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New biotech arrival to build up workforce

Angelos Stergiou, CEO of Sellas Life Sciences Group

A biopharmaceutical company with cancer treatment drugs in development that has relocated from Switzerland to Bermuda expects its on-island staffing level to eventually be in double-digits.

Sellas Life Sciences Group has started the process of assembling its Bermudian-based team, which includes a chief financial officer already on the island.

Going forward, the company is looking to build a larger presence at its offices at O’Hara House, on Bermudiana Road.

And it is hoped the arrival of Sellas, which was announced yesterday, will encourage other companies in the biopharmaceutical sector to set-up or relocate to Bermuda.

“I’m excited to bring a new business to the island, and hopefully we can be a shining star and attract others to Bermuda,” said Angelos Stergiou, chief executive officer of Sellas.

He believes Bermuda has the potential to attract biotech and ‘big pharma’ businesses, and he was complimentary of the way Bermuda facilitated a quick, streamlined process for Sellas to redomicile.

Dr Stergiou said the company encountered almost no bureaucracy as it moved its head office to the island. The process took less than six months.

The island’s receptiveness to new business was something Dr Stergiou had been made aware of by Equilibria Capital, the largest shareholder of Sellas. Equilibria is an asset-management company that set up in Bermuda in 2011.

“They encouraged us to consider re-domiciling to the island,” he said, adding that Equilibria has spoken “very highly” of Bermuda and its business environment, but it was something he wanted to check for himself. He did so through meetings with the Bermuda Business Development Agency and Bermuda Government officials.

“I came out of the meetings highly encouraged,” he said. “We have found it easy to set up our business here and would wholeheartedly encourage other biotech companies to consider moving to the island.”

Dr Stergiou said there had been key factors behind the decision to redomicile. One was the island’s proximity to the US and its significant market. The company also has an office in New York.

Being based in an English-speaking jurisdiction was a further consideration for the company. Additionally, Dr Stergiou said: “We could find great talent on the island. It is important to have that talent — people who have worked in the world of finance.”

He mentioned Bermuda’s strong legal system, political stability, infrastructure, its quality workforce and the corporate tax structure as other considerations.

Looking at the wider picture for the biotech and big pharma sector in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in last week’s US presidential elections, Dr Stergiou noted the market’s positive reaction to the prospect of the new administration.

“Biotech and biopharmaceutical is recession proof. With the incoming administration our sector will benefit.”

Sellas was founded in 2012, and has 13 full-time staff, based in Bermuda and New York. The company focuses on the treatment of various cancers through its immunotherapy agent, called galinpepimut-S, developed at, and licensed from, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York. In a statement, Sellas said the effectiveness of the agent in treating cancers such as acute myeloid leukaemia and malignant pleural mesothelioma in phase two clinical trials has been “very encouraging”.

The company is now ready to enter into the final stage of clinical testing, phase three, for both of these indications.

Sellas also has ongoing trials targeting ovarian cancer, multiple myeloma, and will also enter into clinical studies for glioblastoma multiforme and chronic myelogenous leukaemia shortly.

“Sellas’ cancer treatment immunotherapies are potentially applicable to over 25 types of cancers and could have a material impact on the way that cancers are treated,” the company said in a statement.

Dr Stergiou, who is in the process of moving to Bermuda, said: “It is a great island to do business. I’m particularly excited about giving support to the island to encourage companies to come to Bermuda.”

Regarding the move, Daniel Tafur, partner at Equilibria, said: “We are delighted that Sellas has moved its headquarters to Bermuda. We are confident that the company will find the island an excellent base from which to grow and continue to develop and commercialise its innovative cancer therapies.”

Ross Webber, CEO of the Bermuda Business Development Agency, said: “We have been working for a while to attract biotech and life-science companies to Bermuda, and the move here by Sellas is a very positive development that not only creates jobs but also helps diversify our economy.

“The BDA has worked with Sellas and its advisers for nearly six months, and we are proud to see them establish a physical presence on the island. It brings new jobs for Bermudians immediately, and we fully expect more will follow.”