Q&A with Amy Kong, Co-Founder & CEO of Bionova Scientific
1) Please tell us about Bionova Scientific and what led you to start the company five years ago?
Bionova Scientific is a biopharmaceutical contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) that helps companies of all sizes across the globe take their proprietary research to market. Our clients leverage our expertise and resources to support their efforts to be first to the market for new therapeutics.
I started my career as a scientist working for Amgen and then Boehringer Ingelheim, which are powerhouses in the biotech industry. During my time there, I had the privilege of working with some of the industry’s brightest people. A group of us came up with the idea of building a leaner CDMO with the same kind of talented people, while creating an environment that fosters entrepreneurial spirit, speed, and a personal touch. At Bionova, each team member has a real impact on customer outcomes and gives our customers the confidence that critical projects can be handled with a smaller company. The feedback that we regularly hear from our customers is that we are flexible and have a high-quality level of service.
2) How would you describe the state of the biotherapeutics industry in the Bay Area? What are some of the more exciting trends in therapies that you are seeing emerge?
The Bay Area is a major global hub for the biotech industry, and we feel we are in a very prime location. Drug development is getting increasingly complex, and the barriers to entry are getting higher. Ultimately, therapies are becoming more personalized and protein engineering is becoming more powerful, which allows for more sophisticated treatment. For instance, immunotherapy is revolutionizing treatment for cancer, and we can now use the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells in a targeted way.
That said, the biopharmaceutical industry is behind other industries in terms of doing much of their product development and production in-house or through fragmented service providers. We have seen this happen in other industries such as the semiconductor industry where most companies rely on a third-party foundry that specializes in producing wafers. In recent years, there has been a wave of “virtual” biopharmaceutical companies that leverage the expertise of a company like Bionova to get their therapies to market faster and for less money because they do not need headcount beyond their core team or expensive equipment and facilities.
3) Bionova recently announced major expansion plans in Fremont — can you tell us about what is in store?
Based on our clients’ demand, we realized there was an opportunity to provide full end-to-end solutions for drug development, including manufacturing products for human clinical trials. For a biopharma company, this eliminates the need to transfer parts of the drug development process in-house or to other service providers. In June, we secured private equity funding from Great Point Partners to build out a certified GMP facility in Fremont so we can provide one-stop service from research to final FDA filing. We have a vision to grow the company to about 200 people in the near term.
We are lucky to have chosen Fremont — it’s our lucky place! It’s part of the Silicon Valley, business-friendly, centrally located, and still relatively affordable for startups like ours that need the square footage to accommodate labs and production. There are also many colleges and technical schools nearby that allow us to attract talented people at multiple skill levels which is essential to our business.
4) Nationally, manufacturing continues to be a male-dominated industry. As a woman CEO of an advanced manufacturing company, what has your experience been working in the industry, and do you see changes to this trend happening locally?
I am fortunate to be in an industry where technical expertise, certification, and service are valued more than anything else, regardless of gender. I have always thought of myself as a scientist instead of a woman scientist and an entrepreneur instead of a woman entrepreneur. Our clients need their work handled by the most capable teams possible, and they trust us to deliver results for them.
At Bionova, we have many women in leadership positions, including many of our engineering leads. Admittedly, we didn’t look at gender when we made these hires, rather we looked to hire people who had both a high level of technical skill and a strong customer service-oriented attitude. The mindset piece is very important to building longtime relationships where we can grow with the success of our clients. Looking forward, I hope that Bionova can serve as a model for other companies on this subject.