WHO: Kimer Med
Founders: Phil Oliver and Rick Kiessig
What products, services, solutions or technology have you developed?
In spite of the billions of dollars spent on medical research, registered antiviral drugs exist for only a handful of viral diseases that afflict humans. Most of these target a specific virus and only slow down its ability to multiply. They also tend to be relatively toxic and vulnerable to drug resistance as viruses are prone to mutation, which renders the drug less effective.
To overcome these problems, Kimer Med is developing a broad-spectrum antiviral drug using existing, large molecule recombinant protein technology. This is not to be confused with a vaccine, but a treatment intended to eliminate a virus once it has infected a host body. We call our product “VTose®”.
We believe our compound will be effective for treating viruses in humans and animals.
WHAT KEY CUSTOMER PROBLEMS OR CUSTOMER “WANTS” DOES YOUR SOLUTION SOLVE?
Kimer Med’s vision is an end to viral disease. Viruses are one of the oldest and deadliest threats to human life, causing immeasurable sickness, suffering and death around the world. Dengue, Ebola, HIV and Zika wreak havoc and ruin lives, particularly in developing countries. Influenza (‘flu’) is associated with 500,000 deaths every year, and viruses like Covid-19 can appear suddenly, killing millions and devastating economies.
The 1918 influenza pandemic killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people! 40 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS, and on average 3,000 people die every day from liver disease caused by viral hepatitis!
You only have to scan the news to find that Monkeypox is spreading, Foot and Mouth disease threatens livestock and livelihoods, there’s a super-lethal Marburg virus outbreak in Ghana, and scientists have recently confirmed that viruses cause diseases like Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis as well.
A broad-spectrum antiviral drug is desperately needed, not only for the many current viruses, but also to prepare us for the next deadly pandemic threat which may well be caused by a virus we don’t even know about yet.
It’s difficult to overstate the impact of our work – if we succeed, we will revolutionise medicine, save countless lives and greatly reduce global suffering.
Who and where are your target customers?
In humans, our target market is those who suffer from, or are at risk from viral disease. Our viral targets range from very familiar viruses like Rhinovirus (the common cold) and influenza, to SARS-CoV-2 (Covid), CMV, EBV, HIV – the list goes on and on because there is no shortage of viral diseases that lack an effective treatment or cure. At the more lethal end of the scale we are targeting viruses such as Ebola, Zika and Dengue.
If we take a close look at Dengue, for but one example, it’s a disease that we are thankfully not very familiar with here in New Zealand. However, Dengue is the most common mosquito-borne viral disease in the world. It’s ranked by the World Health Organisation in the top ten global threats to public health. Dengue is now endemic to 129 countries, putting 3.9 billion people at risk. With around 390 million infections annually, it puts immense pressure on health systems and kills around 40,000 people each year. There are currently no specific antiviral drugs to treat dengue infection.
We’ve created a formulation of VTose that has demonstrated 100% effectiveness against the Dengue virus in vitro (that’s testing done in the laboratory setting). We are currently looking at how we can complete the further testing and trials necessary to get a treatment to the people that need it, most of whom are in the developing world. It’s important to us that lifesaving drugs are affordable and accessible to the people who need them most.
There are also a lot of viral diseases in animals for which there are currently no effective treatments or cures available. We recently surveyed the veterinary community in New Zealand to find out where they saw the greatest need and will be working to address some of the diseases that affect our pets and companion animals, such as Feline Leukaemia, Feline Calicivirus and Feline Herpesvirus.
How and when did you first come up with the idea for your business?
Kimer Med was founded by Phil Oliver and Rick Kiessig in August 2020. At that time, the world was in the grip of the burgeoning Coronavirus pandemic and crying out for effective antiviral medicine.
Both the co-founders were aware of some previously published research in the antiviral space that had demonstrated a compound with effectiveness against 15 viruses in vitro and another one in mice. They decided to dig deeper and see what had happened to it, since it was published in 2011.
They were surprised to find that this work had not progressed further, and most of the related patents had been allowed to lapse. With decades of scientific and entrepreneurial experience, Phil and Rick decided there was no more worthy a quest than to pursue the promise of this life-saving antiviral technology, and Kimer Med was born.
What are three things about your business that you are proud of?
- Firstly, our ‘small pharma’ approach. Without a doubt, our entire journey is one of adversity. What we’re attempting has never been done. We’re talking about an end-to-end process of drug development on a tiny budget – a process that is beset on every side by technical challenges, huge expense and regulatory burdens. But as you know, innovation and clever thinking are born in these very conditions – a concept expressed in the words of Nelson’s greatest scientist, who famously said: “We haven’t got the money, so we’ll have to think.” We’ve taken these words to heart. Our entire business model, research process and product development path takes an inventive and unconventional approach compared to the traditional big pharma model. We call our approach “small pharma” and with it we intend to change the world.
- Second, courage. This is an undertaking of epic proportions. Drug development through to clinical trials could take us ten years and cost upwards of $150M. No one in their right mind takes this on lightly – it takes a lot of courage and self-belief. Fortunately, we are inspired and motivated by the potential impact of our work and the lives it will save.
- Third, community. We are proud to be part of a small but growing biotech community in Nelson. Biotech is an area with huge potential for positive impact on the world, as we are trying to solve some of the really serious and pressing concerns of our time. We aspire to be responsible and supportive members of that community, and as part of that we are trying to build the sector in our region by setting up the Nelson Biotech Forum.
How do you market your business and what advice do you have for others around marketing?
With no product to speak of yet, our marketing consists mostly of profile-raising work. Up until recently we were essentially unknown, and flying under the radar, so we’ve been trying to change that and get a bit of attention with a more active social media presence and some media releases. We are trying to attract grant funding where possible, and will be looking to raise capital next year, so it’s important that the right people start to hear about us. It helps to be strategic about this. We have developed a communication strategy that breaks down our audience segments, outlines what messaging is important to them, and how we are going to go about getting it out there and in front of them.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building your business so far?
It’s no exaggeration to say that there are constant challenges in this kind of work. Drug development is a complex and difficult task.
One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced is that because of the Covid pandemic, the whole world has been somewhat obsessed with vaccines and vaccine development lately. Enormous sums of money have flowed into this area, and much less attention has been paid to the need for antivirals.
It’s clear to us, and others, that if effective vaccines can be developed and deployed alongside an effective broad-spectrum antiviral medication, then we will stand the best chance of saving lives and preventing further global pandemics. This man sums it up very well:
“If we had clinic-ready antivirals suitable for SARS-CoV-2 when the pandemic struck in late 2019, we could have perhaps saved millions of lives. The world needs a diverse stockpile of novel antiviral compounds that can be quickly advanced for the current pandemic and when the next pandemic strikes, and it is essential that these be affordable and equitably accessible to everyone.” ~ Dr Ben Perry – Discovery Open Innovation Leader, Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi)
What is the biggest entrepreneur lesson you would like to share with other Kiwis thinking of starting their own business?
We’re very fortunate that there is an enormous unmet market for our product, and no shortage of need. But that is not always the case – so talk to your potential customers as soon as you can and try to dig deep into their needs and really understanding them. Don’t be afraid to ask direct and pointed questions like, “Would you buy this from me,” and be sure to discuss details such as price, timeframe, licensing and so on. Use the information you learn to refine your product, approach, and pitch.
Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Really. What makes a company successful is not the idea or naming or imaging; those are important, but much later. Early on, the key to success is customer acceptance, and figuring that out takes time and effort, sometimes a significant amount.
Benefits include maximising the impact of your limited initial funding and avoiding building a product you think is awesome, that no one will buy. Knowing your potential customers well is also a prerequisite to effective sales, marketing and especially raising funding of any kind.
Story created in partnership with Nelson Regional Development Agency (NRDA).