ImpriMed: Fighting Cancer — From Dogs To Humans
Interview with Dr. Sungwon Lim, Founder of ImpriMed
ImpriMed is a biotech startup that innovates the way of cancer care based on science and medicine. Our mission is to help oncologists provide more tailored treatment approaches; based on data-driven artificial intelligence from ex vivo cellular data derived from individual patients.
Dr. Sungwon Lim founded ImpriMed, Inc. with a strong motivation to innovate a way to help cancer patients who need an effective treatment ‘today’, by optimizing and personalizing prescription drug therapies that are currently available in the physician’s formulary or database.
Dan: Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us. To start, I am sure our readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here? What is your background?
Sungwon: Hi, my name is Sungwon Lim. I am the CEO and Co-Founder of ImpriMed, an animal healthcare company that provides a precision medicine service to find the most effective anti-cancer drugs for individual dog and cat cancer patients. I am a bioengineer and entrepreneur with 20 years of collective experiences in academia and biotech companies, especially focusing on the development of novel cancer therapies. I chose my career path to save as many lives as possible with the core technologies that our company develops. I received my PhD degree in Bioengineering from Stanford University and a master’s degree in Translational Medicine from the UC Berkeley–UCSF Joint Bioengineering Program.
Dan: Tell us about your business. What do you do and what is your startup’s origin story?
Sungwon: Throughout my journey in cancer research, I deeply realized that we have to think about how we can maximize the utility of what we already have in our medical cabinet as much as we emphasize new therapeutics development. I founded ImpriMed with the strong motivation to innovate a way to help cancer patients who need an effective treatment ‘today’, by optimizing and personalizing FDA-approved drugs that are currently available. ImpriMed develops and proves new precision medicine technologies by combining artificial intelligence and live cancer cell analytics in the veterinary oncology space first, at a significantly higher speed and with by far more accessible data than the human oncology space, and then translate the collected database into human cancer care. We save our pets first and then also save pet owners next.
Dan: What’s unique about your company? What are the key differentiators between you and other players?
- Unique approach and proprietary technologies
Currently, most precision medicine companies are only focusing on the genetic information, which alone has proven limitations. There are only a few companies in the human cancer space and none in the pet cancer space who focus on and have capacity to collect data from both phenotypic and genetic information. ImpriMed measures the ‘live’ cancer cells’ responses to drugs, beyond just DNA mutation. We have our key technologies on 1) how to maintain in vitro viability of the cancer cell that are taken out of the patient’s body, 2) how to process the biopsy samples to test >300 drug variations on each patient’s sample in a high-throughput way, and 3) how to translate raw data to predict in vivo clinical outcome by using our proprietary AI algorithm.
- Fast growth of database and the strong customer relationship
We’ve been working very hard on engaging with new veterinary hospitals/oncologists over the past 2 years through walking in, cold calls, cold emails, conferences, salesforce, etc. As a result, now we are working with about 25% of the board-certified veterinary oncologists working in the US. These doctors are closely connected each other and very loyal to a collaborator or a service providing company like us, once they establish a good relationship. We are privileged to occupy and pioneer the market with having a very high reputation from the community. This loyalty also ties with our sample flow (how fast we collect the samples for our service) and the speed of building up our database out of the clinical samples more quickly and accurately than any other else. In addition, just like human oncology doctors, veterinary oncologists move only by the data and scientific evidence. We have provided 2,000+ services to canine lymphoma patients within the last two years and have been showing the scientific data in a number of major conferences. If a new competitor comes into this market, they need to first break down this tight relationship between ImpriMed and the doctors/hospitals, and also prove their technology with ‘real’ patient cases, which requires a lot of time, to convince the society. While they are struggling with these, the size of the ImpriMed database will be continuously growing.
Dan: Take us through a day in your life. What does the typical day look like?
Sungwon: I always start my morning with the headline news from the US and the Asia (we have our branches in Korea and Japan). Once I come to work, every day is different. I typically receive 50–100 emails every day from my team members, collaborators, legal counsels, and investors, which I properly respond with a priority. Throughout a week, each day has its own internal meeting. Monday with managers, Tuesday with the entire company, Wednesday with the Sales team, Thursday with the Data Science team, and Friday with the Bioscience team. Since we’ve launched our service in the market recently, I spend many hours a day to work with our Sales team and participate in 1 on 1 meetings with our customers, i.e. veterinary oncologists. Also, as we are actively expanding our team, I am interviewing many candidates for various positions. From 5 or 6 pm PST, I start to receive emails and calls from South Korea for our businesses in Asia. My work usually ends around 8 or 9 pm. After work, I used to play basketball 2–3 times a week for the last 20 years but have not played for more than a year now due to COVID-19.
Dan: What are some of the key steps you have taken to grow your business?
Sungwon: Company needs to keep moving and growing in one direction to continuously create great values. I think CEO’s job is to provide and protect a stable and exciting playground for team members by securing human resources and financial resources so that the team can enjoy achieving the company’s missions step by step. I found the right people and placed them at the right places, scaled up our lab and office spaces at the right timing (right before the COVID-19 pandemic in the US), and raised two VC funding rounds that total up to $12 million to continue our journey. Rather than overpromising and trying many different things at the same time from the beginning, I strategized to show our technology and business actually working in a particular application first then expand to other pipelines and other markets subsequently. Different from most of the life science companies out there, we are generating sales revenues up front, which proves our market profitability and will make our company sustainable.
Dan: What has been the most challenging part of growing your company?
Sungwon: It took quite a long time to raise our recent funding amid the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the year 2020.
Dan: What are your best sales and marketing tips?
Sungwon: What we do is to help doctors to save patients from life-threatening diseases. In this business, medical doctors are our users and at the same time, our salespeople. Therefore, it is very important to deeply understand them, closely work with them, and always listen to their voice. This is the only way we can continuously improve our technologies and services in the right direction. Our company tries our best to meet doctors’ expectations by transparently sharing the data and clinically validating the technology and science. And we always care about our heavy responsibilities for the information we deliver to the doctors through our prediction reports. This is how we’ve been building a good reputation in the veterinary oncology society, which is extremely critical especially for this closely connected, niche market.
Dan: Do you have a book, podcast, or Youtube channel you would recommend to other Entrepreneurs?
Sungwon: I recommend the following two books:
- “The Score Takes Care of Itself” by Bill Walsh
- “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight
Dan: If you could go back in time to the day you founded your company, what advice would you give yourself?
Sungwon: I would say to myself, “The path you have chosen as a startup founder will be by far more difficult than you could ever imagine right now. Keep your persistence. Don’t lose your passion. Trust your vision. Love your team. And take care of yourself.”
To Learn More About ImpriMed, Check Out Their Website and Social Media Pages Below!
- Website: https://www.imprimedicine.com
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/imprimedicine
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/imprimedicine
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/imprimedicine