Celebrating National Science Week / Q&A with Dr Ian Nisbet – Cartherics’ COO

In celebration of National Science Week 2020, Solubility is supporting the#InspiringAustraliaInitiative by profiling five dynamic scientific careers.

Next up in our daily interview series is Dr Ian Nisbet.

What does your role entail?

Cartherics is harnessing the body’s immune system to target and kill cancer by arming T-cells with ‘seek and destroy’ capacity.

I’m responsible for pretty much everything that is not directly scientific research related.  I look after business development, product development, IP management, some of the financial management, corporate development. I have a number of people who work for me, focusing on project management, IP management, clinical development activities. 

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? – Alice (in Wonderland)
What is the best piece of advice you have for aspiring founders?

I would encourage people to seek advice broadly and tap into expertise out there. One of the great things about being a founder is that you have a great idea, and you are really enthusiastic. What people don’t appreciate is that there are lots of great ideas out there and the only way really to convert them into something useful is to move quickly, tapping into experience, and in my view, nothing gets developed without a really good mixture of enthusiasm (sometimes naive enthusiasm) and the reality check experience you get by having years of experience.  That is something I would have done differently if I had my time again.

What are the most significant challenges in commercialising IP in your sector?

Money, money, money and more money.  We have a particular challenge in Australia to commercialise stuff, and there are simply not enough investment dollars around for high-risk activities.  Therefore, we are at a competitive disadvantage to folks overseas, particularly in the US who also have good ideas and good technology but simply have very large pools of risk capital they can tap into, and we don’t have that here.  That puts us at a competitive disadvantage.

Reality is a sliding door. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
What is the best career decision you have ever made?

That is an easy one, moving from Australia to the United States.  I was working at CSL, which was a great company to work for.  I had a secure position and a good job in a really good company, and I left CSL to go work in the States for a company called Millennium Pharmaceuticals, which was a phenomenal company.  The experience I had at Millennium was a bit like dog years to human years.  One year at Millennium was like seven years in any other company.  I was there for seven years, so I had a full working lifetime of business experiences at Millennium, and I would not have got that in any other company.

While security and financial wise it would have been better to stay at CSL, particularly how CSL has turned out now, in terms of the experience, the breadth of experience was by far the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

The important thing is the diversity available on the Web. – Tim Berners-Lee
Is diversity important for a successful company?

I think diversity is incredibly important to get a broad perspective of any problem, particularly the field we are working in. We face complex problems, and you don’t want a single perspective on how to tackle it.

Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result. – Oscar Wilde
What does “success” in your role look like?

Ultimately it’s products on the market. Obviously, that’s the biggest mark of success, but from a day to day perspective, it’s that nothing falls between the cracks. 

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. Thomas A. Edison
Who has most inspired you and why? What leadership qualities do you share with that person and how do you use those qualities to motivate your team?

Three people:

Mark Levin, CEO of Millennium Pharmaceuticals – Mark is the gold standard of what a CEO should be in a company.  He is a great communicator, a great storyteller and completely honest down to earth no-BS guy.  He was the sort of person to build a great team of people around him and never the sort to put his ideas first, not egocentric in any way.  People rallied around Mark and his vision. Millennium wasn’t just a company, it was like a cult.  People believed in Mark, and his mantra was that nothing was impossible. 

Vincent Lingiari, leader of the Gurindji people, who led the Wave Hill strike in the 1960s and started the land rights movement – I had the privilege of meeting Vincent back in the 70s when I worked on a project in the Northern Territory.  He was another man with a vision that wasn’t put off by the forces that said what he wanted to do was impossible.  He led his people in the face of tremendous odds and was successful. He was very quiet, unassuming, very patient, and again fundamentally honest.  He was another example of a visionary leader.

Mahatma GandhiI was in India at the end of 2019 and visited where he lived and where he died in New Delhi.  He is another example of a person who wasn’t focused on self but tried to do the right thing for people and for a cause.  He was a person who again, in the face of tremendous odds (namely the British Empire),  had a vision and had the patience to stick it through.

I think in all three, there are common features that are truly inspirational and incredible role models in leadership.

Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. unknown 
Is failure a prerequisite to success?

It is not an absolute prerequisite but, in many cases, it’s necessary for ultimate success. Certainty through personal experience, seeing a number of examples where people have been successful, but it only has been after failing multiple times and having the guts to get up and do it again.

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. – Henry Ford
How important is collaboration to commercialising IP in your sector and why?

I think it’s important and particularly in our line of work, drug development, it’s a team effort.  We are working in such a complex, difficult field that you are only going to be successful with a tremendous amount of collaboration from all sorts of people.