Dalit Landesman Milo: Pioneering RNA-LNP Therapeutics with a Wealth of Expertise

Dalit Landesman Milo | Chief Operating Officer | NeoVac
Dalit Landesman Milo | Chief Operating Officer | NeoVac

In the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare innovation, individuals like Dalit Landesman Milo stand out as beacons of expertise and leadership. As the Chief Operating Officer at NeoVac, Dalit is not just a seasoned professional; she’s a trailblazer in drug delivery science, particularly in the niche of lipid nanoparticle delivery systems for RNA therapeutics. With an impressive track record spanning over 15 years, Dalit has consistently demonstrated her acumen in pioneering novel approaches to healthcare solutions.

Her remarkable journey doesn’t stop there. With a career spanning more than two decades, Dalit has played a pivotal role in translating innovative ideas from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside. Her experience extends across a wide spectrum of national and international organizations, reflecting her diverse and extensive impact on the healthcare sector. It’s a witness to her steady commitment to driving transformative change and her deep understanding of the complexities of healthcare on a global scale.

A pragmatic leader, Dalit is known for her target-driven approach and a remarkable sense of optimism. She’s not just someone who envisions change; she’s someone who turns those visions into tangible realities. From conceptualization to execution, Dalit is a maestro, seamlessly navigating the intricate journey of bringing groundbreaking healthcare solutions to life.

Adaptability and a thirst for learning define Dalit’s professional ethos. In an era of constant change and uncertainty, she remains resolute, welcoming new challenges and thriving in evolving environments. Her ability to maintain equilibrium in high-pressure work settings is a hallmark of her leadership. Whether it’s designing and building preclinical and clinical projects or overseeing the entire spectrum from initial creative ideation to full-scale implementation on a global stage, Dalit is a visionary at the forefront of healthcare evolution.

Her contributions extend beyond the confines of the laboratory. Dalit has co-authored more than twenty manuscripts, reviews, book chapters, and patents, leaving an indelible mark on the scientific and intellectual landscape. Her work not only advances the field of drug delivery but also serves as a source of inspiration for the next generation of healthcare innovators.

From Israel to the World of Life Sciences

Dalit was born in Israel to an aerospace engineer father who was part of the group of engineers who planned the first Israeli fighter Lavi aircraft and a travel agent mother. She has been happily married to her soulmate, Ilan, for an incredible 26 years and is the proud mother of three wonderful children: Yoav (24), Ori (19), and Naama (17). The majority of her life has been spent in Israel. Her journey into the world of life sciences began in high school during her very first biology class. She was immediately captivated by the subject, and it was then that she made the resolute decision to pursue a path in life sciences at the university level. This pursuit led her to achieve both her Master’s and PhD in the fields of biochemistry and human genetics.

What Dalit finds most invigorating about her work is the thrill of scientific discovery – that moment when she embarks on the journey of exploring new results, designing innovative experiments, and eagerly awaiting the outcomes. The process of meticulously analyzing these results to discern the effectiveness of a treatment, even in the face of failures, is nothing short of magical.

In the World of Life Sciences and Medical Technology

Dalit’s journey has always been fuelled by her passion for applied research, a realm where scientific knowledge converges with practical applications to enhance the well-being of patients and the efficacy of medical treatments. She’s been a firm believer in the potential of early disease detection and the development of therapies with fewer side effects, all designed to improve the quality of life for patients and increase their chances of survival.

After completing her PhD, Dalit embarked on a career as a senior scientist in a biotech company specializing in computational drug discovery. However, it was during these years that her entrepreneurial spirit was kindled, driving her to establish her own company. With a team of like-minded individuals who shared her vision, they laid the foundation for a venture focused on therapeutic recombinant proteins tailored for preclinical and clinical studies. Sadly, the 2008 financial crisis led to the company’s closure, a setback that initially left her disheartened and contemplating leaving the world of science.

Yet, science was deeply ingrained in her soul, and her path eventually led her to the field of nanomedicine at Tel Aviv University. Over 14 years, she honed her expertise in drug delivery systems based on lipid nanoparticles and nucleic acids. Here, she not only led a research team in ovarian cancer but also supervised students, published research papers, and found contentment in her scientific pursuits.

In parallel to her academic journey, Dalit, together with her life partner Ilan and two other partners, co-founded a MedTech company dedicated to early detection of cancer, inspired by a personal tragedy. Their focus was on the early detection of cervical cancer, with the goal of preventing similar tragic losses.

Simultaneously, while serving as a lab manager at Tel Aviv University, she co-established SPARK TEL AVIV, an academic initiative in translational medicine. Dalit played a pivotal role in this endeavour, driving the transition from proof-of-concept studies to industry-ready technologies. This involved selecting promising drug development and diagnostic projects, planning regulatory pathways, interpreting clinical data, and crafting tailor-made business plans. Collaborating with global teams and diverse scientists, she came to appreciate the myriad perspectives and solutions brought to the table.

Then came the game-changing moment, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dalit was presented with an extraordinary opportunity to launch a startup in the UK, centered on mRNA lipid nanoparticle (LNP) technology. LNP technology offered a revolutionary platform for encapsulating therapeutic drugs within fatty envelopes. Her mission was nothing short of visionary: to pioneer the next generation of vaccines, not just for COVID-19 but for a myriad of medical conditions. However, this opportunity came with a heavy personal sacrifice.

Her son Yoav was in the military, and her younger son Ori was completing high school. Uprooting her entire family to the UK was impractical, so Dalit made the difficult decision to leave behind everything she knew and loved, relocating herself to Oxford, UK. It marked a defining moment in her life, a testament to her unwavering determination to achieve her dreams, both personally and professionally.

Dalit didn’t follow the conventional path; she didn’t pursue a postdoc at a prestigious institution or earn top honours in her class. What set her apart was her sheer determination and commitment. After 25 years of dedicated service as a mother and wife, she courageously decided to put her aspiration and dreams in the forefront and entered the unpredictable world of startups. Accompanied by her daughter Naama, who also had a dream to study in Oxford, and joined her for six months, Dalit embarked on an adventure 5,000 kilometres away from her lifelong connections and comfort zone.

Dalit’s journey is an evidence to her insatiable thirst for knowledge, her unbridled passion for science, and her relentless commitment to developing technologies that enhance the lives of patients. If she were to identify the most pivotal moment in her journey, it would undoubtedly be the transition from early research and development to groundbreaking clinical trials, a testament to her unyielding spirit and dedication to advancing medical science.

Passion and the Pursuit of Innovation

Dalit’s lifelong pursuit has been to follow her passion, challenging her intellect and seeking a path that truly resonates with her heart. Throughout her career, she’s maintained firm dedication, self-belief, and an optimistic outlook. Her mantra has always been not to fear daring or failing, for a magnificent failure is better than harbouring unfulfilled dreams, as Dudu Tassa’s immortal song suggests. With an unshakable identity as a risk-taker, she is irresistibly drawn to audacious endeavours and thrives in the face of the unknown.

As a seasoned scientist, her research journey has been on the development of innovative drug delivery systems. She’s dedicated several years to tackling formidable challenges, including drug resistance in tumours and the pioneering of aerosol delivery system for infectious diseases. This extensive academic research period has not only taught her how to identify alternative solutions in the face of failure but has also equipped her with a toolbox for developing and producing drug delivery systems.

Over the course of more than a decade, Dalit had the privilege of critically evaluating numerous research proposals, manuscripts, research projects, and theses within this dynamic field. Collaborating with an exceptional scientific team, she’s contributed to Lipid Nanao Particles (LNP) based RNA therapeutics research efforts and co-authored manuscripts. Her involvement in various consortia, in partnership with industry stakeholders, hospitals, and contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs), has enriched her with a broader perspective and the skills needed to manage multidisciplinary research and translate it from the research and development (R&D) stage to a product ready for clinical trials.

Throughout her journey, Dalit has consistently surrounded herself with the best teams and talented individuals who share her passion and determination. Dalit has always been a staunch supporter of her team, recognizing their strengths and helping them flourish. In times of failure, she has provided unwavering support, emphasizing the valuable lessons learned from setbacks. This collaborative and supportive approach has been instrumental in her enduring success as a scientist and entrepreneur.

Collaborative Journey Across Scientific Frontiers

Dalit’s multifaceted career has been marked by her active involvement in various scientific collaborations, mentoring, and the oversight of numerous scientists and their research teams. With her extensive experience in research and development, translational medicine, startup initiation, and consulting, she has made significant strides in the healthcare field. Her versatile roles encompass entrepreneurship in the MedTech, healthcare, and biotechnology sectors.

Her background includes serving as a project manager in diverse projects within the field of nanomedicine, with a focus on different nucleic acid payloads and the development of targeted and untargeted LNPs based delivery systems for a range of clinical indications. As a project leader in the translational research SPARK project, she has taken on the responsibility of designing distinct development paths, encompassing preclinical and clinical aspects, regulation, and reimbursement, tailored to the unique requirements of different projects and collaborating with scientists from diverse research backgrounds.

In her career, Dalit has had the privilege of collaborating with various organizations, including hospitals, universities, contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs), healthcare communities, and key opinion leaders (KOLs). These diverse interactions have enriched her understanding and expertise, allowing her to navigate the intricate landscape of healthcare and scientific innovation with remarkable success.

Global Perspectives and Unwavering Growth

Dalit’s professional knowledge has been enriched by her experiences on both national and international platforms, each contributing significantly to her success.

On a national level, she engaged in a project that bridged the gap between academia and industry, where she not only managed the project but also conducted scientific research related to the development of targeted delivery systems for lung cancer treatment. This multifaceted role allowed her to develop the ability to handle both operational and scientific aspects of projects concurrently. It required strategic planning for experiments and risk analysis to ensure success. Over the years, her involvement in numerous national projects honed her expertise in building strong collaborative relationships with diverse companies and academic scientists. She also recognized the value of sharing and acquiring knowledge in areas of drug development where her familiarity was initially limited. This included adeptly planning in vivo experiments, strategizing for effective experiments, managing timelines, prioritizing tasks, budgeting, and seamlessly coordinating with multiple stakeholders, fostering close relationships with each.

Dalit’s international collaborations presented her with invaluable opportunities for personal growth. These interactions made her more culturally sensitive and heightened her awareness of cultural differences, enhancing her ability to communicate effectively and engage in high-level collaboration. International experiences sharpened her language proficiency and nurtured her adaptability to novel approaches. Exposure to diverse perspectives and ideas ignited her creativity and took her beyond the confines of her Israeli comfort zone. It also refined her problem-solving skills, enabling her to approach project management from different angles and tackle complex issues with innovative solutions.

Furthermore, her international collaborations broadened her global network, connecting her with consultants, Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), and experts in the translational medicine field. This extensive network has become an invaluable resource of contacts and connections. The exposure to international collaborations has fortified her resilience and boosted her self-confidence, making her adept at navigating unforeseen challenges and high-pressure situations.

Both national and international experiences have provided Dalit with a broader perspective, equipping her with the knowledge and skill set to navigate unpredictable circumstances. Her journey has been a testament to her adaptability and growth, highlighting her ability to excel on the global stage.

Revolutionizing RNA Vaccines and Treatments

In 2021, NeoVac emerged as a spin-off from Tel Aviv University, bearing a distinctive intellectual property portfolio focused on innovative delivery systems built on Lipid Nanoparticles (LNPs). Armed with a proprietary library boasting over 100 novel lipids, NeoVac embarked on a groundbreaking mission: to revolutionize the world of RNA vaccines and treatments for a range of diseases. The company’s core objective is to make advanced vaccines and treatments more accessible globally, offering broader capabilities with reduced side effects.

At the heart of NeoVac’s pioneering endeavour lies a cutting-edge LNP Platform, designed to deliver RNA payloads vaccines for metabolic diseases, oncology treatments, and unique approaches for combatting bacterial infectious diseases. This next-generation platform boasts superior delivery technology characterized by full biodegradability, leading to reduced toxicity. Additionally, the functional LNPs are engineered to target specific tissues, ensuring higher mRNA payload capacity and subsequently enhancing efficacy while requiring lower drug dosages. This innovation holds significant promise, particularly in the context of tumour cells, where lower drug doses can minimize harm to healthy tissues.

NeoVac’s leadership envisions the company’s ascension to global prominence in mRNA-LNP platform technology. Their research and development endeavours are geared toward producing the next generation of LNPs, distinguished by superior characteristics such as enhanced thermostability, targeted organ-specific delivery, and minimized risk of toxicity. These attributes are particularly crucial for therapeutic applications necessitating frequent dosing.

Dalit, who has been with NeoVac from its inception, played a pivotal role in assembling a diverse team of scientists, uniting individuals from varying scientific backgrounds, cultural influences, and mentalities. Through open communication and an unwavering commitment to nurturing the team’s collective potential, she succeeded in fostering a strong bond among team members, akin to a closely-knit family. This achievement has been a source of great pride for her, as it reflects her ability to galvanize a highly motivated team united by a common dream.

Her leadership extended to the development of NeoVac’s flagship vaccine product, a journey that traversed the proof of concept (POC) phase, optimization, scale-up processes, and preparation for clinical trials. Furthermore, Dalit was instrumental in establishing and managing the company’s scientific activities, encompassing chemistry and biology laboratories, quality control operations, and regulatory affairs unit. She introduced and implemented work procedures, milestone plans, and timelines to enhance efficiency and productivity throughout NeoVac’s research and development efforts.

Balancing Dreams and Responsibilities

Dalit is the driving force behind translating plans into action, overseeing and controlling the outsourced and in-house company’s operational activities, and collaborates with CDMOs, academia institutes, KOLs, and consultants. She is dedicated to formulating and guiding the company’s strategy, prioritizing daily tasks to proactively address potential disruptions, and ensuring the achievement of overarching objectives. Her daily responsibilities encompass the management of optimization, scaling-up, and GMP manufacturing processes for the vaccine product, as well as coordination of global outsourced activities and collaborations, including drug substances manufacturing and preclinical studies, with a strong focus on results analysis, data quality control, and risk assessment. In addition, she supervises in-house R&D activities related to synthesizing proprietary lipids, engages in grants writing, and plans future R&D programs.

In the rapidly evolving healthcare industry, Dalit maintains strict timelines, compliance with milestones, regularly updates working and regulatory compliance plans, and monitors them diligently to ensure successful preclinical and clinical trials. Her managerial approach involves close collaboration with advisory teams and a relentless pursuit of creative solutions to manage budget constraints and aggressive timelines, always with contingency plans at the ready. She forges partnerships with experienced collaborators, prioritizing a highly talented, courageous, and fully dedicated team.

While her role demands substantial motivation and energy, Dalit continuously strives to balance work and family obligations, despite living far from her family, grappling with occasional challenges, setbacks, and feelings of guilt. Nonetheless, she remains there for her family when needed and holds onto the hope that they understand and take pride in her pursuit of her dreams. With the unwavering support of her husband, Ilan, and her children, she relies on her self-belief as a strong woman with exceptional managerial skills to lead her team effectively and fulfil her daily tasks to the best of her ability, all with the ultimate aim of ensuring the company’s success.

Stepping into Clinical Trials

As the Chief Operating Officer at NeoVac, Dalit’s most significant challenge is expediting the transition of their product into clinical trials within a tight timeframe. She credits the success of this endeavour to her dedicated team members, their unwavering commitment to hard work, and her reliance on their collective efforts. Prioritization is a cornerstone of her daily operations, and she places a premium on preparedness, maintaining open and regular communication with all scientists and CDMOs involved in project execution. Her hands-on approach, constant monitoring of in-house and collaboratively sourced data, and the organization of weekly meetings, reports, and supportive preclinical experiments are instrumental in overcoming this challenge.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Dalit emphasizes the challenge of staying updated with the latest developments in the healthcare sector, an ongoing learning endeavour that requires her to dedicate at least one hour each day to reading relevant publications and news. She’s grateful to lead a team of highly skilled and multidisciplinary scientists who keep her abreast of recent news, vital publications, and advancements in various fields, including mRNA research, regulatory policies, cutting-edge LNP technologies, and assays.

While her busy schedule limits her in-person conference attendance, Dalit actively seeks online events during her free time to ensure she remains well-connected with the ever-evolving landscape of scientific knowledge and innovation.

Trials, Triumphs, and Balance

Dalit identifies several perspectives on the challenges she has encountered in her career:

  • Scientific Challenges: Dealing with scientific challenges, especially related to LNPs-based products, during their transition from small-scale R&D to large-scale manufacturing. This transition can impact the physical and chemical properties of the products, necessitating readiness, in-depth understanding, collaborative knowledge sharing and problem-solving skills.
  • Personal Resilience: Embracing failures, pressures, and crises while maintaining an optimistic outlook. She draws inspiration from the words of Sir Winston Churchill, ‘never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.’
  • Work-Life Balance: Balancing family life with a long-distance career, which she considers a distinct journey. She establishes her own routines, dedicates time to self-improvement, and incorporates fitness into her schedule, either in the early morning or late at night. Her ongoing effort to boost self-confidence and self-esteem is a crucial aspect of this balance, emphasizing the importance of self-love and self-respect as the foundation for receiving love and respect from others.

Vision for NeoVac in the Future of Personalized Medicine

Dalit finds this to be an intriguing and opportune moment to reflect on the possibilities within the healthcare industry, especially in light of this year’s Nobel Prize nominations in the fields of Chemistry, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine, which highlight the significance of nanotechnology and the discovery of mRNA modifications by Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman. This recognition underscores the potential of mRNA as a future promise therapy option for a wide range of currently incurable diseases. Such therapies are seen as more effective, safer, and cost-effective, potentially expanding accessibility to low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Beyond the widely recognized mRNA vaccines, a promising future beckons for RNA-based therapies, offering new hope for treating conditions such as cancer and rare genetic disorders, with the potential to be both widely accessible and affordable. In addition to the mRNA vaccines and therapeutics-based vaccines field, there is a promising future for more personalized RNA-based treatments that could become widely available and affordable.

NeoVac stands as a key player in this field, with the potential to shape the landscape of future mRNA LNP vaccines for viral and also bacterial infections, oncology, metabolic and genetic diseases with broader capabilities and fewer side effects. By developing off-the-shelf, ready-to-use mRNA-LNP based treatments, NeoVac could significantly save countless lives and enhance the quality of life for people around the world.

A Recipe for Success

Dalit offers several key points:

  • Follow Your Passion: It is crucial to follow your heart and wholeheartedly believe in the project you’re working on, as this commitment is essential to give your best and make it a success.
  • Time Management: Recognize the value of time as an irreplaceable resource. Find creative ways to save time for your project, including leveraging the work others have already accomplished.
  • Identify and Anticipate Bottlenecks: Always be proactive in identifying potential bottlenecks within your project. Anticipate problems before they occur and have contingency plans or alternatives in place.
  • Data Support: Ensure you have robust scientific R&D-grade data to support your clinical applications. This data can be generated in-house, complementing high-level data extracted from your CDMOs.
  • Prioritize Self: It’s vital to be keenly aware of your personal priorities. Not only should you acknowledge them, but it’s also essential to allocate dedicated time to focus on yourself. Remember that the demands of your job can always be temporarily set aside to maintain a healthy balance.

Paving the Way for Healthcare Breakthroughs

Drawing upon her extensive experience in translating procedures from the laboratory to real-world applications, Dalit has gained a profound understanding of the significance of learning from past mistakes and embracing a trial-and-error, “hands-on” approach as integral aspects of her growth journey. Also, she places a high value on the strength of collaborative networking. All of these elements contribute to a more holistic perspective and enhance her toolkit for developing more effective and safer cutting-edge technologies and processes. This, in turn, facilitates shorter timelines and reduced costs, ultimately enabling the creation of a universal and accessible delivery system platform for a wide range of medical indications.

Dalit’s progress is driven by personal motivation to positively impact patients’ health and enhance their quality of life through her ongoing involvement in pioneering healthcare breakthrough technologies, a journey that continues to unfold.

Pioneering the Future of Healthcare and Gender Equality

Dalit’s vision for NeoVac in the coming years is to work towards becoming a global leader in the development of vaccines and treatments based on RNA-LNP, all in pursuit of improving the well-being of humanity. On a more personal note, she aspires to see a notable increase in the representation of women in leadership roles, not only within healthcare but also across various sectors. This commitment to both professional excellence and gender equality underlines her dedication to making a positive impact on the world.

Dalit’s Heartfelt Message

“To all of the incredible women in my life, your unwavering support empower me to face life’s challenges with unwavering strength, thereby significantly enhancing my career and personal growth. I am deeply grateful to each of you.”