Chief Executive Officer & Founder
As part of our series ‘Business Builders’, we interviewed Dr Danuta Jeziorska, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Nucleome Therapeutics, a drug target discovery biotech that is decoding the dark matter of the human genome to uncover novel ways to treat diseases. Her entrepreneurship story started with co-founding our own Oxford branch of the Innovation Forum in 2015, which she led for two years to a recognised venture that supports innovation from concept to market in Biobusiness in the UK. In 2018, after a decade of genomics research at Oxford University, she spun-out Nucleome Therapeutics and is on a mission to shine a light on the dark genome and bring precision medicine to patients.
Here Danuta explains her deeply rooted drive to make difference to patients and Nucleome’s journey from an academic endeavour to one of the UK’s most promising new biotech companies.
Tell us about your journey to becoming CEO at Nucleome.
It is not often that you find yourself at a life junction where your experiences finally connect and make sense. The opportunity to become CEO at Nucleome, however, was just that. I fell in love with genetics at school when I learnt that each cell in our body contains DNA, and that this instruction manual of life could go wrong and cause disease. I spent 16 years following this passion to understand how genes are turned on and off and how aberrations in this process can lead to disease. Eight of those years were spent conducting research at the University of Oxford where I also met my co-founders. In parallel, my entrepreneurial journey also began here as I had the opportunity to found and lead a venture which supported entrepreneurs and scientists to commercialise their ground-breaking research and also facilitate knowledge exchange between academia, industry and the NHS. The opportunity to become CEO of Nucleome perfectly combined my expertise and passion for science with my entrepreneurial drive. It allowed me to take my research forward beyond publishing and to do something amazing with the technologies I knew could impact the lives of patients.
The majority of disease-linked genetic changes are not located within genes, they are located within the remaining 98% of our DNA, which is called the dark genome. It is this dark genome that controls whether genes are switched on or off and so the key to unlocking the potential of that knowledge lies in understanding what these variants are doing, what genes they regulate and what the effect of that change is within our cells. Nuclome has the potential to do just that and plans to generate the precision medicines that are so desperately needed for autoimmune diseases.
This has been an incredible year for Nucleome. What would you pull out as the highlights?
We are living through strange times and over the past two years the world has shifted in ways we could not previously have imagined, providing extraordinary challenges and highlighting the tremendous impact and need of life sciences research.
Nucleome’s year wasn’t free of challenges either but, we quickly learnt how to navigate through these times of uncertainty and now have a strong compass that guides us. Despite the challenges, we managed to have an incredible year with our pioneering science published in prestigious scientific journals and widely celebrated in the media. This included a company spotlight in Nature Biotechnology and an article about our game-changing technology in Nature. A particular highlight this year was recognition achieved by the technology behind Nucleome in solving one of the most important genetic signals in the current pandemic by discovering a gene that potentially doubles the risk of death from COVID-19. The findings were published in Nature Genetics and gained significant international media coverage including in Fox News, Sky News, BBC News and many other top-tier publications including The Guardian, Bloomberg and The Daily Mail.
This is a great example of the power of our platform, demonstrating that we can truly uncover disease-gene-variant relationships in a clinically relevant way. As a company we have managed to validate our platform by re-discovering drug targets that show efficacy in patients. We have managed to map the dark genome of a number of immune cell types and discover the first wave of targets that we started to biologically validate, as well continuing to discover new targets to build a robust pipeline of drug discovery programmes for treatment of autoimmune diseases.
What have you enjoyed most about the last year?
One of my core motivators to become CEO at Nucleome, besides its incredible science and potential to positively impact patients, is creating great teams. I have a strong belief that a great team is the key to building a transformative business. I am delighted that we have attracted such exceptional talent, doubling in size over the last year. It has been extraordinary to work with such a dynamic, enthusiastic, passionate and highly motivated team of scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators who all have a shared ambition to transform the lives of patients. It is also important to note that as a team we are also working with a number of exceptional consultants, whose support and commitment are accelerating our progress.
We have a tremendous amount of support from our Board, investors, and strategic and scientific advisors. Nucleome is privileged to work with several industry leaders, including Dr Eliot Forster, Dr Rene Russo, Dr Ray Barlow, Dr Craig Fox, Dr Jane Dancer, Prof Chas Bountra and Dr Jonathan Hepple.
What does Nucleome’s success mean to you?
I co-founded Nucleome as a scientist with a deep understanding of the science and the true potential of the technology behind the company. I knew that treatments for many diseases are hidden in the dark genome and that decoding it could transform the lives of patients through precision medicine. Whilst I knew this was important, I didn’t really understand its true importance until I was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer. There are moments that define our WHY, our purpose, and this was my moment. I was lucky that I had an early diagnosis, benefitted from recent advances in medicine, had extraordinary healthcare and have so many wonderful people in my life who helped me through it, for which I am extremely thankful. But not everyone is as fortunate and we are far from having curative treatments for many devastating diseases; devastating for patients, their families, and carers. My experience helped me understand the fragility of life. It showed the true meaning of what we do: we bring hope, we bring time, we bring life and it unlocked the real passion I have. We desperately need new treatments that are causal to the disease biology. Not just for life-threatening diseases but also for those chronic diseases that affect people every day.
What are you looking forward to achieving in 2022?
I am extremely excited about 2022. We are at a very exciting stage of our evolution as we have discovered the first wave of targets and started to biologically validate them, as well continuing to discover new targets to build a robust pipeline of drug discovery programmes. In parallel, we aim to continue building our Dark Genome Atlas, which will enable us to unlock the dark genome variant-gene associations in many high burden diseases and cell types to bring precision medicine to patients with high unmet need diseases.