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BEYOND THE BIOTECH: TenNor Therapeutics Ltd, a JLABS @ Shanghai Company



TenNor Therapeutics is a global clinical-stage company with a sharp focus on the discovery and development of differentiated products to address unmet medical needs in the field of infectious disease. We sat down with Zhenkun Ma, Founder and CEO of the company, to find out more about him and his work day-to-day.

Please tell us one surprising or fun fact about yourself (i.e., Do you have a pet? Are you an avid football fan? What’s your favorite hobby? Do you have a favorite family activity?)

We are developing a portfolio of novel therapies to address major unmet needs. For example, prosthetic joint infection is a growing unmet need mainly managed by joint replacement surgery. We are developing a novel compound TNP-2092, the first therapy for this indication with the potential to reduce the need for replacement surgery. We are also developing TNP-2198, a novel drug candidate with the potential to improve and simplify the eradication of H. pylori infections so it can be used widely for the prevention of gastric cancer.

What differentiates you from competitors?

We are developing truly differentiated therapies rather than new generations of old antibiotics. The products in our development portfolio are different in chemical structure and mechanism of action. We are targeting diseases that are without approved drugs (such as prosthetic joint infections) or lack effective therapy (such as H. pylori infections).

No two days are alike as a start-up founder – how do you organize your day?

I usually come in early in the morning and write a to-do list for the day but I also always need to be prepared to deal with the unexpected. A typical day for me is split between drug development programs and other administrative activities. And occasionally, I have to spend a substantial amount of time talking to investors for fundraising.

Do you like working from home? What tools do you use to be productive/what’s your WFH setup?

No, I like to come into the office to work whenever I can. There are less distractions, so I focus better in the office. We use all sorts of communication tools while working from home – WeChat, Zoom, Tencent Meeting, etc. Sometimes we go back to the old technology of teleconferencing.

What startup leader do you admire most? Who has been a role model for you?

Steve Jobs.

How do you read-in every day to know where the opportunities are, what your competitors are doing, where the next big idea might be?

I set up searches in various database for publications associated with our work. I have the search results sent to me regularly. If I don’t have time to read the information right away, I will try to catch up during the weekend.

What do you wish you’d known in the early days of leading a startup that would be helpful for your fellow founders to know? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

I wish I knew more on the business side of creating a company when I started TenNor.

What scientist dead or alive would you like to have coffee with?

Albert Einstein.

As well as being a resident of Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS (‘JLABS’), you’ve also signed a collaboration agreement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, with facilitation from Johnson & Johnson Innovation. What’s been your experience working with us so far?

We are very glad to collaborate with Janssen Pharmaceuticals on the non-tuberculosis mycobacteria pulmonary disease (NTM-PD) program, especially as there is a major unmet need in this disease area. The team we are working with in Belgium is fantastic. Collaboratively, we have made very good progress so far. This collaboration would not be able to take place without the continuous help from colleagues at Johnson & Johnson Innovation.

What advice would you have for new JLABS residents on making the most of the time, opportunities, and mentorship at JLABS?

We are very glad to be a resident of JLABS. The beautiful and well-organized office, meeting and lab space in JLABS @ Shanghai are perfectly designed for a startup. We’re also provided many opportunities to interact with fellow residents, scientists from the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies and potential investors. I encourage new JLABS residents to take advantage of these opportunities.

What is your advice on tailoring your pitch to different investors/tips for pitching to investors in the virtual era?

All investors are different. Some investors are more interested in the science; others focus on the market potential. Some like to discuss high-level strategy, while others want to know the details of the clinical trial design. When I speak to investors, I always ask what they would like to discuss, whether they have read our business plan and if they would like to focus on specific questions. When meeting investors virtually, I always try to be brief and let them speak more so I know what they are thinking.

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