An Interview with John Cassidy, Forbes (Europe 2019) Science & Healthcare

Bruno (HE) Mirchevski
Oct 17 · 12 min read

(#00050) — If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

  1. Who is John Cassidy?
  2. Forbes’s 30 Under 30
  3. Cambridge Cancer Genomics
  4. Time Management Tactics
  5. Essentials in Business
  6. Dealing With Stressful Situations
  7. Habits Important For Success
  8. Checklist Before Stepping In The Business World
  9. Ten Years From Now
  10. Final Advice For The Readers

The world is evolving and constantly improving. In many spheres, we’ve reached things that were once unimaginable. Medicine and healthcare have advanced, and over the years our lifespan expanded notably.

Nonetheless, one of the world’s biggest health concerns to this day is cancer and the inability to find a permanent solution that will prevent it from happening. Despite the progress we’ve made in the last few decades, there is still a long way to go.

However, as we speak, there are people who are working to provide better solutions to patients and doctors around the world. They are the ones who can really make a change for the better and help millions of people.

Meet John Cassidy, co-founder, and CEO of Cambridge Cancer Genomics, a company that delivers precise oncology solutions to patients. Their innovative technology strives to improve cancer treatments by selecting the most helpful drug, and the best time to give it to the patient.

In other words, CCG.ai helps oncologists and patients in the fight against cancer, by ensuring that the patient is using the proper drug at the proper time.

This highly promising approach to treating tumors in patients, and the effort the team behind CCG.ai put into turning it into a reality, placed John Cassidy on Forbes’s “30 Under 30 Europe 2019: Science & Healthcare” list. It was a well-deserved recognition, and one of John’s many achievements.

It was a real pleasure hearing John Cassidy’s story, and I warmly recommend everyone take the time to read it.


Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

Hello John, and welcome to this interview! Before we start, I would like to thank you for being part of this mission! Can you tell us more about yourself? Who is John Cassidy? What was the reason for choosing the career that you have today?

John Cassidy:

Hello! By background I’m a pharmacologist: I did a Masters and an undergraduate in pharmacology at the University of Glasgow and I worked in a couple of different labs and cancer research institutes, including a year at MedImmune in Cambridge, which made me fall in love with the city.

I decided to apply for a Ph.D. here at the University of Cambridge and ended up researching breast cancer development of resistance with Cancer Research UK.

It was during my Ph.D., towards the end, that I met my co-founders: Harry Clifford, who was doing a post-doc in computational biology at Cambridge and Nirmesh Patel, who was doing his Ph.D. in drug development as Kings College London.

We became friends and would chat a lot about the problems people were seeing when they tried to take high tech technologies out of the research environment and into a clinical environment.

So why did I get into cancer research? There are a few different answers. There’s quite a long line of research clinicians in my family: my dad is an MD-PhD and was the first professor of oncology in Aberdeen, and my grandad was the first chair of general practice in Scotland, I think.

But really, I believe the main answer is that it was just an interesting problem to work on. I think cancer biology is a difficult problem, it’s obviously an incredibly important problem, and it’s one that I found quite interesting. So, that’s how I got into cancer research.


Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on being among Forbes 30 under 30! It must have been a great honor! Have you ever dreamed of being where you are today?

John Cassidy:

Thank you! Well, I always wanted to start a company, so that in itself was always a daydream for me.

With regards to Forbes, during my Ph.D. interviews, I met a guy called Ludmil Alexandrov, I had dinner with him — he had published a very famous paper during his Ph.D. called “The mutational signatures of human cancers” which was a very seminal piece of work.

The paper looked at lots of transitions and transversions in the mutational process in cancer and correlated them with different sources of mutagenesis; for example, UV light may be more likely to cause a specific mutation (a T→A transversion), and that mutation is most often seen in melanoma.

So if you can say very clearly that UV light is causing this thing to happen and that is causing a melanoma, that’s a unique signature of melanoma, which is really cool!

Harry, John, and Nirmesh celebrating Forbes 30 Under 30

Anyway, Ludmil got onto the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and I met him just after that, and I was kind of in awe — and while I hoped, I didn’t think I’d ever manage to do that too.

But it was always something I held in my head as a really great honor. It’s amazing to be on the list and it’s amazing to be on the list alongside so many fantastic and inspirational people!


Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

Now, I would like to talk more about your generous work. What exactly is Cambridge Cancer Genomics? What inspired you and the other co-founders to start a business like this? What are you most proud of?

John Cassidy:

CCG.ai is all about helping oncologists and people in the cancer community ensure that each patient is on the right drug at the right time, for their cancer.

That means selecting the best drug based on molecular drivers of the tumor and also selecting the best time to give someone that drug. Maybe your tumor will become resistant to a drug after 2 months.

So is drug A going to be useful? How long should we give it for? And how do we predict when drug A might be less useful than drug B?

So CCG.ai is all about having a scalable solution to treat cancer as a dynamic disease, that changes over time, rather than a static disease. Traditionally cancer has been treated as a static disease but we know from research that it’s actually a dynamic disease.

What inspired us to start this? I think when we first founded it, myself and Harry, one of the co-founders, were having lunch in the hospital at Addenbrooks in Cambridge, at the McDonalds there. And we were talking about a virtual reality tumor, which was a project we were a part of at CRUK.

The idea was to replace normal pathology slides with a virtual reality model of a tumor and put on a VR headset, swim through a tumor and use this to diagnose tumors.

What we realized at the hospital was that everyone was using Windows 95 computers and really, how is it possible to run a VR rig on a Windows 95 computer?

It’s not. So we started thinking about ways in which other technologies were making their way into the clinic, and that’s when we thought that precision oncology — the idea that you can identify drivers in a tumor and design therapies specifically for these different drivers and different molecular signatures of tumor — was something that was struggling to get into the mainstream.

It’s something that we thought was a really important problem and something we were passionate about and we had the skills to tackle: so that’s what we did!

Co-founders at Y Combinator

Forbes was a great proud moment for us. There are a couple of other PR related things that we’re proud of: We were named onto the Fierce 50, which is a list of 50 high growth companies around the Cambridge ecosystem.

Other companies on that list were AstraZeneca and Cambridge Epigenetix and all these amazing companies, so it was incredible to be recognized alongside such large and fantastic companies. But really, the thing we are most proud of is the team we’ve built here.

We have a team of 25–30 really talented individuals who are much smarter than us, and it’s really great to give them the resource and a good challenge and problem to work on and see the amazing things they come up with.


Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

Not only you are a co-founder of CCG.ai but you also are the CEO of the company. So, I guess it gets hectic at times, am I right? What is the best time-management tactic you would like to share with us? How challenging it is for a CEO like you to remember you are still young? What do you do to make sure you do not miss out on life?

John Cassidy:

Yes, it does get very hectic.

I think that the best time management advice I have, or something I do a lot, and this may seem counter-intuitive, is that I try not to make important decisions right away, all the time.

So if I have an important email, I don’t necessarily try to answer it as soon as it comes in.

I think that when you’re operating on somebody’ else’s timelines, I don’t think that’s great for your own time management. And I think it’s great to work on one task, and when you work on that one task, not to be interrupted.

And even if something important comes through, even if you have an investor that wants to talk to you today, you have other things that are your priority today and you should deal with those as a whole task. And also, I tend to make better decisions when I’m working on a problem, and I get stuck on a problem, then I spend some time working on something else before coming back to it.

So I’d advise someone not to work on somebody else’s timeline and not to rush important decisions as they come in the door.

I don’t feel I am young, I feel I’m getting old. I think we have an amazing opportunity, and I’m very lucky that I get to travel for work a lot, I get to see the world.

I’m very lucky that I get all these amazing opportunities and meet all these amazing people. And that is very exciting sometimes! I think it’s also very important to take some time to relax.

That’s the hardest thing to do but I think it’s very important. I’m experimenting currently with digital detoxes, and I think that’s a very important thing to do.


Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

According to you, what are the five essential things in business? Please explain.

John Cassidy:

I don’t think business can be distilled down to 5 rules: all businesses are different.

Team CCG.ai

We run a very deep tech company, so the 5 essential rules for a business that someone from a consumer electronics business would have would be very different to ours.

But the most important thing (or rule) is to yield a great, talented team who are better than you and fill the room with people who are smarter than you — if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room — and work on a problem that’ll still be important in 20 years time.


Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

How do you push through tough times? How do you ensure that stressful situations in your personal life do not affect your work performance?

John Cassidy:

I actually think that’s impossible for a co-founder / CEO because there’s no real separation between my personal life and my professional life.

So I think if I had problems with my personal life, it’s impossible to separate them from my professional life and vice versa.

So I think that’s a challenge and something that everybody who wants to go into a co-founder / CEO role should understand that there is no separation between work and life, you have to find a way of making them work hand in hand together.


Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

How do you spend the first few hours of every day? Which habits a person must develop if they want to succeed at what they are doing?

John Cassidy:

So, I try to get up reasonably (not stupidly) early, I’m more of a night person. But say if I get up at 8 am or whatever, I don’t book any meetings until 10.30 or 10 am.

I like to have 2 hours where I can wake up, think about my day, think about what I want to accomplish that day; it helps if I manage to go to the gym that day or manage to do some exercise in the mornings.

But the thing I hate to do most is to wake up and immediately have to work and to attend meetings.

And that’s a big challenge as I spend a lot of time in the US, because as I’m waking up at 7/8/9 am, that’s the peak work time in our UK offices, so often I have to wake up and immediately go into meetings and immediately have to make decisions. And I don’t think that’s the thing to do — I like to try and avoid it when I can.


Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

What do you think all young people should know before they decide to start their own business? Is there a specific checklist everyone should follow before making a major step into the business world?

John Cassidy:

I think understanding that it’s very difficult to separate work and life is something to keep in mind.

Also, some of the lifestyles might seem glamorous: I was in New Hampshire 2 days ago, I was in San Francisco a week ago, I was in Norway last week. It seems glamorous but it’s not glamorous.

It’s very stressful and it’s hard work, it’s not only the fun traveling — so understanding that is important.

I think the only other important thing — other than surrounding yourself with smart people, which I am a big advocate of — is that you should work on a problem that is something you are willing to assign the next 10 years of your life.

John speaking on a 30Under 30 panel at the AI summit

I don’t think it makes sense to come up with a business idea solely for the purpose of making a bit of money, and then start working full out to do this business, if it’s not something you really care about.

Because as you get some money, and you’re able to move on in your life, you’re going to start to lose interest very quickly and then you’re not going to be able to put up with the bad times.


Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

Let’s say it is the year 2025. Where are you and CCG.ai? Do you have any future goals?

John Cassidy:

As I said, we care about making sure that patients are on the right drug. We’re building up a unique dataset which is longitudinal tumor biology data, so understanding how tumors change over time and how we can influence the course of evolution with drugs, how we can stop tumors in their tracks and stop them growing.

During this process we’re going to see a lot of underserved patient populations, a lot of patient populations where there is currently no good solution for their tumor: there is currently no cure.

In 2025, what I’d like CCG.ai to be doing is leveraging their data to identify these underserved patient populations and either repurposing or developing drugs to serve that population.

Ultimately, I’d like to see a future where each patient has the right drug at the right time to beat their cancer.


Bruno (HE) Mirchevski (The Logician):

Finally, is there anything I forgot to ask you but you believe is worth sharing with the audience? What is the best life advice the readers should know about?

John Cassidy:

I’m going to stick with the advice: if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room, I think that’s good advice, and advice I’ve tried to live my life by, and it’s working pretty well so far.

Maybe it’s because I’m dumb though.

Harry, Nirmesh and John at Nirmesh’s wedding

John Cassidy’s story is an inspiration to all who want to contribute selflessly to the improvement of our society and help people in need.

It’s also a reminder to never stop upgrading yourself and learn from others constantly. We all have something to offer to the world, and the more you work on yourself, the better the results will be.

Remember, it’s not enough to have an idea, you have to act on it.


“The Mission to Empower 1 Million Entrepreneurs”


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Bruno (HE) Mirchevski

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The Logician (Dreamer) 👁️ Don’t follow me. I am lost too!😎 Founder of HE Group - www.hegroup.info (Investor) 📈

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The Official Publication of The Logician

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