven Incubate has the sector network, experience and insights to help bring their innovations and technology to market."

Matthias Hofer, partner at Stonehaven, said: "Mark has a deep understanding of how to establish and grow a biotechnology business and bring it through to meaningful outcomes for shareholders, such as an IPO or trade-sale. He brings both human and animal health experience to this new role, understanding the key parts of the value chain to get a product from concept to commercialization.  

"He also has a proven track record as an entrepreneur and, therefore, the ability to support prospective portfolio companies of Stonehaven Incubate at all stages in their evolution."

Animal Pharm will be speaking to Dr Heffernan about Stonehaven Incubate next week in Boston.

Advice for health start-ups

At the recent Animal Health Investment Europe forum in London, Dr Heffernan shared a stage with Stonehaven founder George Gunn as part of a panel on investment in animal health.

When answering Dr Gunn's question regarding advice for start-ups, Dr Heffernan said: "My fundamental advice? If you have a disruptive technology or platform, remain focused on that technology from the outset. That's something we most certainly managed to do at Nexvet.

"When we founded the company back in 2011, our remit was to focus on monoclonal antibodies for companion animals. We did not stray from that. We focused on our core assets and on delivering high quality clinical outcomes for those assets.

"The second thing is to identify who your potential partners are and what their needs are. Build relationships with those potential partners in the early days and, importantly, listen to what they have to say. Some of the things we listened to were around manufacturing and intellectual property. So in the very early days of Nexvet we invested heavily in both of those areas and I think it certainly paid off.

"Also, build your team to the appropriate roles. You are only as good as your team."

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