Interview with Ulf Grawunder, founder of NBE-Therapeutics

The 2012 launch of NBE-Therapeutics, a biotech company focusing on cancer therapies and based in the Technologiepark Basel, was guided by the vision of developing a next generation immune-stimulatory antibody drug conjugate (iADC™) platform. In December 2020 German pharmaceuticals company Boehringer Ingelheim has acquired NBE-Therapeutics for 1,18 billion Euros.

NBE-Therapeutics is a privately held Swiss biotech company focusing on novel cancer therapies. Founded in 2012 in the Technologiepark Basel, it follows the vision to develop next generation immune-stimulatory antibody drug conjugates (iADC™). Ever since, NBE-Therapeutics has been pushing its products towards proven clinical efficacy in order to improve and develop new therapy options for patients suffering from cancer. In December 2020 German pharmaceuticals company Boehringer Ingelheim has acquired NBE-Therapeutics, providing a welcome opportunity to ask NBE-Therapeutics founder Ulf Grawunder a few questions.

Mr. Grawunder, in retrospect, what were the biggest challenges you faced since the founding of NBE-Therapeutics eight years ago?

Every start-up entrepreneur developing technologies that are yet to be validated is always faced with the huge challenge to find the funds necessary to finance and thus drive further development. I believe that a large part of every founder’s job is to convince investors of the viability of a start-up’s business idea and strategy. So that is definitely one of the great challenges. Within that it’s not only the business idea that is of critical importance. Eventually it is decisive to gather a great team and to be able to rely on people with the skills and motivation necessary to realise and implement the project. Accordingly, it’s also always a challenge to assemble the perfect team and to establish the ideal framework and infrastructure for them. It’s exactly that combination that we were able to find here in the Technologiepark Basel. We assembled a young, but highly qualified team, we have been able to rely on a good infrastructure, and we were able to find investors – that way everything turned into a positive development.


Are you proud of the development of NBE-Therapeutics, and what are your plans for the future?

There is definitely a moment of pride involved about what we have achieved – as I said, not just myself, but together with a highly motivated and amazing team. These people are fellow fighters that have fostered and advanced the entire project in all those years. The development and growth of NBE-Therapeutics has been a positive experience for everyone involved. Therefore, I do have ambitions to further and implement novel ideas once again. At this point in time, however, our priority should be to complete the integration of NBE-Therapeutics into Boehringer Ingelheim, where we can create additional values and continue to build further on the foundations so far. We are currently in the midst of clinical development, and it is not yet completed. So this is clearly an obvious objective I will strive for together with the entire team. The team will remain in place and continue to aspire to reach this goal. But once this process is completed, I can totally see myself launching a new project or two in the region.


What is your advice to aspiring young entrepreneurs pondering to start their own company or start-up these days?

There actually is only a single piece of advice, and it’s a personal suggestion: «Just do it». If you have the opportunity to turn an idea into reality, to find some project support either through the members of your team, from shareholders or investors, you should not hesitate. You’ll never find out if an idea can be a successful project, unless you try. That’s why my principle is the old, corny adage by Nike: «Just do it». I can only try to motivate everyone out there to dare and make the leap. The risk is worth it, you can follow and realise your own ideas and visions. And that is very valuable.