Emer O' Shea, Khonsu Therapeutics
Emer O' Shea, CEO, Khonsu Therapeutics. Image: Khonsu Therapeutics

From student to CEO: The Cork scientist tackling a new adventure

31 May 2017

What are your career goals? Do you dream of heading up your own company some day? Do you know how you’re going to achieve that?

When you have the stars of entrepreneurship shining in your eyes, the idea of stepping out of your comfort zone and into the unknown can be daunting. Hearing from someone who has trodden those steps before may be just the reassurance you need.

Future Human

Emer O’ Shea is the co-founder and CEO of start-up Khonsu Therapeutics, which is currently participating in the RebelBio accelerator programme in Cork. Here, she charts her path from a neuroscience undergrad to helming a company.

What first stirred your interest in a career in this area?

I have always been interested in the merging of my two interests: scientific innovation and commercialisation of research. At Khonsu Therapeutics, we are developing therapeutic proteins for autoimmune and inflammatory indications in human and animal health.

What steps led you to the role you now have?

My background is in neuroscience, and I completed a master’s in molecular cell biology with bioinnovation. Both degrees are from University College Cork.

Following graduation, I began working in a start-up company – Hooke Bio – which was a spin-out from the Stokes Institute incubated at the University of Limerick. Hooke Bio has developed a high throughput microfluidic engineering platform for the pharmaceutical industry.

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career?

The transition from being a scientist to a CEO! My background in neuroscience has given me analytical and interchangeable skills applicable to other aspects of work, though, and working in Hooke Bio introduced me to a further range of transferable skills, which I am learning to apply in the context of the challenges of a start-up.

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

I am the third generation to work in my family business, so I think it was ingrained in me to be interested in merging my scientific curiosity with a commercial aspect. I’ve watched my family, particularly my father Eddie, maintain a successful business.

In my previous role, I was very fortunate to be mentored by my former boss, Prof Mark Davies. Prof Davies has extensive experience in commercialising academic research, having successfully formed and sold Stokes Bio. I was very lucky to be part of a multidisciplinary team of incredible engineers and scientists.

What do you enjoy about your job?

The variety of activities and challenges each day, and the opportunity to meet interesting and influential people. It is challenging, but I have really enjoyed tackling this new adventure!

Our initial company focus is to deliver a drug for the veterinary market, but our main goal is much greater. We want to provide game-changing therapeutic options for a wide range of life-altering and life-threatening conditions, including autoimmune and inflammatory indications such as arthritis, eczema and neurodegenerative diseases. The opportunity to develop and make a successful business, and to transfer academic research into the real world with a potential impact on people’s lives, is really exciting.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?

My enthusiasm and my passion to deliver a product that can have a substantial impact on patients’ lives. I really believe our product can have very significant impacts on people’s lives. This drives me to develop a company to successfully deliver to patients.

How did Khonsu Therapeutics support you on your career path, if at all?

I co-founded Khonsu Therapeutics with a team of exceptional scientists, and we have supported one another through the foundation of the company. The RebelBio programme is an accelerator, and is backed by the world’s number one most active VC in life sciences investing: SOSV. The programme provides a network of mentors and business training to facilitate our transition from scientists to entrepreneurs. RebelBio is a place where founders from all over the globe come together to build the future of life itself.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?

Listen! Listen to anyone who has followed the same path and learn from them. They are a fountain of invaluable advice and will help navigate some of the more difficult decisions that need to be made.

Disclosure: SOSV is an investor in Silicon Republic

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