John Climaco started CNS Pharmaceuticals in search of a simple goal: to cure glioblastoma and other cancers of the brain and central nervous system. To accomplish this, our team is developing anticancer agents that target cancers of the central nervous system. Their lead compound, Berubicin, actually appears to penetrates the blood brain barrier in humans and kill cancer cells.
While drug development is still in the early stages, this compound has the potential to address one of the most intractable problems in cancer. It has been extremely difficult to create effective drugs that can reach the brain and central nervous system.
What inspired you to start your company?
We started the company because of the discovery that our lead compound, Berubicin, could not only kill brain cancer cells in the laboratory but could actually penetrate the blood brain barrier in humans and kill cancer cells.
What's the best career advice you ever received?
Prioritize your health over your career. It sounds backwards, but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s very difficult to be an effective leader and entrepreneur if you’re not healthy. Entrepreneurship takes an incredible amount of energy and self-motivation. If you want to succeed, staying healthy is the cornerstone we often forget about when we’re young and take it for granted.
What is your business, and what problem you are solving?
We are in the business of developing anticancer agents that target cancers of the central nervous system. These are some of the most intractable cancer problems because it is extremely difficult to create effective drugs that can reach the brain and central nervous system.
Who is in your core team? What makes your core team a good fit?
Our core team consists of myself, Dr. Priebe, Dr. Sandra L. Silberman, Dr. Hsu, Dr. Picker, and Matt Lourie our CFO. I believe we make a great fit because we each respect one another’s expertise and role. There is very little overlap among us, enough perhaps that we can sometimes pinch-hit for one another, but not so much that we really ever step on any toes. A team like this requires direction but not much hand-holding.
How do you see drug development changing in the next five years?
We may see genomic medicine yield a more personalized approach to therapeutics although that promise has been a long time coming. Similarly, immunotherapy holds great promise, but so far the translation from the lab to the clinic has been disappointing.
What makes CNS’s project different?
Our edge is twofold: First, there is our team, which for a project like this is second to none. Then, there is the IP underlying Berubicin. The compound is completely unique and unlikely to face competition from anything like it.
We really wanted to democratize the fundraising process and Republic seemed like a platform to do that. I’ve said many times there is nothing inherently or uniquely beneficial in the traditional venture model. All of us had been down that path before and we decided we wanted something different.
What are your interests and passions outside of CNS?
I’m an avid climber and backcountry skier and I love spending time in the mountains with my family. I’ve climbed all over the world and led several expeditions to the Himalayas. As I write this, I’m headed to Svalbard, a group of islands at 80 degrees north latitude, to sail the coast and ski. Right now, my biggest thrill is being out-skied by my 13-year-old and having my 8-year-old keep up, no matter the terrain.
What's one of your favorite childhood memories?
Running the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon with my dad when I was 10. Being out of communication for two weeks and camping every night by the rushing river changed my life.
Who is an entrepreneur who inspires you? Why?
Actually my good friend, Rob Tod, the founder of Allagash Brewing in Portland, ME. After we graduated from Middlebury College, I was with Rob more than 20 years ago when he brewed his first test batch in his kitchen. Today, he is in 48 states and employs over 100 people, having won every major award in the industry along the way. He has consistently shown me what hard work and determination can do when coupled with passion for an idea.
If you had $1M to invest, where would you put it, besides CNS?
I’d put it into driverless car technology. To me, there’s no question the last bugs will be worked out and the world will change dramatically.
If you could invite anyone out for a coffee chat, who would it be?
Without a doubt Ernest Shackleton, possibly the greatest polar explorer, and some say overall leader, of all time. n 1914, he led the Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Early in the trip, his ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice. He and his crew drifted on sheets of ice for months until they reached Elephant Island. From there, Shackleton sailed an open lifeboat over 700 miles across the southern ocean to the island of South Georgia. Shackleton crossed glacier-cover and unmapped islands to reach a settlement from which he sailed to Argentina, secured a new ship, and returned to rescue all his men. He not only created the enterprise and secured the financing but, when disaster struck, he pivoted and maintained the morale of his team through one of the worst ordeals in history. I’d love to just ask “how did you do it?”