An interview by: Clara Rodríguez Fernández
Daniel de Boer founded ProQR in 2012 following a strong determination to improve the lives of people with cystic fibrosis. “We started ProQR Therapeutics for a very personal reason,” he told me. “Eight years ago, my son was born, and diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. At that time, I was a serial entrepreneur in IT. I decided to make a career switch and start a company to develop drugs for cystic fibrosis, but then also for other genetic diseases.”
One would think that a person without a background in biotech might have it difficult to succeed, but de Boer is not the only to have so far successfully undertaken this endeavor. Over in France Karen Aiach built Lysogene to treat her daughter’s rare genetic disorder, while in the US the story of John Crawley and his company Amicus Therapeutics, founded to help his two children’s diagnosis, went so far as to inspire a movie. The determination and motivation of these parents seem to overdrive any challenges they might have faced because of their limited experience.
De Boer set out to create a business plan for his new company and found out that there was already quite a lot of activity, especially in approaches using small molecules or gene therapy.“We decided that we really wanted to add something new to the space, and take a completely novel approach.”
So he started looking for a new technology, and he found it. “Around that time, I met for the first time with some people in biotech, including the CEO at Alnylam, John Maraganore, and we talked about how they used RNA approaches for genetic diseases,” says de Boer.
Technologies targeting RNA are quite new compared to those that target DNA such as gene therapy. But RNA-based treatments have started to gain traction in the last few years. There are multiple ways that RNA can be used as a therapeutic, but its distinctive advantage over gene therapies and the likes is that it does not permanently change our genetic makeup, making it possible to reverse its effects.
Today, RNA technology is being tested in multiple rare diseases caused by genetic mutations, such as hemophilia, porphyria, or iron overload disorders. “I thought, ‘if you can do that for all these other genetic diseases, why not for cystic fibrosis?’” says the Boer. “With that in mind, we started ProQR.”
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