Going deep in a narrow space for great success. An interview with William Vanderbloemen…
Going from idea to prototype, to marketable product.
An interview with Pete O’Heeron about pushing the envelope of science to bring cutting edge offerings to the market.
How do you get people to think about new ideas?
And then, how do you move your audience from thinking – to buying?
To examine how ideas go from brainstorming to industry-changing, I’ve invited Pete O’Heeron to join me for today’s podcast. Pete is the Founder and CEO of FibroBiologics, a leading biopharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing fibroblast cell-based therapies.
We kick the conversation off discussing how Fibroblast has gone from a few peer reviewed papers a year to dozens each week in the span of a mere eight years. Pete helps us understand exactly what fibroblast cells are and why the amount of interest and important research for them has spiked.
Not only is research into fibroblast cells new but the work Pete is doing at FibroBiologics is going in directions no one else is. Pete discusses why they are doing work no one else is and how the research and science are the mechanics that steer the direction of the company.
Working on such new and cutting-edge ideas often means having to convert people from no, to yes. Pete shares how their scientific discovery board is made up of world leaders in stem cell research, which gives the work they do a great deal of credibility. This creates an opportunity to start conversations that spark interest in what the company is doing and allows the science to sell itself as people dig into these new ideas.
Pete offers great insight into how to take new niche ideas from prototype to market and have conversations that draws your audience in.
- Allowing research and science to dictate the direction of your company can take you in new directions.
- Getting new ideas out means starting a conversation with the points that will spark interest. After that follow with research and science that can’t be disputed.
- Having a board within your company that is filled with respected professionals will give the new ideas you produce a level of credibility that others might not have.
If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.
Bill Sherman How do you build momentum for an idea within the scientific community? The science should speak for itself. But what happens when the pace of new studies on the topic is so slow that very few people are noticing? In this case, if you’re going to shift the conversation, you need to be proactive and you may even need a bit of luck to stumble on the early idea and recognize it for what it could be. So today I speak to Pete O’Hare and he’s the CEO and founder of Fiber Biologics, and he’s going to share with us an idea that was in a sleepy backwater of research has now accelerated to active discussion, and he’ll share what he’s done to accelerate the conversation. I’m Bill Sherman and you’re listening to Leveraging Thought leadership. Ready? Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Pete.
Pete O’Heeron Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Bill Sherman So this I’m excited about because you’re facing and have faced a challenge that I think a lot of people in leadership do face, which is how do you get people to think about a new idea that hasn’t been top of mind, that may not have been on their radar at all. So where I want to begin is you’re working in the space with fibroblasts and you gave me some data. What the research up around fibroblasts was eight years ago versus what it is today. Let’s start there to ground the conversation and then I want to talk about how that happened.
Pete O’Heeron So about a year ago, you might see one or two peer reviewed papers on fibroblasts every six months. Now we’re seeing one or two a day. And I think that speaks to the dramatic increase in the research around fibroblasts and the scientists worldwide discovering the therapeutic capacity that it has.
Bill Sherman And with that that volume, because that goes from a trickle to, well, closer to a flood. If you’re seeing that volume a day, it’s hard for anybody to keep up with all of those papers. Right. So in your perception over that course of about eight years or so, what drove that transformation? How did you go from silence to active conversation?
Pete O’Heeron That is a great question. I think the Japanese. We’re doing some work in fiberglass. And they started they presented at the World STEM Cell Conference a few years ago exclusively on fiberglass. I think that helped pick that up. Then you had universities, the University of Toronto, Ohio State University, where they were just independently working in the fiberglass field and developing research in that area. And when they would publish their papers, we would call them and say, you know, we we have we are we have the electrical properties surrounding that. But more importantly, we’re interested in the research that you’re doing. So I think that anytime you publish a paper and you start to explore the therapeutic capabilities of a cell that people had thought, you know, was relegated to the scrap heap of connective tissue, as they said before, it excites everyone and they say, Wow, why wasn’t I looking at fiberglass? And what can Fiber West do? So I think that just every bit of published research just creates even more incentive to do more research. So it just kind of it snowballs.
Bill Sherman So let’s take a pause here, because I’m sure there are a couple of people in the audience, maybe more, who are going, what is the fibroblast and why was it on the scrapheap? Right. So can you give a little bit of explanation of what we’re talking about?
Pete O’Heeron So fibroblasts are the most common cell in the human body. And while everybody’s heard of stem cells, very few people have heard of fibroblast. But if you’re looking for a cell to regenerate tissue and regrow organs or treat chronic disease, there’s a stem cell which everybody’s heard about and there’s a fibroblast which not many people have heard about. The irony is that the fibroblasts appears to be a better cell source and stroke, so certainly in greater quantity, about number stem cells, 5001 of the human body. But the irony of all ironies is the entire stem cell revolution began in 2012, when Dr. Yamanaka from Japan created the first induced pluripotent stem cell. That is, he created a stem cell from another type of cell. Well, guess what cell he used. It was a fibroblast. And so that was the running gag was that they thought it was relegated to the evolutionary scrapheap of connective tissue. I like to think, well, if you used it to create a stem cell, why weren’t you intrigued by that cell itself? You know, why didn’t you go back to fibroblasts and say, Well, that’s an interesting cell, but it opened it up for us to, you know, explore and really push the boundaries of the site. So I like to say that Fibroblast evolved as the most common cell in the human body, and it evolved that way because it’s probably involved in every biologic process in the human body.
Bill Sherman So how did you get into the world of fibroblasts? And we’ll get into the technology piece of this in a moment, but what is your vector into this and how did you become passionate about them?
Pete O’Heeron So I kind of work with doctors to take ideas and all natural inventors, and they have the usually the capacity to take an idea and prototype it and maybe even get approval and maybe even that. And then they kind of just stop on the rollout. So we found a niche a number of years ago where we could go in and help those guys get it to commercialization. And we had a set of surgical instruments that we told. Every venture capitalist in the country that we have the best instrument system in the world. And they said, No, you did. And well, 25 patents later, we returned 950% to those shareholders. And we thank those VCs for their guidance. And they all came back and said, We’re tech writers, whatever you guys do. And I said, you know, we just deal with individual surgeons. We like those angel investors. And one of the VCs came back and said, Hey, my brother’s a French neurosurgeon. There’s lots of French dermatologists, and they have this idea that you could take a dermal fibroblast and in a mechanically stressed low oxygen environment it would differentiate into a conder site. The part was type. So then you could regrow the disc because the vertebrae above and below created that.
Bill Sherman And you’re talking about a spinal disc here, regrowing a spinal. That’s right. Right.
Pete O’Heeron Right. And so we loved it because everything we’ve worked on in the past were kind of improved technologies. And this one was, you know, it worked. It was a game changer. So we brought it back to Rush University here in Houston. And Dr. Tony Mico said, as the world leader in research to turn one cell into another type of cell. And he said, Dr. Mika said, I don’t know if it’ll work, but if it works, I think you guys really have a game changer and it worked. And then we just continued to explore the science and challenge our scientists to push beyond just the spine and then what other areas. And it’s been a really an explosive discovery for what these cells can do.
Bill Sherman So this speaks to something that I think is absolutely true across science, but is also one of the hurdles and challenges. Right. Because you listed a number of specialists that needed to be involved not only to have that idea, but to see the idea was possible. Right. And so the two who came to you, who are connected to the BBC, they were going, Hey, I think this is possible, but I don’t know how to grow this into that. Right. And so. The idea, and I think from an entrepreneurship perspective as well as then also just an idea and execution and turning a possibility into a practicality has to go through so many different connections before it can be tested, let alone validated as a product.
Pete O’Heeron And, you know, it’s an excellent point. A good friend of mine calls people that can conceive of the idea and then execute the idea. A one percenter because a lot of people can come up with the idea. But to take that and actually execute on that now, that’s the real challenge because, you know, we all have great ideas on how everything that we touch in daily life can be improved upon. But how many people actually start design and prototype it, invent it and commercialize it? Very, very few people. So I think that’s the challenge.
Bill Sherman Well, and I think in our last conversation, you talked about the difference between hardware and biologic process and what that means in terms of going forward from a perspective of medicine. I would love you to talk about that.
Pete O’Heeron In the in the spine space. The traditional method is hard work. You know, they either fuzed the spine or they put in a disc replacement in the spine. And that really is not a biologic solution. It’s a mechanical solution in that in the spine space actually creates a problem above and below that disk area. So it creates a cascading effect. So I move the problem from that disk to another adjacent disk. So that’s not a good solution. The other area that people are most familiar with in medicine is that big pharma. And I don’t mean to criticize my brethren and Big Pharma because I use their products this morning and we’ll use them again tomorrow morning. But in the 60 plus years we’ve had Big pharma, nobody can show me one example of a cure for a chronic disease. And when you think about it, I don’t think we will ever see a cure for a chronic disease come from a manmade chemical compound. It’s almost to me, I think, about the height of human arrogance to think that we can take a divine biologic process and create a manmade chemical compound to cure that process. You can have some that can forestall it, but to cure it is really not ever going to happen with chemical composition, cures for chronic disease and defects in the biologic process, or going to the cell therapy, immune therapy and gene therapy. It’s just that simple. It’s not going to come from anywhere else. It’s not going to come from some magic manmade chemical compound. It just won’t happen. We’ve tried it for 60 years and we haven’t done it.
Bill Sherman Well, and I think that’s one of the underlying ideas that is not only within the field, but also driving your organization the message that you’re trying to get out of. How do you teach the body to cure itself?
Pete O’Heeron And that’s a line that I’ve used a lot when I first started saying it. I think people thought, you know, that was kind of granola or it was kind of hippie. But just think about it. What is health? It’s your body curing itself all day long and you have cancer in your body. You have a viruses in your body, you have bacteria in your body fixing all of that all day long. And that’s what gives you good health. It’s when the body can’t overcome that. You get a cold or you get flu or you get a chronic condition. So to say, we’re asking the body to cure itself. We’re just asking you to do what it’s what it did yesterday. Why today? Did it fail in that process or why yesterday was your immune system alerted to that malignant cell? And then today, somehow that cell mutated and the immune system didn’t see that malignancy, didn’t understand it, didn’t recognize that my like malignancy that becomes a tumor so that the having the body cure itself shouldn’t be that crazy of a thought because it’s what’s happening every day.
Bill Sherman Well, and if I go running, for example, like I will this afternoon, I’m going to put stress and strain not only on my cardiovascular system, but on my joints and in my knees. And I’m going to be making micro terrors in those muscles. But that’s what’s actually the healing is going to make my body stronger. Right? And so by challenging the body to heal, we use it all the time to get healthier. So. I love how on the surface it sounds paradoxical, but the deeper you dig into this, it’s like, Oh yeah, the body is doing this all the time.
Pete O’Heeron It is your immune systems doing it all the time. And we have a new area that we’re looking into and presented at a conference last week. And I said, if you hear a thousand companies present, you won’t hear the term Pharmac evolution from any of them except us and the thymus gland t cells or not. Everyone’s heard of those and those are the Pharmac cells. The thymus gland, as you get into your sixties and seventies begins to shut down. It’s the teaching center for the immune system. It’s what tells the cells which are good cells and which are bad cells. You mean in your sixties and seventies that thymus starts shutting down. Eventually it shuts down altogether. It’s called Thymic Involution. Well, we’re working or we’re taking fiberglass or we’re going to rejuvenate the thymus. You can potentially add 10 to 15 years to human life because statistically speaking, a lot more people die of cancer in their seventies than they do in their forties. What’s different is the thymus gland. The thymus gland starts to shut down. So if we can go in there instead of creating some exotic plant derived cocktail, that’s going to extend our telomeres and let us live longer. Possibly. I can’t think of anything more direct than the farmers to assist us in living longer because it’s the it’s the teaching part of the immune system. So you may have a vibrant immune system, but it’s just not being taught what to do because the thymus gland shuts down in the spleen a little bit to a lesser extent, but mostly the thymus. Well, so you could talk to another thousand companies and you wouldn’t find another one working at Thymic Evolution.
Bill Sherman Well, and here’s what I love on a broader level, there are what if questions that you and the organization are asking and then it’s digging deeper and sort of sometimes turning ideas on a 45 degree angle, Right. And saying if we look at it this way, how does the world change? And that is one of the things that I think is core to thought leadership. You have to be willing to ask question that, you know, as you said, a thousand other companies aren’t asking and be willing to turn left when everybody else turned right. Now, it’s risky that way, but with wisdom comes opportunity. Right. And so there’s a tension and a balance there.
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Bill Sherman So how do you analyze and choose when to turn left rather than right? What criteria are you using?
Pete O’Heeron Well, we let the science drive us. We you know, when we kind of developed the understanding of the importance of fibroblasts in the entire body as opposed to just in the spinal disk space, it really broadens up for discovery in every area. So we want to push the boundaries of where fire was good, but there’s really no no limit to what impact fibroblasts can have because it’s such a prevalent cell in the human body. So I think we’re just beginning to, you know, really touch the surface where these fibroblasts can go and the and where the research will take us. And our research has to be impeccable. Our science has to be impeccable because we’re in an area where other people aren’t having gone before. And like I tell our scientists and I tell my chief scientific officer, if you present our technology to 100 people and all 100 people say, I don’t like it, that doesn’t change the science. It just means they said they didn’t like it, the science. It’s like the gold miner who found a deposit of gold at the bottom of a waterfall. And they went back and then everyone said, Where is it? We should go get it. It’s right where I left it. It’s not going anywhere. And that’s what the science is like. If our science is great, it doesn’t matter. Any pushback we get from the community because they’re just not familiar with it, it doesn’t change our science.
Bill Sherman Well, and that makes me think the example you gave makes me think of the story, whether it’s actual or not, but it’s often attributed to Galileo. He gets put in front of the Catholic Church for having, you know, supported the argument, not originated it, but supported the argument that the earth goes around the sun. And, you know, they showed him the tools of torture for the Inquisition and that and they put him on trial and they’re trying to peer pressure him to go, No, no, no, I was wrong. And the legend says, and I don’t think we will ever know, truth or not, that after the trial, walking out of the court, he mumbles to himself. And yet the earth still moves, right? We’re not the center of the universe. And so just like you saying, the science can’t be challenged. You know, it can be tested and refined and that. But what is true is true.
Pete O’Heeron Always. I tell my CSO. I introduced them at a conference last week as the world’s foremost expert on fibroblasts. And he is. And so any time I talk to people and they say, Well, let me go ask a couple of friends of mine in the industry, I always tell them, That’s fine, but you’re going to be asking a lesser authority than our own chief scientific guy. There’s just not that many working in that space. And so, you know, he has the advantage of being able to see and guide all the all the science of that. That’s, I think, one of the hallmarks or should be a hallmark of our success is that we’re so focused on credible science.
Bill Sherman So let’s push it there. How do you persuade Sway even get people to be aware? Because I think there’s a big education piece and you’re talking about going to conferences and talking. You’ve talked about publishing, but how do you get these ideas into conversation from that point where 100 people say no to 25? Say, well, maybe, you know, to that whole transformation process? What’s that journey been like?
Pete O’Heeron You know what? I think it’s the best example of that would be our scientific advisory board. All of those members are world leaders in stem cells. So to call them without having a previous relationship with them and say, we’d love for you to be a part of our scientific advisory board for fibroblasts, you know, there’s always a hesitation. What are you.
Bill Sherman So was the first question of the. Hey, did you not read my bio? Do you realize this isn’t my expertise? Or how did they respond?
Pete O’Heeron 30 years of international respect and stem cells over to you guys for fibroblast. Yeah. I mean, it’s. It is. It’s quite a challenge. I often think about what they thought the first time we spoke on the phone about it. And I think what happens is they go do their research and they come back and say, well, this is a very interesting area. And, you know, these scientists that we work with are such a high level that they all want to be tip of the spear on the new emerging technologies that are coming out. So if you take a look at our scientific advisory board, these are world leaders and stem cells, really esteemed scientists. We even have a Ph.D. microbiologist, astronaut on their first person to sequence DNA in space. And she’s a fantastic microbiologist and fascinated with fiberglass. So I think that to get people excited about it, you have to have the initial conversation, the initial hesitation. And then after the research, they say, well, this looks like this could really be something.
Bill Sherman So did you let the science do the talking or how did the persuasion go to recruit that advice?
Pete O’Heeron Well, I mean, you have to you have to I think that there’s the initial conversation where you’re you have to give them the points that that would make them interested in the company and then at all that it’s all about science. I mean, you you’ve got to get through that initial conversation to get them excited. But then the these guys are at such a level of the science has to sell itself.
Bill Sherman To clear that first hurdle of, okay, I’m not talking to a crazy person. Great. Now, let me dig in.
Pete O’Heeron Yeah. Because that first hurdle, they think they’re talking to a crazy person. That’s the initial reaction.
Bill Sherman So I want to ask you a question. Were you always a what if guy looking for possibilities or how did you get into this mindset of, you know, looking into places that other people haven’t looked?
Pete O’Heeron I’m always a what if my CSO So every year, every December buys me a new cell tech, a textbook about cells? Mm hmm. I just. I read everything. In the first time he did that, we came out and filed some intellectual property. He said, I told my wife if I bought that book, would come out with a few patents and we did. So I am. I wish that my brain wasn’t occupied by that 24 seven. But it is. And I’m just I’m fascinated by science, fascinated by biology and medicine. It’s where my family was. All of my family was in that. My wife was a nurse. I grew up around surgeons, so it’s just kind of the place I always, always wanted to be. So I am fascinated by that. And I’m a natural ticket counter. This last weekend we were at an event and I looked at that how much the tickets cost and it looked how many people were there. And I immediately. Determine gross revenue or I’ll look back 50 places in line and I do the processing time for the five guys in front of me at the front of the line. How much processing times that they it can’t help but he had grocery stores It’s just I have to do the processing time and then I have to figure, okay if I’m 15th in line with what point am I going to be up there? I based on the average processing or check out time for all those people. So it’s just a it’s just something I’ve always, always been interested.
Bill Sherman There. So what I love here is the combination of the what if in the process, because those two things are necessary. And I hope that listeners here can hear the passion in your voice when you talk about these projects and the fibroblasts and that because to me that’s one of the big tells of someone who is not just, you know, casually interested or advocating, but they truly eat, live and sleep an idea and want to get it out to the world.
Pete O’Heeron I literally just told one of our significant shareholders this morning, I wish I could go an hour without fibroblast in my brain without thinking about that alters what I care. You know, I can’t you know, I usually try to get a walk in in the morning and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped on a park bench and written a patent during that walk and never finish the walk. So it’s just it’s always a forefront.
Bill Sherman I see you wearing the T-shirt in the park that says, Ask me about fibroblasts.
Pete O’Heeron That’s. That’s a. Yep. That would be me for sure.
Bill Sherman Or the kids. Or the grandkids. Go, Dad. Grandpa. Not again. You know, just play with me.
Pete O’Heeron That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. I love. I love science. I love biology. You know, I enjoy when I enjoy when someone gives me a textbook for Christmas present. I can’t. I can’t wait to read.
Bill Sherman A textbook that’s not in your field that you were trained in.
Pete O’Heeron That’s right. The specialty. That specialty that. That’s what makes me interested, because it’s not an area. I mean, I have a minor in biology, but. Not at the level these guys are. You know, sometimes I when I’m out presenting it, someone asked me a very technical question. I tell them like they caught me out in the open without my Ph.D. I’ll have to call it so. Know.
Bill Sherman Right. Right. So as we begin to wrap up, I want to ask you a question. Many of the folks who are practicing thought leadership now are on that journey of saying, I’ve got an idea. How do I persuade others? What I want to ask you is what advice would you give your younger self in this journey knowing that there are people who are going, Wow, I wish I could have or I could have the same results that you’re having.
Pete O’Heeron Wow. Well, first of all, I’d tell my younger self, not everything you do is live or die. That is the first thing. And to you know, this too shall pass. You know, when I was younger, everything I did during the day, I had to get it done. Tomorrow may never come. I just had such a heightened sense of urgency. And I see now that it probably didn’t need that. I probably still have a lot of that in me. But if I was to I don’t know if I’d change anything because it’s what ended up here. But if I was still a new student graduating college that he wanted to pursue this path, I would just say if you haven’t had a natural curiosity your whole life, this is probably not the pathway for you. Like one of my children said they wanted to be. They thought maybe one day they wanted to be a director, a movie director that said, you know, those movie directors all were shooting movies in their backyard at five and six years old. It was just, you know, And so, you know, this demands a high level of curiosity. If you are someone who scrolled through, just delete your emails without reading through and seeing what’s going on in your industry, then it’s probably not the pathway for you because you have to have you just have to have a high sense of curiosity.
Bill Sherman Well, and that goes back to, you know, like you said, your chief science officer giving you textbooks every Christmas and you diving through them. And I’m imagining you sort of highlighting and taking notes as you go through and ripping it out apart part. Yeah. Yeah.
Pete O’Heeron Absolutely. And calling him.
Bill Sherman All.
Pete O’Heeron Hours. Hey, did you know that this could happen? Hey, this micro glia thing in the brain, and, you know, we could impact that with fiberglass? No, I don’t think we’ll go look it up. I think it could have a big impact with fiberglass. So that’s the conversations we have at all times. And I’m pretty honest with them when we hire them. I hope that’s okay with you because I don’t know how to change it. So you’re liable to be a part of my thought process and any that any time they’re not.
Bill Sherman So, Pete, I want to thank you for joining us today. And thank you for a great conversation about how to really shift thinking and explore things that, as you said, had been left on the scrapheap. Right. If somebody wants to learn more about fiberglass, where should they go to look? How do they learn more about what you’ve been talking about today?
Pete O’Heeron They can go to our website. We’ve designed it so that you can go through and read the current peer review papers on there with a little video on there that talks about fiberglass at www.fibrobiologics.com and you can spend time, you can see our patents. You can read about what’s going on with fiberglass. You can send us a message if you have a question.
Bill Sherman Fantastic. Thank you.
Pete O’Heeron Thank you.
Bill Sherman If you’re interested in Organizational Thought Leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL newsletter. Each month we talk about the people who create, curate and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website, OrgTL.com and choose ‘join our newsletter’. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.