Have you met… Ricardo Perdigão Henriques?

Ricardo has seen science from many angles: his experience includes academic research, Biotech Venture Capital, and Pharma business development.

Ricardo Perdigão Henriques holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, which he earned through a collaboration between ITQB/IBET and Harvard University. Currently, he works at BIAL’s business development department, an international R&D-based pharmaceutical group, headquartered in Portugal.

You worked in very different places but probably there are a set of characteristics that you considered vital for a good performance whatever the place. What are they?
Ambition and a desire to make a difference regardless of what you’re doing! I have always aimed to contribute to the group’s mission and be an active team member. Additionally,  being open-minded and receptive to learning with your colleagues and those around you.

As you already had different types of jobs, is there still anything else you would like to try?
I think that a scientific background prepares you to do several types of activities. I have not yet worked as an entrepreneur inside a biotech startup, which would be an interesting challenge to try in the future. Beyond the Biosciences, I would try to advance my music skills as I have played the saxophone since I was 12 – maybe I will save this for my retirement!

Hum.. but you already entered the entrepreneurship world! Can you talk about PortugalShopping? How did this idea materialize?
I was in Boston during my PhD and, while talking with other Portuguese colleagues, realized that everyone missed our food and other products such as the good Portuguese wine. Inspired by my commercially-oriented family, I created this website so people could order Portuguese products from anywhere in the world. I’ve been running this small business with my mother as a hobby and look forward to continuing to do this.

How did you accomplish the transition from academia, studying microRNAs in cancer development, to investing as a Venture Capitalist (VC) at Portugal Ventures?
During my time at Harvard, I had the opportunity to take the Mini-MBA program specifically designed for scientists, which opened my mind to the business field. I also pursued other business and pharma activities, such as the Novartis BioCamp – a one-week intensive training program in the company’s headquarters in Basel, Switzerland where I had hands-on experience designing a biotech business plan. So, I have been interested in the intersection between science and business for a while, which is a good fit for venture capital.

What is the big difference between being a VC investing in biotech companies and working in a Pharma business development department?
It’s very different! As a VC you invest in several companies to spread risk and develop several technologies. You then find the appropriate acquirer/licensor for them that will finish their development and take them to market. On the other hand, as an acquirer/licensor in Pharma, one has to assess if the technology is robust enough and at the right stage of development to be acquired/in-licensed and brought to market. When a technology is acquired/licensed a significant investment is still required to bring it to market and have an impact on patients. Typically, Pharma’s acquisition strategy is to take fewer, but bigger bets, and hence the risk is higher on the buyer side.

As you mentioned, you already performed bench research and now work closer to the market and this allowed you to realize how long and difficult it is to bring a new drug to market. Do you have any guesses of what will be the major breakthroughs in science in the next 20 years?                                         
Probably cell and gene therapies. The recently discovered CRISPR technology opens many possibilities, from reprogramming the human body to enhancing it, which can also give rise to many ethical issues, but this might be a key technology to treat diseases. Also, although it’s something that people are already working on, I think the next decades will finally bring us high sensitivity and non-invasive diagnostics that will allow us to detect diseases earlier when they are typically more amenable to treatment.
Finally, independent of the job that you have at a certain moment, when you have a bad day, what is your way to relax?
I breathe in and out slowly and repeat “This too shall pass!”

Quite a long interview, but very interesting, right? R. & L. are in Lisbon and Ricardo in porto, but the distance didn't affect our interaction. Our skype call was very pleasant, and we learned so much with him! Hope you can use his path as inspiration as much as we! As always, stay tuned for more :)