Jean-Paul Castaigne (E.87)
Saving Lives and Life Savings

Jean-Paul welcomed us at Sainte-Justine university hospital. He is currently developing the first drug candidate that could efficiently prevent premature labour, which could imply saving thousands of lives every day. Plus, he has quite an unconventional background as he is an HEC alumni and a medical doctor. Check it out !

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Jean-Paul welcomed us at Sainte-Justine university hospital. He is currently developing the first drug candidate that could efficiently prevent premature labour, which could imply saving thousands of lives every day. Plus, he has quite an unconventional background as he is an HEC alumni and a medical doctor. Check it out !

If you want to learn more about Jean-Paul story, please read the full article below !

HU: Hello Jean-Paul, let’s start with the “Proust” portrait. If you were… a color?

JPC: Blue.

HU: An animal?

JPC: A bird.

HU: A meal?

JPC: Eggs.

HU: A movie?

JPC: Michel Strogoff.

HU: An object?

JPC: A pencil.

HU: A sport or a game?

JPC: Formula one.

HU: A book?

JPC: L’espoir est une terre lointaine, de Coleen McCullough.

HU: A hero or a superhero?

JPC: De Gaulle.

HU: Could you sum up your professional background in just 30 seconds?

JPC: I am a medical doctor, oncologist. After 10 years of practicing I moved to the pharmaceutical industry. First to Sanofi, then Johnson & Johnson. Towards the end of my time at Johnson & Johnson I did an executive MBA at HEC. When I finished that MBA I was hired by Sandoz (now Novartis). Then I worked for Fournier and three biotech companies: CojuChem, AngioChem and Rytvel Biotech.



HU: What is Rytvel Biotech doing?

JPC: Rytvel Biotech was created to develop a drug candidate called Rytvela. That drug candidate will be developed for the prevention and the treatment of what we call pre-term birth or premature birth. Pre-term birth would not be an issue if it wouldn’t come with dramatic consequences on the newborn. It is the first cause of death of newborns in the world and the first cause of disability of newborns around the world. It represent 10% of all birth and it is a huge problem which is an unmet medical need. It means that nothing exists yet to treat and prevent preterm birth on the market. We think Rytvela is going to be the first molecule, not only to allow births to be at term, but also to prevent death and damage of organs to many newborns.

HU: Could you briefly explain to us how the Rytvela molecule works?

JPC: Rytvela is a small molecule with very strong anti-inflammatory capabilities which cuts the inflammatory cascade at the very beginning. That’s why it is very active on the utero-placenta inflammation, which is the cause of the pre-term birth. Having said that, as you are in Sainte Justine and the inventor of the product, Sylvain Chemtob, is in the hospital today, I could introduce you to him, he is a very nice guy.preterm-birth-cascade


[to Pr Chemtob]: Thanks for giving us a little bit of your time and accepting to answer our candid questions Pr Chemtob. First, how did you discover Ryvela?

SC: As a neonatologist we are regularly faced with the complications of prematurity and all what it encounters such as premature lungs, premature brain, premature guts etc. I realized that we were tackling the issue in a very inappropriate way since we were only tackling the complications of prematurity rather than the root of prematurity. So we back tracked from a physiological point of view and we asked ourselves: why is prematurity actually occurring?

Actually, in the last 35 years the rate of prematurity hasn’t changed. Medications that are being used are ineffective, regardless of what studies you look at! That’s why we decided to tackle the root of prematurity and that we found Rytvela.


Pr Sylvain Chemtob

HU [to Pr Chemtob]: What is the root cause of premature birth and how does Rytvela tackle it?

SC: Pre-mature labour is induced by a number of factors but approximately 50% to 70% of prematurity involves inflammation, and inflammation is particularly involved in the birth of very premature infants. So inflammation is a really important component of prematurity. However, there is no anti-imflamatory drugs that are effective to prevent prematurity. That’s why we decided to tackle this problem and we discovered Rytvela. Rytvela is a design drug. It is an anti-inflammatory agent that tackles specifically interleukin-1 receptor and accordingly inhibits prematurity, prolongs gestation and as a consequence improves the outcome of the newborn in terms of mortality as well as morbidity.

“The big pharma companies became companies who knew very well how to develop, manufacture and commercialize drugs. The biotech companies are at the beginning of the story. They discover the drug candidates, start the development, do the first administration to human being and the proof of concept.”

HU [back to Dr Castaigne]: After having worked for a long time for big pharma companies, why did you chose to work for small biotech firms?

JPC: The big pharma companies today are so big that they are dominated by administration and organization problems. You spend a lot of time in meetings and making a decision is a very time consuming process. After a while it becomes difficult to remain creative in such an organization. The big pharma companies became companies who knew very well how to develop, manufacture and commercialize drugs. The biotech companies are at the beginning of the story. They discover the drug candidates, start the development, do the first administration to human being and the proof of concept. After that, in most cases they license out their drug to the big pharma companies for manufacturing and marketing. To answer your question, I like this freedom to discover new drugs and to move quickly from the bench to the patient.

HU: Could you quickly walk us through the process of developing a drug?

JPC: The process of developing a drug is complex. It involves science, people and money. It starts with an idea in the lab. Like the Rytvela in Pr Chemtob’s lab. He created the drug and demonstrated that it worked on animals. Then you have to move from animal to human being. In order to do that you have to go through 4 steps:

  • Demonstrate that what you did on animals is relevant for future use on human beings
  • Demonstrate that you can manufacture the drug at a large scale without impurities
  • Demonstrate that you don’t have unexpected toxicity on animals; this is the pharmaco-tox study
  • Design a program for first tests on human being

Those 4 steps form a package that you have to submit to the authorities who will allow you to test your product on humans.

That step only takes usually around one year / one year and a half. This is also going to cost several million dollars depending on the pharmaco-tox program the drug has to go through.

Usually the lab doesn’t have the millions of dollars to develop the drug, that’s why you already have to find funds.

Once you get the authorization to test the drug on human beings you can launch the clinical studies. There are 3 steps:

  • Phase 1 clinical studies: test the drug on healthy volunteers to determine the tolerability of the product on human being.
  • Phase 2: administration of the drug to human beings with the disease. You have to demonstrate that your drug brings a benefit for the patient.
  • Phase 3: bigger programs. You have to demonstrate that your drug is efficient versus control in a large and representative population. Generally speaking the biotech companies don’t have money for those multi million dollars programs. Some phase 3 programs can reach from 50 to 100 million dollars.

After that you can license your drug and sell it to the big pharma companies who have money and people to develop the drug.

“The big pharma are hunting for drugs in the biotech start-ups. They have teams of tens or hundred people whose jobs is only to look for new drugs to add to their portfolio.”

HU: What is your role as CEO of a biotech firm?

JPC: Looking at Rytvela, the drug we are talking about, my role is to establish the development plan as I explained it to you: manufacturing, pharmaco-tox, protocols etc. And to make sure that everything is going to happen. On top of that I have to find money to do those tests. This is one of my main roles. When will come the time to find a partner to further develop, my role will be to talk to the potential partner and select one. Another role, together with Sylvain (ed. Sylvain Chemtob, the inventor) will be to further develop the company. Because as Sylvain will explain to you that drug was met by design. This scientific process can be repeated on other molecules. So we have a plan to further develop the company by finding other molecules with similar mechanism of action on different diseases.

HU: Do you think there currently is a boom around biotech companies?

JPC: There is a true big boom around biotech companies. There are many reasons for that. One is the fact that the creativity has diminished dramatically in the big pharma companies. They are very hungry for new drugs but they are unable to create them. The big pharma are hunting for drugs in the biotech start-ups. They have teams of tens or hundred people whose jobs is only to look for new drugs to add to their portfolio. Why do we have so many good brains in the biotech companies? It is probably because like me, many people in the big pharma company are fed up and just want to leave and work in a better environment. Or they are fired by the big pharma companies and look for opportunities.

HU: What is your typical working day?

JPC: In the biotech environment, you typically do not have a typical working day. When you start developing a drug you can be sure of one thing: you will have issues, hurdles and problems. You may try and anticipate as much as possible, but at some point, and it happens very often, you will have to change your typical working day to face the problems. Let me tell you a story. I had a study ongoing on cancer patients in several towns in Canada. One day I learnt that the nurse team had injected the wrong drug to some patients. That is a major problem! First because you don’t know how the patients will react to the drug. And then because you have to report the issue to the authorities. So as a sudden, you have to gather all the regulatory, scientific, medical advice, make an analysis of the situation and then do the necessary reporting. That day should have been a normal day for me but it turned out different.

femme-st-justine-2 femme-st-justine

HU: What makes you happy to go to work every morning?

JPC: We are dealing with a major issue: we are talking about 7000 deaths per day and as many disabilities per day. And I think we have a good chance to manage that problem and have patients less suffering from that. The simple fact of thinking about that makes me happy to go to work. Honestly, I never think about money, I only think about providing a solution for a very serious problem. It has always been like that in my life. I couldn’t have worked for a generic company for instance.

HU: Do you think that pharmaceutical companies are so greedy that it arms innovation spirit?

JPC: I think that what is killing innovation in big groups is more the fact that it is so long to take a decision. Usually the salaries in the companies are good and they have money to do the research. But every stake holder has to submit a report to other stake holders and so on. The giant companies like Merck, Astra Zeneca of Pfizer are more than a hundred thousand in the company. The research staff is often about 10% to 15% of that, so the research is very big. In a certain way the company has to control what is going on in their research team, but as I said, control kills discovery.

HU: Let’s talk about Montreal now. You have been living there since 1994. What do you like about the city?

JPC: It is a nice city, very cold in winter and warm in summer. They have made huge efforts to modernize the city. Take the “quartier des arts” for instance, it didn’t exist at all 10 years ago, there were just one or two theaters. They also renovated the old Montreal and made it more accessible and tourist friendly. You also have a curiosity which is the underground city. It is not romantic but very convenient when it is -20° outside. What is also interesting in Montreal is that you can go around the world without travelling if go each night into a restaurant from a different country, you have the atmosphere, the food, the people from the country… it is interesting.

Concert @ le quartier des arts

Concert @ le quartier des arts

HU: Where do you hang out on Sunday afternoon?

JPC: Most of the time if the weather is nice I am at home with my children and grand children who take advantage of my swimming pool.

HU: What do you like about people from Montreal?

JPC: They are honest, I can tell because it is very important at work. They are not confrontational, team players and hardworking.

HU: In your opinion, what is Canada’s main challenge today?

JPC: Canada is a very nice and large country. People in Canada are nice people and often very competent. The only problem I see is the fact that it is a big country and a small country at the same time. It is the 2nd largest country in the world but with only 30 million inhabitants. As a consequence people tend to think that they are the “big people” whereas they are not enough to achieve what they dream about.

Montreal City

Montreal seen from Mont Royal

HU: Let’s talk about HEC now. Would you advise to someone to do the HEC EMBA today?

JPC: I often advise people to do an EMBA, especially when they already have a 10 years experience and want to boost their career with an MBA although they cannot stop working. Usually when I see people around 30-35 with a good potential I would advise them to do that to give a big turn to their career. You don’t stop working, you don’t stop educating your children, but at the end of the day you have an MBA and that will probably change your career! From time to time, people who wish to come back to France ask me about where to do such an EMBA and I have to say that usually they already target HEC Paris as it is so renowned. It is funny because HEC has a very strong reputation among people willing to go to France for business school studies. I am part of a jury and we always ask them: “what would be your ideal school?”. They could chose EM Lyon etc, but 90% of the case the first choice is HEC. And when we tell them: “if not HEC, what is your plan B” many simply say: “I will try again next year”.

HU: As your background is pretty unconventional – you are a medical doctor – do you feel isolated in the HEC community?

JPC: From what I see from the candidates to EMBA I review, there are only business candidates. I don’t see a lot of scientists going for an MBA and that’s a pitty. For instance, I would strongly recommend to a PhD working in business development in a biotech company to do an MBA. It would allow him or her to have both the scientific and the business aspects at the highest level.

HU: What is your best memory from HEC?

JPC: I remember a conference by the two CEO of Accor, Dubrule and Pélisson. One was tall and one was large (laughs). They were explaining to us how and why they created the F1 hotels in France. One of them said that when he was visiting one of his step daughter who had a small house in the countryside, her mother used to complain that she couldn’t stay long with her daughter because the house was too small and not comfortable enough. That’s when he had the idea to create the F1 hotels which are cheap, easy to access, comfortable and located in the countryside. One guy asked if he did any market study before taking his decision. He answered that he didn’t because he didn’t have time. He wanted to move fast. He said that when he had a good idea he didn’t want to lose his time doing market study, he would just do it. I often use this example when people are afraid of implementing their idea and want to think too much.

HU: HEC’s motto is “the more you know, the more you dare”, what would be your own motto?

JPC: You have to develop a drug as efficiently as possible in order to save as many lives as possible. If I tell you that you have 7000 deaths per day with pre-term birth, if you gain one day, you save 7000 lives.

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