An inspiring mission is the most powerful motivation engine. My team does not wake up in the morning to grow our EBITDA, they wake up because what they do during the day contributes to potentially lifesaving initiatives,” says Benoit Bouche. He is the CEO of Nexelis, a leading provider of assay development and advanced laboratory testing services in the infectious diseases, metabolic diseases, and oncology fields.
Infectious diseases is a core business for Nexelis and according to Benoit “the COVID-19 has placed our different labs at the core of multiple R&D initiatives with an incredible number of projects initiated in a very short period of time. I can feel every day the pride of our scientists to contribute to the effort.”
A Proficient and The Company
Benoit has spent over 30 years growing healthcare businesses and solving fast growth-related issues as an entrepreneur, investor, advisor, or board member. He has a dual scientific (PharmD Pharmacy 1984; PhD Pharmaceutical Sciences/Biotechnology 1986) and business (Advanced Management Program Harvard Business School 2002) education. His professional background enabled him to gain an in-depth knowledge of all aspects of a healthcare venture stage company and to know how to favor understanding and collaboration between scientific and business persons. He joined NEOMED-LABS in 2017 with the assignment to transform a vaccine R&D unit that had been spun-off from GSK in 2015 with 55 people into an immunology centric global advanced lab testing services provider. He led a MBO backed by Ampersand Capital in July 2018, acquired Pacific Biomarkers, PAIRimmune, and ImmunXperts since that date and the company now rebranded as Nexelis has more than quadrupled its size in two years.
“I view politics and lack of transparency as the main poisons against efficiency in a corporation.”
Benoit came on board with the strong conviction that the concentration in the Contract Research Organization (“CRO”) market left broad open incredible opportunities to companies capable of showing superior agility than multinational CRO giants whose size and overheads are a handicap for turnaround time optimization purposes. Commenting what has been done to date, he adds “Having built an organization working with top 10 global pharmaceutical companies or innovative biotechnology companies and partnering with the most prestigious academic institutions in the world in a few years is our pride. The foundations are in place to bring Nexelis to the next level and become the obvious option in the therapeutic areas the company is targeting”. The company foresees the outstanding growth trajectory experienced these last years to not slow down in the years to come.
An Advanced Analytical Platform
Nexelis is a global immunology centric advanced lab service provider with three operating sites in North America (East and West Coast) and Europe (Belgium), and a strategic partnership in place with Public Health England, Porton Down, in the UK.
Spun-off from GSK vaccines in 2015, the company has grown exponentially through organic and inorganic initiatives, positioning it as a reference advanced lab services provider in a number of segments including infectious vaccines, oncology (immunotherapy, gene and cell therapy), or metabolic diseases. The versatile team of scientists, working with state of the art technology platforms, has been instrumental in the development, qualification, validation, and largescale sample testing of assays that supported the FDA filing of more than 100 new molecular entities, including blockbuster vaccines and large molecules. The company believes “Our name is our vision.” It is the next generation of contract research organization, born when companies of global stature agreed to unify and advance to new levels of dynamic management and fast-track sophistication. It excels by combining robust protocols with scientific discipline, human agility and client partnership in order to answer the most demanding mission requirements. Nexelis focuses on ImmunoSciences with a strong reputation for accelerated results.
No doubt that giant CROs are well positioned to capture mainstream clinical opportunities where global coverage and logistic capabilities first matter. Niche segments such as advanced laboratory testing are a totally different world requiring organizations centered on senior scientific leaders and aiming at favoring versatility and ingenuity. The company believes to be one among a handful of mid-size organizations in a position to build a world class champion providing highly specialized lab testing services. Nexelis built a truly translational scope of services, aiming at answering all desired and undesired immunogenicity related scientific questions from the lead selection stage to phase III.
Nexelis in vitro state-of-the-art analytical platforms include immunochemistry, cellular immunology, viral and bacterial functional, flow cytometry, Elispot, and PCR/qPCR platforms.
Applauding for COVID Warriors
“Quoting the name of a super star researcher in infectiology would be the obvious option. We are seeing their name every day at Nexelis while our meeting rooms bear their names,” says Benoit. But there are so many scientific and business leaders in the infectious field deserving deepest admiration! And this is just impossible for him to not think of and applaud all individuals struggling to improve access to care in developing countries, Bill Gates obviously being iconic in that regard.
The most important virtues inculcated by those people are that real medical progresses are always resulting from initiatives based on collaborative approaches. Nexelis is signatory of a public statement from a group of experts under World Health Organization (WHO)’s coordination for collaboration on COVID-19 vaccine development: “we will continue efforts to strengthen the unprecedented worldwide collaboration, cooperation and sharing of data already underway. We believe these efforts will help reduce inefficiencies and duplication of effort, and we will work tenaciously to increase the likelihood that one or more safe and effective vaccines will soon be made available to all”.
The world is convinced that the COVID-19 will have changed forever the existing paradigm in the struggle against life threatening illnesses. It will make R&D more cooperative and require a company such as Nexelis to change its business model to develop universal assays endorsed by major institutions accelerating development programs and easing trials read-out analysis by regulatory bodies.
Balancing Work and Life
Talking about maintaining balance between work and life Benoit says, “I am not sure that my beloved wife with whom I got married almost 40 years ago would tell that I am maintaining the right balance between my professional & personal life to be honest.” He has had the good fortune to be placed in a job which is just fantastic and must admit that it led him to develop a rather workaholic attitude. This being said, he adds that “ I would never cope with the level of stress coming with the job if I was not with her most of time after work time whether I am in North America or in Europe. To make it possible, she decided to stop her chiropractor activities and I am extremely grateful to her for this because I could not do what I am doing if she was not on my side.”
“Likely true for many businesses, but the CRO business truly is a people business. Not making my team empowered and accountable would just be a suicide,” says Benoit. He avows “In my job as a CEO, what I can make to help them excel might be two things at the end of the day: remind every day the global picture and be totally transparent with them.”
Coping with Advancement
Nexelis is investing millions in new systems and platforms every year with the aim to maintain state of the art labs. For Benoit it is not the most important element in the mix however. “A brilliant scientist is somebody capable of ingenuity, equip him with an average platform and he will still do the job,” says Benoit. He further adds “Buy an incredibly fancy new toy to an average scientist and one will still very likely get garbage at the end.”
An advice for Upcoming Leaders
Benoit asserts “Keep your ego back to earth, beware flattery, acknowledge publicly your fallibility and be totally transparent with your team.” He doesn’t feel entitled to give a lecture about who a CEO should be or should not be. The reality of the job and skills required might also be quite different for a mid-size company such as Nexelis and for a multinational giant. He added, “If I was to write the job desc of my successor, but it might be something I don’t need to do several years in advance, I would insist on listening and strategic thinking skills, capacity to form a decision, and resilience, I believe.”
Visioning to Get Advance
Nexelis management aims at bringing the company to the next level and further expands its scope of services to become a one stop shop from the early development stage to the late clinical stage for companies to whom desired or undesired immunogenicity is a core topic.
The company’s future resides in its capacity to maintain an entrepreneurial mindset, focusing on leveraging the skills of the best scientists in town and invest massively in the innovative technologies required to stay the reference CRO in the advanced lab testing segment.