PLNT StartUp Stories: SeraNovo is solving the problem of drug solubility

10 oktober 2023

What happens when a 23-year-old student starts a company? Well, for Niall from SeraNovo, it had the best possible outcome: his pharmaceutical company has grown into a prominent player within his field, leaving an incredible mark on the healthcare industry.

Seven years since beginning his entrepreneurial journey, SeraNovo continues to push the boundaries of innovation and research, all while being a well-established member of the Leiden Bioscience Park community. 

But how did the company get to this point? We spoke to Niall Hodgins, CEO and co-founder of SeraNovo, to find out.

What does SeraNovo do?

A pharmaceutical company, SeraNovo is the result of complex scientific research and, of course, innovation. If Niall had to sit his mum down and explain what his company does, here’s what he would say:

“The vast majority of medicines that are being developed don’t get absorbed well by our bodies. We can have amazing cures to cancer, infectious diseases or neurodegenerative diseases — but if they don’t get absorbed by the body, they’re effectively useless.”

Here’s where SeraNovo comes in: “For every one of these medications, SeraNovo creates a type of liquid for the drug to go into. That liquid goes into a capsule, and the capsule can be taken by humans. Then, the drug can get absorbed by the body.”

In this way, SeraNovo has an enormous impact on the healthcare and pharma industries, as it enables drug therapies that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

How did SeraNovo get started?

“I’ve told this story so many times — I’ll just give you the party narrative,” Niall laughs.

Like many Internationals in Leiden, Niall originally moved here to pursue his Master’s degree. Before he even graduated, he had started a company — “I just didn’t really think about the fact that starting a company meant staying in one location.”

During his studies, Niall and his co-founder, Ian, started addressing the problem of “solving the insoluble” by experimenting with different groups of liquids. “There was no plan at all; it was just about ‘how do you solve this problem?’,” Niall says. 

It’s this admirable passion for science and dedication to solving problems that have kept the company going (and growing!) ever since. 

What role did PLNT play in SeraNovo’s StartUp Story?

As one of PLNT’s first members, SeraNovo was already around before PLNT even existed. In the beginning, the company was part of a network of student entrepreneurs called Lugus. 

Eventually, PLNT came into being. Because of its proximity to the Leiden Bioscience Park, where SeraNovo’s laboratories were located, Niall decided to move his office to the PLNT building.

Surrounded by like-minded people and inspired by other revolutionary companies, SeraNovo stayed at PLNT until 2019, when the company eventually moved to the Bioscience Park.

This new location had many advantages, as Niall explains: “Here, we have a source of qualified students, the infrastructure of laboratories, and other pharmaceutical companies around.” 

How has SeraNovo grown over the years?

When SeraNovo started, Ian and Niall were all about science and technology — “we were just working in the lab all day, every day.” 

As time went on, SeraNovo went from just being technologically focused to being “more of a proper organisation,” Niall says. “You have to worry about things like finances, business, legal matters, and HR.” 

This also changed Niall on a personal level. “From my side, there’s very little that will cause my heart rate to go up now,” he says. 

“I just have this immense optimism for SeraNovo. I have a huge amount of optimism in the capabilities of the individuals working in this organisation, and in our capability of creating solutions to problems.”

What’s in store for SeraNovo’s future?

Speaking of optimism, Niall tells us that his philosophy states that “every problem can be solved with the right knowledge — unless it violates the laws of physics.” To him, this means that success is always a possible outcome; “it’s just about finding the right way there.”

“I view the future super optimistically,” Niall says — both financially and in terms of real-world impact.

Thanks to SeraNovo’s technologies, an enormous amount of medicines will be enabled in the future. Around 90% of all medications SeraNovo works on fall within the scope of cancer or CNS (central nervous system) diseases — meaning that they have an immense impact on healthcare worldwide.

On top of this, SeraNovo is working hard to enable the oral administration of medications that currently require injections. “But a lot of that is still confidential,” Niall says.

So, let’s get back to our opening question: What does happen when a 23-year-old student starts a company? 

Well, SereNovo is proof that it can become a success story that makes an important real-world impact. As Niall said: “it’s just about finding the right way there.”

What do you think of Niall’s inspiring story?

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