Menzo Havenga: Innovative and Impactful leadership in Biopharmaceuticals

Menzo Havenga
Menzo Havenga

Visionary leadership plays a pivotal role in the complex domain of biopharmaceuticals. Leaders in this field must embody crucial qualities such as forward-thinking, scientific understanding, adaptability, and a commitment to patient-centric outcomes. With extensive experience spanning 27 years, Menzo Havenga emerges as a distinguished figure in this niche, exemplifying the qualities defining effective leadership in the biopharmaceutical field.

As the Chief Executive Officer of Batavia Biosciences, Menzo is driving the Dutch biopharmaceutical company towards groundbreaking advancements in the early stages of product development, from cell line generation to clinical manufacturing.

With a PhD from the University of Leiden, the Netherlands, Menzo brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, having previously held key positions at IntroGene and TNO, where his roles involved research, development, and management.

His collaboration with Chris Yallop in founding Batavia Biosciences in 2010 marked the inception of a mission-driven company dedicated to alleviating human suffering by enhancing the success rate of medical treatments. Under Menzo’s leadership, Batavia Biosciences has expanded its viral vector activities in the United States, and Hong Kong, evidence of his strategic vision and global perspective. Beyond geographical expansions, Menzo’s strategic prowess not only secured a substantial investment of 195.3 million euros but also facilitated the integration of the company into the CJ CheilJedang Corp., making it an integral part of the CJ CheilJedang global family. This accomplishment underscores his ability to steer the company towards both international prominence and financial success.

Menzo’s achievements have not gone unnoticed, with his recognition as the Best CEO in the contract development and manufacturing industry at the prestigious European CEO Awards 2018. This exclusive feature provides a unique opportunity to delve into Menzo’s transformative leadership style, his pivotal role in expanding Batavia Biosciences, and his remarkable impact on the biopharma landscape.

Let’s explore Menzo’s professional journey, gaining insights into the mind of a leader who is shaping the future of biopharmaceutical innovation and positively influencing the healthcare industry.

Menzo, could you share with our readers a bit about your personal journey in the biopharmaceutical industry and what inspired you to co-found Batavia Biosciences?

I am active in the field of molecular virology, graduating as PhD on the development of retroviral vectors for gene therapy approaches to fight a genetic lysosomal storage disorder named Gaucher disease. Next, I went into the industry and joined a start-up company, Crucell, as employee number 4 in 1994. Within this company, I grew into the position of head of R&D, being responsible for the daily management of a 300 FTE international group of scientists. In 2008, I joined TNO, a Dutch governmental organization. Together with TNO, I build the foundation for Batavia Biosciences over a period of two years before Batavia became operationally independent in 2010. The reason to launch Batavia together with my business partner, Chris Yallop, was based on our own experience in pharma. We experienced that CDMOs typically lack the scientific know-how required to help clients develop novel recipes for product manufacturing. Hence, Batavia was launched with a highly scientifically oriented R&D team. This team knew the challenges in the field of biopharmaceutical manufacturing and provided practical solutions for challenges in production, purification and testing.

Give an overview of Batavia Biosciences. What were the driving factors and vision behind establishing a company focused on biopharmaceutical development, vaccine manufacturing, and viral vectors?

Batavia Biosciences is a Center of Excellence CDMO contributing to global health by developing safe and affordable biopharmaceuticals. The driving factors behind its establishment were our experiences, me and Chris, in pharma, noting the lack of scientific know-how in traditional CDMOs. We envisioned a company with a highly scientific R&D team capable of addressing challenges in biopharmaceutical manufacturing, from production to clinical trials to commercial manufacturing. Our vision is to reduce human suffering from infectious diseases and cancer by providing end-to-end solutions for therapies.

How would you describe your leadership approach and philosophy, especially in the dynamic and rapidly evolving biopharma industry?

My leadership approach emphasizes approachability, team spirit, collaboration, and instilling a strong sense of purpose in every team member. In the dynamic biopharma industry, being proactive, valuing scientific excellence, and aligning efforts and flexibility. Flexibility is a key element, acknowledging the need to adapt swiftly to emerging trends, technological advancements, and the ever-changing demands of the healthcare ecosystem. The industry demands adaptability, and my philosophy revolves around leading a team that is equipped to navigate the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities through practical and feasible solutions.

What sets Batavia Biosciences apart, and how does the company contribute to the biopharma industry differently from others?

Batavia Biosciences differentiates itself through a highly scientifically oriented R&D team. Unlike other CDMOs, we possess the scientific know-how required to assist clients in developing novel recipes for product manufacturing.

Our focus on challenges in production, purification, and testing sets us apart, allowing us to provide practical and viable solutions. Our center of excellence is flexible and well suited to the production of unconventional viral vectors and viral vaccines, something many CDMOs fail to do.

What are the current challenges that the biopharma industry is facing, and how is Batavia Biosciences positioned to address or overcome these challenges?

The biopharma industry faces challenges in improving production efficiency, developing cost-effective novel vector systems for gene therapy products and making vaccines affordable globally. In addition, many of the technologies are still under development requiring substantial innovation to mature the production methods for these types of biopharmaceutical products. Batavia Biosciences is well-positioned to address these challenges through our technology platforms and biological materials. Our SATIRN® technology enhances vaccine stability, and our HIP-Vax® and STEP® platforms enable low-cost manufacturing. By actively working on high-speed, low-cost manufacturing platforms, we are prepared to contribute during future epidemic or pandemic situations.

How does Batavia Biosciences foster innovation within the company, and what role does innovation play in driving success in the biopharmaceutical sector?

Our vision is to reduce human suffering from infectious diseases and cancer. We contribute to this by reinvesting a significant amount of our annual revenues in the development of technology platforms and biological materials.

For example, our SATIRN® technology makes vaccines more stable at room temperature to support product distribution and our HIP-Vax® and STEP® platforms enable low-cost manufacturing of vaccines, viral vectors, proteins and antibodies. Naturally, we also support our customers’ therapeutic innovations. Their candidates for cell and gene therapies hold the promise of curing cancer and genetic diseases. Our scientific staff attends important scientific conferences not only to present but also learn from the field and stay abreast of new developments.

How do you foster a culture of collaboration within Batavia Biosciences, both internally among team members and externally with industry partners?

Internally, we prioritize three pillars: approachable leadership, team spirit, and job purpose. Our culture values personal well-being, global health, and team spirit, emphasizing scientific excellence and proactiveness. These three pillars provide the foundation for our work environment, creating a culture where our team feels supported, connected, and motivated.

Externally, we focus on clarity, realistic goals, and projects that support the affordability and availability of vaccines and advanced therapies as cell and gene therapies. We actively engage in projects that contribute to global health, communicating how these efforts improve the world. Our commitment to collaboration extends to our vendor network, ensuring high-quality services and successful partnerships. By integrating these three pillars into our daily operations, we foster a culture that values collaboration, rewards achievements, and prioritizes the common goal of reducing human suffering from infectious diseases and cancer.

What are the key goals and aspirations for Batavia Biosciences in the next few years, and how do you foresee the company’s role evolving in the biopharmaceutical landscape?

In the fast-paced growth of the biopharmaceutical market, we anticipate multiple business opportunities. We strongly believe that market growth will continue to be aggressive for the next decade.

Our key goals include significantly improving the production of existing vector systems, supporting the development of novel and cost-effective vector systems, making viral vaccines affordable globally, and be prepared for epidemic/pandemic outbreaks. With the decision to build a manufacturing plant to support late stage and commercial manufacturing for complex biopharmaceuticals such as gene therapy, cancer and infectious disease products, we are proud to provide a one-stop-shop for R&D, clinical, and commercial manufacturing. Our new commercial manufacturing facility will be able to support a daily production capacity of more than 500.000 vials of product.

As a leader, how do you envision Batavia Biosciences contributing to shaping the future of the biopharma industry, and what impact do you hope to have on the broader healthcare ecosystem?

We envision Batavia Biosciences playing a pivotal role in shaping the future of the biopharma industry by developing and deploying technology platforms that allow cost-effective production of vaccines such that all in need can benefit from these medicines irrespective of where one lives. In addition, we are committed to developing technology that will substantially increase yield of viral vector-based products such that we can step away for instance from ex vivo cell manipulation and provide in vivo gene therapy modalities. Lastly, through technological advancements, innovation, and a commitment to global health, we aim to leave a lasting positive impact on the healthcare landscape.

How does it feel to be recognized as one of the top leaders creating a difference in the biopharma industry, and what does this recognition mean for you personally and for Batavia Biosciences?

Being acknowledged as a leader making a difference in the biopharma industry is deeply gratifying. It reflects the collective dedication of the entire Batavia Biosciences team and validates our commitment to innovation and global health. Personally, it serves as motivation to continually push boundaries. For Batavia Biosciences, this recognition underscores our impact, inspiring us to persist in our mission to reduce human suffering from infectious diseases and cancer. It reinforces our position as a catalyst for positive change in healthcare.

What message would you like to convey to our readers, especially those aspiring to make a difference in the biopharmaceutical industry or looking up to your leadership for inspiration?

To aspiring individuals in the biopharmaceutical industry, I encourage you to embrace innovation, collaboration, and commitment to global health. Success lies in scientific excellence, proactiveness, and a shared purpose. Look beyond challenges, contribute meaningfully, and prioritize making a positive impact. As for leadership, it’s about being approachable, fostering team spirit, and finding purpose in every task. Remember, your efforts can shape the future of healthcare and make a significant difference in the lives of many. The patient is waiting!