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Written by Gina Dunn

Gina is an accomplished marketing director with a long history of building and guiding brands in the pharmaceutical, biotech, and clinical research industries.

April 3, 2024


Welcome back to an all new season of Cut the Chat Life Science Insider Podcast Season 2 episode one is hosted by Seuss+ CEO and co-founder Sabina Hutchinson. Cut the Chat promises to facilitate the conversations that you’ve been dying to hear and tackle the real crux of our industry’s challenges.


So let’s get this new season started and let’s get this episode underway. Let’s cut the chat.


So welcome to the first podcast of 2024. We have some exceptional guests lined up for you this year and I’m delighted to start the season with a very informative and engaging conversation with Stephanie Oestreich. Today’s session is bridging the gap, accelerating the path to cure.


So let me share with you a bit about the myeloma investment fund. It’s a specialty fund that invests in promising companies, clinical assets and technologies and oncology to drive the development of new therapies in multiple myeloma. The MIF collaborates closely with its portfolio companies to help them advance multiple myeloma research.


And this Evergreen fund is supported entirely by philanthropy. All profits will be reinvested back into research for more effective treatments until there is a cure for every patient.


So let me introduce you to our first guest, Stephanie Oestreich. She’s the managing director of the Myeloma Investment Fund. The MIF she serves on the boards of the German American Business Council in Boston and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women’s Network and is the chair of the McCloy Alumni Association. 


Entities, school women’s Network and is also the chair of the Mccloy Alumni Association. She’s on the faculty of MIT, a member of the Launchpad Venture group, where she’s an adviser to numerous organizations, including in Invitris, CART Company, Celine TX, and to the drug and Development investment company Orange Grove Bio.


Additionally, she works on the W 20 Enterprise Task Force and the official engagement group of the G20. Stephanie has held leadership roles in biotechs including the chief business officer at Galecto, Vice President at cell therapy company Mnemo Therapeutics, Venture Partner at RA Capital, and Executive Vice President at Evotec, where she built its North American investment arm and started an incubator with Samsara Biocapital. She has worked as an International Business Leader at F. Roche Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., and for Novartis in Business Development and in Commercial.


Stephanie conducted the research in her PhD in biochemistry in the lab of a Nobel Prize winner at Harvard Medical School, and obtained an MBA from the Harvard Kennedy School and another interesting bit of information around Stephanies that she’s a semi professional violinist performing with the Philharmonic orchestras.


In Carnegie Hall and other international venues conducting workshops with live orchestras. And she loves the idea of demonstrating the similarities between teams and leadership and music and management.


So, Stephanie, thanks very much. And I’m so excited to have you on the first episode of 2024. So thanks so much for taking the time to be with us today.


It’s wonderful to be with you and I’m very excited to tell the listeners about the Milo Investment Fund.


Really excited to get into this as well. We know we were fortunate that we had the chance to actually sit together at in San Francisco. JP Morgan this year. So it was nice for us to actually meet face to face because I think all of our engagement thus far has been virtual. So it was great to actually sit with you and the MF is a very interesting fund. And what I’m really curious, maybe we’ll start the conversation.


With today is what are some of the biggest challenges that you’re?


Facing especially in myeloma research funding and how is the MIF working to overcome these?


Let me start by giving you a little bit of the history and some connections. The multiple Myeloma Research Foundation was started 25 years ago by a patient who was actually still alive and doing well.


The foundation provides information for patients about this devastating hematological or liquid tumor disease. So it’s a cancer but not a solid, but a hematological tumor and what the foundation does is it’s providing information to pay.


But it’s also financing and operating clinical trials. And with that we have very good relationships with the experts in this disease area. A lot of the key opinion leaders and also the different centers in the United States where the patients are being treated about five years ago.


Till my low, my investment fund was started because there was a notion that there is actually not enough emphasis on the still devastating disease. From a research study.


Point there was a notion that there are a lot of therapies already on the market. There’s a lot of therapies that are being investigated in research and clinical trials and some were saying we are at quote UN quote peak myeloma. We don’t need additional therapies, but that’s totally not true because unfortunately.


The patients to actually advance in their disease and ultimately die, and that’s why we are trying to get a cure for every single patient through additional research, development and therapies.


So the myeloma investment fund is providing financing for seed stage and Series 8 type companies and we have currently 11 active investments. We have two exits, one company was bought by Pharma Company and.


Another one with.


Public and we’re looking into many new investment opportunities right now and we also want to support our portfolio companies further with additional investments. We are very much appreciated for our knowledge in this complex disease area, our connections to the experts, not just for our financing.


And that’s really the advantage of being a specialty fund and coming to your questions, the challenges are still that the patients progress, they relax.


And they need novel therapies that ideally address some of the issues in the disease. For instance, many patients ultimately have T cells that are, quote UN quote, getting exhausted and they progress because of that. So therapies that make the T cells will keep the cancer in check long term.


Are really important and really long term innovative therapies are very much needed in this disease.




Yeah. And I can imagine that is obviously one of the challenges as well to really stay on the cost and this innovative side of the research and you know looking at that because you’re so focused and you’re so specific and you have the specific therapeutic area and you’re looking at portfolio companies, I guess two questions. One, do you struggle to find companies, organizations to fund?


And then as you become aware of the organizations, what are some of the criteria that you utilize in determining if you’re going to fund the organizations?


Luckily, we have no shortage of interesting, innovative investment opportunities through our network in the biotech field, but also in the investment community. We are focusing on innovative therapies, so no generics, no repurposing of drugs, but we’re focused on for instance.


Innovative car T we are also very interested in RNA splicing.


We are interested in ADC’s or antibody drug conjugates, so a novel way to also target novel types of cancer. So really a vast amount of innovative therapies. Our criteria is that the companies we invest in have to have already a program.


Active in multiple.


Paloma. And then we can help to progress the therapy with our investments.


And do you also look at organizations that have a multitude of therapeutic areas potentially in oncology and that that you would just potentially pick one program then that that’s also an option they don’t need to be just in myeloma research?


Yes, many of the companies have a portfolio and we invest either in the entire company or if the company would like to prioritize the multiple myeloma program. We can also specifically designate our funding towards that program.


You’re worth.


Program, but we don’t specify that from the get go, so our proposal is really to have the whole company being successful.


OK. Well, let’s expand a bit on that. And if we look at the way that various funding companies or VCC’s engage with their portfolio companies some.


We see are very much involved to sit on the board, very active part of the organizations. However some are less involved in a more hands off approach. How do you engage with your portfolio companies and?


Is there a typical collaboration style?


Fortunately, I have experience having worked in large pharma companies operationally at biotech companies, at startups, but also on the venture side. So I have both been a board member and I’ve also worked with boards and my view here is that.


You have to really be very strategic here. So operational responsibility lies with the company management.


But we at the Myeloma investment fund, we have some board roles. We have observer roles and we also stay very close to our companies by providing advice to them. So it’s in different areas. It’s on the scientific side because of our specialty and very deep knowledge on the.


Scientific and also clinical.


Side but we also provide connections to our scientific experts and to the centers that we are working with, but also on the strategic side. So I have some experience on the portfolio management side and also good contacts to many venture capitalists, so.


We are introducing our portfolio companies to other investors.


Ours and provide value in that way beyond just our investment.


So potentially less operational because you do give that to the team and then more from the strategic and the advisory level then?


Yes, but we’re really, we’re all A-Team and working on it together and we also discuss challenges and we’re finding solutions together.


And one thing that I found really interesting is that when we saw each other in San Francisco, you were in the process of preparing to go visit a site actually and sharing, obviously, I know you can’t share the details around that because it is for a particular.


Buddy, but I’d be curious to hear.


What? What was?


That experience, like for you being then that close seeing patients and being in the clinic.


I had the good fortune to observe one of our physicians and his team during a day at the hospital and that was both incredibly insightful and also very humbling.


I was able to see how the team and it’s it’s really a team. It takes a village, the team of doctors and nurses, physicians, clinicians, researchers, prepares for the day, so they they look at the, the patient records that they for the patients that they have to see.


That day and the diversity was really very, very insightful.


I then had a chance to spend some time with our physician when he was actually seeing the patients and it was wonderful to see that many of them actually were living for a very long time and with a a, a decent quality of life.


But there were also some at the end of their lives. I I also saw some minority patients and there was a translator. So it’s really a very diverse set of patients and to see that it really.


It depends very much of the on the clinical team to have a positive outcome for the patient was very insightful.


Interesting. And did anything stick out because we often.


Challenges around putting the trial together. The protocol. How how do patients and how do the sites deal deal with those potential challenges because everything is complex and especially with oncology of course.


Any insights there or things that you take back with you now and think, OK, this is something that I can definitely share with in, in the next studies or insights in general?


There were trial nurses who were part of the team, so they were very integrated into the whole process and they were then bringing the information back to their own team. So that was definitely very helpful and another insight that I would love to share is the health.


HealthEquity aspect, so it’s still a challenge.


That, unfortunately, minority patients don’t experience the same outcomes for a variety of reasons, and that’s also something that we at the multiple Myeloma Research Foundation are working on to to help and mitigate. And at the very least, we’re very aware of it.




That is definitely a huge yeah, a very significant point. You’re right with HealthEquity, I think that so many organizations are looking how to improve and to have a bigger impact, especially on minority patients. Great. Well thanks. That’s yeah. It must have been really great to be at the site and and to have that experience.


And to see how it is really being translated into novel therapies. Because I also had the chance to speak with researchers who are working with some of the data. So to see how it was really leading from bench to bedside and back was really insightful as well.


Yeah, fantastic. Great experience. Probably more people should do that. I think that it that would have a big impact in general, just how we work. And again it brings it back to the point of the patients, so so key.


Yeah. And it’s very important, I think for the researchers as well because.


Having worked in large pharma companies, you you often you get so involved in the the spreadsheets and the PowerPoint presentations. But having had this experience to meet some of the patients who were able to treat it puts a face to the disease and that was.


And still is an incredible motivator. So when you, yeah, when you have to work hard. So on your next PowerPoint presentation, I I don’t have that in mind. I have the patients face in mind and that’s really the North Star and to provide cures.


For this patient and all the others with multiple myeloma, that’s really what we strive for, yeah.


Yeah, that’s great. Great story. So if you look at the Mike’s approach to funding companies, I mean you’ve been, I think you said five years for the fund, correct. Obviously the organization has been around for 25 years, but the fund has been around for around five years and interested to hear in that period of time and kind of looking forward, has your funding.


And the way that you approach portfolio companies and the organizations that you look for, has that changed?


We’re trying to be at the forefront of innovation and so the therapies that are being developed are also advancing. So what I would say what has changed is the complexity has changed. So there’s many, many more therapies for the clinicians to choose from. So the clinicians now have to be almost like.


Chess players, they have to think in advance what is the therapy. I’m going to give to this patient not just at first line, second line, but yeah in 3rd, 4th, 5th and maybe even later lines.


So the decision both on the side of the clinicians but also the researchers and also investors that has changed, we have seen amazing advancements on the Carty side. There’s now several generations of Carty therapies.


Them are on the market and but there’s still innovation in this field.


And having personally done my PhD in the lab of a Nobel Prize winner on RNA, I’m very excited to also see RNA splicing making, making it not just into research but also into the clinic. So I would say the biggest change is the complexity. And that’s also why.


Specialty fund like ours is so important to really know the landscape and that’s also what we do with our portfolio companies. And I believe This is why we’re being valued by them and by our fellow investors.


Because we really know the landscape very well, we can help to consult on the clinical trial development on the competitive positioning. And so being a specialty investor, we are really being valued for our knowledge in this area.


I can imagine and for the portfolio companies that you’re working with the the value to them is immense thinking about the the network, the KO’s, the.


Just the the knowledge base that you have must just be invaluable for them. So moving on from that, I mean the in the industry too, you know you talked about the industry trends, what that are happening. Is there anything else you mentioned car T there’s a lot of things happening in the industry in this space as well. Is there one that you’re particularly more interested in funding or looking at or is it again?


In general, innovation.


It’s like picking your favorite child in a way there’s some. There’s so many very, very cool novel, novel therapies. Just having seen Carty advance in the way that it’s that it has advanced.




Both on the scientific side, on the design of the cars, but also, as I mentioned before, the importance of really devising a therapy that can reliably and over a longer period of time develop memory T cells.


So that’s the big issue here still that the T cells are getting exhausted initially, they are able to fight the cancer, but.


That, yeah, that sort of waves over time. So having that maintained for a longer time that’s in, in many ways the the Holy Grail. There’s obviously other advancements as well. But if I had to pick one, that would probably be.


The pinnacle, OK.


Thanks. So your favorite child. You’re right. That’s a tough one. You know, when we talk about success of portfolio companies and funding organizations, you know, we think about exits. We think about collaborations.


But when you look at the success of your portfolio companies, how do you measure that success?


That’s a great question because it’s very important to have criteria by which you measure success. So I’m a very quantitative person and I believe very much into setting goals and evaluating your progress.


For us, the the North Star is really to eventually provide a cure for multiple myeloma patients. And with that we are very happy that four of our companies have now multiple myeloma projects in clinical trials. So that’s definitely one of the most important.


Criteria for us.


The exit options really depend a little bit on the economic environment. You might know that currently the biotech environment is improving. At JP Morgan, there was cautious optimism after the last two years where we haven’t seen a lot of early stage funding.


For startups and a lot of exits in the form of IPO’s or acquisitions or even collaborations with pharma companies.


We are starting to see more of that. The general economic environment is also starting to improve. Interest rates are stable and might even go down still this year. So we’re cautiously optimistic that the IPO window might open again and provide other exit opportunities.


For our and other portfolio companies, but again for us, the most important criteria is are the companies able to advance their research projects into actual clinical trials and then ultimately into successful treatments for multiple.


Myeloma patient.


That is the biggest success. You’re absolutely right. We tend to look at the monetary side of things, but ultimately you’re right, it’s the IT is the the patients and the cure that we’re moving towards.


And the yeah. And the two and the two are really not mutually exclusive. We if we develop really good therapies that are able to treat the patient.


There will also be financial success that we can then use to reinvest that into hopefully even better treatments for the patient. So there’s really no quote UN quote conflict of interest here for me. You need to do both.


Mean best. Yep.


Absolutely. Yeah. That’s such a good point.


It’s because, as you know, yeah, I mean, drug development research is very, very costly. Yeah, it takes about. Yeah. It takes a couple of billions per successful drug. And there’s many, many, many failures. So about one in 10,000 early stage research projects.


Makes it to the market successfully is being approved, it’s being reimbursed. So all of for all of this, you, you then also need a financial return.


Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that’s so that so many individuals, especially not in our industry, just aren’t aware of that. The investment, the time, the years that it takes and how many fail to your point for one to be successful. So, so true.


Yeah. And the immense intellectual capacity you need to pivot if you have a negative experimental result, that’s that’s also what we are trying to do with our portfolio company.


If if something doesn’t go as planned, then we learn from it and we help to devise a plan that hopefully will be successful for all involved.


Yeah, no, absolutely. And if you look into the future, if you had your crystal ball, where do you think that myeloma research is heading in the next years?


So I’m making a very bold prediction here. So with the complexity of multiple myeloma that we’re seeing, so patients have a number of different mutations, translocations, they have very different outcomes.


I would predict that if we, if we speak again on the podcast in five years, multiple myeloma will not be one disease, but several diseases.


If you remember just a few years ago, lung cancer was lung cancer, but now you have non sponsored lung cancer. You have small cell lung cancer, you have all positive, you have all positive. So so many different types that you can also target with targeted therapies in a precision medicine type of therapy so.


True. Yeah. No.


I believe we will learn much more about multiple myeloma.


How to diagnose the patients better and how to treat them better, so that’s for the multiple myeloma field, but I hope that our fund is going to grow both in terms of size but also in terms of portfolio companies that we can help to.


Advance these therapies into the clinic that we can partner with pharma companies who can then advance the clinical trials and to provide the marketing expertise that they have.


And that we ultimately will be able to provide a cure for as many multiple myeloma patients as possible.


Absolutely. That is the ultimate goal. And I’m assuming that your vision to be part of that obviously is to be able to invest in more and more as the organization continues to grow and evolve.


Of course, and it will obviously be easier if we have success and.


We can reinvest the proceeds from our exits into other hopefully successful companies, so that’s that’s really what, yeah, why we’re striving to build an Evergreen fund that can then support itself. But we’re also incredibly thankful to our donors who are.


Incredibly instrumental at making all of this happen, and also to our scientific advisors, to our board members who provide so much great input, some of them or many of them are really touched by multiple myeloma themselves or through their families.


And that provides such an important motivation for us to strive to that ultimate goal of a therapy that cures multiple myeloma.


To your point, we forget about some of those people as well, right? It does take a village to bring success, and it sounds like you have a strong village behind you.


Yes, definitely. Yeah, that that’s where we as the myeloma investment fund, benefit from the expertise of the not from myeloma Research Foundation, but also our K wells. The researchers we’re close to and to the centers we’re working with.


Yeah, yeah. Fantastic. Thanks. It’s been really, really insightful. And if anyone, I guess, if any organizations are interested in speaking with you, we’ll definitely have your details available. So I think feel free to reach.


Out of course. Yeah, very, very happy to to speak with you and tell you a little bit more about many, many other topics.


The emergence of so many other philanthropic funds and also the fact that more and more women are also on the investment side. So I’m very, very glad to report that.




My associate is also female and building, building a female led investment fund is also really a joy to contribute to female entrepreneurship.


Yeah, fantastic. Well, that’s something that’s definitely close to both of our hearts, right? We we spend a lot of.


Time also on you.


You do a lot as well on this topic and and I volunteer also because this is just crucial for the future. So we want to get more and more young girls and women moving forward because that has to be the future.


Yeah, we want to provide some role models here, and personally I’m also involved in the the W 20, which is the women’s organization of the G20 and bringing more women into entrepreneurship and also into stem and really showing them that this is.


Not only possible, but really a great success because we are 50% of the world’s population and we’re really driving a lot of the outcomes here. So very excited to contribute to that.




Thanks for what you’re doing and what the organization is doing. It’s crucial and.


Incredible to hear the details around. Yeah, a specialty fund because we do hear a lot of we we you know we’ve talked to lots of organizations and they have a wide portfolio reach and so it’s been really interesting to hear your approach and the way that you work with your organizations and help to support them and bring success. I have another question hopefully it’s OK that I go there.


When we met.


You had a violin on your back.


You you were about to go and and practice to with some I think some individuals in in San Francisco. And I’m curious you’re also going to be at ASCO, I think you’re going to play something there. I don’t know if that’s a see, hopefully that’s not a secret we’ll have to cut that out if it’s.




Not no, no, no, no, no, I I hope.


It will not stay a secret.


Yeah. So how do you so you spend your time playing the violin and also with some colleagues also in the industry, I understand.




Yeah. So, so first of all, thank you, Sabina, for the opportunity to talk a little bit more about the Malawi Investment Fund and very, very happy to anybody who wants more information if they reach out to to to speak with them. The the violin has been part of my life since I was five years old.


I’ve been where I am a professional level violinist, grew up in Berlin, in Germany and when I was 10 I got into a Youth Orchestra and then have played at a professional level with professionals pretty much all over the world, played with the Boston Philharmonics and Carnegie Hall and.


Music is something that’s very close to my heart because.


It provided so many learning opportunities for me. I’m very, very comfortable being on stage, speaking, presenting. I’ve very much learned about time management through all of that. And I saw even as a young teenager, so many countries.




Worked with international people, which was yeah, which really instilled in me this curiosity for different countries and cultures that I’ve kept up to this day speak several languages and.


This is for me. Music is also a way how people can grow together, and that’s also even though I I still play at a professional level and play with individuals, but also in orchestras. But I’m I’m more and more thinking about this as a connector for me, so music touches.


Very, very deep sides of everybody’s heart, but there’s different types of music. I’m a classically trained violinist, but there’s so much wonderful modern music, and through that I I play more and.


More with band.


Once and I played at a band at Bio and I’m very excited that I’m now playing with the checkpoints, which is the city house band and it plays at ASCO and also at SSI and that that’s going to be in Houston.


I’m going to be the Texas fiddler.


There and it’s.


Well, everyone, that’s going to be there, then they’ll get to see you live fantastic.


Yeah, I hope, yeah, I hope I hope you can. Yeah. I hope you can come. And music is such a. Yeah. It’s it’s such a wonderful connector. And I’m excited to.


Connect with all the the amazing Nobel Prize winners on the band and with the the audience members. And so yeah, providing music also for patients. I’m I’m super excited about that.


Now fantastic. Ah, nice story. Thanks for sharing that. So I’m sure you’ll end up in some videos, some YouTube video, because I’m sure people will be recording that. Then we’ll have to make sure that we that we watch that when it comes out.


Yeah, definitely the the band already has a a website. I’m not in it yet, but hopefully relatively soon.


Yeah, fantastic again, what an inspiration. The variety a scientist, a violinist and a financial expert. So incredible. We can do it all.


We can do the things we love and we can do them very well. That’s one of my most important learnings. It’s it’s about trying to be the best.




You can be and, having been blessed with a lot of different qualities. I’m really trying.


To be the best. Yeah, connector and music I can be trying to be the best investor in multiple myeloma companies that it can be. It’s not so much about comparing myself. Of course. I’m yeah, I’m competitive and I I also try to. Yeah, be that in a in a comparative way.


But it’s really about doing the best for yeah, for all of those around me. So big having, you know? Yeah, tried, you know, being academically excellent. But also on the business side, but always trying.


To keep the most important outcome in mind, which is providing, yeah, a cure for patients in multiple myeloma, that’s that’s really the North Star here.


Well, thank you. Thanks for sharing your North star with us and sharing a bit about yourself and the organization, wishing you a wonderful weekend ahead. And let’s see maybe in a few years we have to get together again and and do a recap and see how things have shifted and changed in this therapeutic area.


I’m sure they will. That’s the only constant that has changed. But being a lover of change and being supported by so many amazing professionals, and also by people like you.


Who I had the fortune to meet and also meet a person in San Francisco who is helping us to spread our story and really appreciate it. Appreciative of that and to hope to connect through that with many others who can help us to fulfill our mission of providing a cure for multiple myeloma.




Absolutely. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks, Stephanie.


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