Nicolas Wolikow and Simon Istolainen – The Visionaries Behind Cure51 

Discuss Innovation, Challenges, and Their Mission to Transform Oncology

Nicolas Wolikow and Simon Istolainen of Cure51 discuss their innovative approach to cancer treatment, emphasising data integration, international collaboration, and overcoming challenges in healthcare innovation.

In the rapidly evolving landscape of digital health and precision medicine, two visionary leaders, Nicolas Wolikow and Simon Istolainen, have emerged as transformative figures with their pioneering venture, Cure51. Both founders bring a wealth of experience and a shared passion for innovation in healthcare, setting the stage for a groundbreaking approach to cancer treatment.

Nicolas Wolikow, with over two decades of strategic leadership in both start-ups and multinational firms, has consistently demonstrated his prowess in driving digital business development and revenue generation. His ability to lead large, diverse teams and manage substantial business divisions has been instrumental in shaping Cure51’s strategic direction. As the Chief Digital Officer, Wolikow’s focus on product innovations and customer-centric strategies highlights his commitment to enhancing patient experiences through advanced technological solutions.

Simon Istolainen, a seasoned entrepreneur with notable success in the tech and entertainment industries, complements Wolikow’s expertise with his robust background in business development, innovation, and strategic planning. His impressive track record, including raising over 80 million euros for various ventures and leading Europe’s foremost crowdfunding platform, underscores his adeptness at navigating the complexities of the startup ecosystem. Istolainen’s role in Cure51 is marked by his dedication to creating a collaborative platform that leverages data science and AI to revolutionize cancer care.

Together, Wolikow and Istolainen’s synergy is driving Cure51 towards its ambitious goal of reengineering cancer treatment by focusing on long-term survivors. Their vision to build the first worldwide database of long-term cancer survivors aims to transform oncology through enhanced data integration and international collaboration. In this exclusive interview with Entrepreneur Prime, they share insights into their journey, the challenges faced, and their unwavering mission to improve patient outcomes and bring hope to millions.

What’s the vision behind founding Cure51 and the impact you hope to achieve?

Nicolas Wolikow: When we cofounded Cure51, our vision was driven by a profound desire to reengineer the way cancer is treated by focusing on patients who survive as opposed to studying those who are dying. New molecular Profiling Technologies, multimodal data integration and AI can now revolutionize cancer treatment through digital innovation, data science and precision medicine. We saw a gap in how technology is being leveraged in oncology and believe there is significant potential to improve patient outcomes. Our ultimate goal is to cure cancer and make cancer care more effective, targeted and patient-centric.

Simon Istolainen: By building at scale the first worldwide database of long term cancer survivors, we aim to develop a platform where medical oncologists, data scientists and researchers can seamlessly collaborate, sharing data, insights and recommendations to accelerate the development of new treatments based on the successful unique biology of survivors. We have a single mission: to improve the prognosis for all patients hit by aggressive cancer types with high unmet medical needs, thus reducing the burden on healthcare systems and bringing hope to everyone.

What were some of the key challenges you faced while establishing Cure51 and how you overcame them?

Nicolas Wolikow: One of the primary challenges we faced was securing initial funding and convincing investors of the potential impact of our disruptive vision. The healthcare sector, particularly oncology, is highly specialized and complex, which can make it difficult for investors to fully grasp the potential benefits of our data-driven approach.

Simon Istolainen: Another significant challenge was building a clinical network and a multidisciplinary team with the right mix of expertise in oncology, data science, clinical operations and technology. We needed individuals who not only had the technical skills but also shared our passion for transforming cancer care. We overcame this by leveraging our networks and disruptive scientific approach, collaborating with leading universities, and being very selective in our hiring process to ensure we brought in people who were not only experts in their fields but also aligned with our mission and values.

Nicolas Wolikow: Regulatory hurdles were also a major obstacle. The healthcare industry is heavily regulated, and rightly so, given the stakes involved. We had to navigate a complex web of regulations and ensure our solutions met the highest standards of safety and efficacy. We addressed this by investing in a robust regulatory affairs team and working closely with regulatory bodies from the outset to ensure compliance and data integrity.

Can you share insights on your experience with product innovations and how they shape new customer experiences at Cure51?

Simon Istolainen: Innovation is at the core of what we do at Cure51. Our product development is driven by a deep understanding of clinicians’ and scientists’  needs and the challenges faced by the medical community in novel drug discovery. For instance, our computational  platform analyzes vast amounts of clinical and molecular data to provide new therapeutic targets and insights for drug discovery and repurposing, which helps oncologists, computational biologists and researchers foster our own treatment pipeline. 

Nicolas Wolikow: Additionally, we continuously gather feedback from our users and iterate on our products’ enhancement to ensure they meet the evolving needs of the oncology ecosystem. This dynamic approach to product development allows us to quickly adapt and introduce new features that enhance the overall user experience.

What role does international collaboration play in the success of Cure51, and how do you manage relationships with global oncology centers?

Nicolas Wolikow: International collaboration is crucial to our success, we couldn’t do any of this without our partners and a truly diversified team. Cancer is a global challenge, and solving it requires a global effort. By partnering with more than 50 leading oncology centers in more than 35 countries around the world, we gain access to diverse patient populations, cutting-edge research, and unique clinical perspectives that improve our understanding and treatment of cancer.

Simon Istolainen: Managing these relationships involves clear communication, mutual respect, and a shared commitment to our mission. We work closely with our partners to align our goals and ensure that our collaborations are mutually beneficial, with a pledge of 10% of our gross revenues to all participating hospitals . We also give access to all sequencing outputs from their patients to our other partners for free academic research. Joint research initiatives, and co-development projects help us maintain strong and productive relationships with our global partners.

Can you elaborate on your approach to managing large teams, such as the 30 central team employees and the equivalent in your network of hospitals under your leadership, and maintaining motivation and performance?

Simon Istolainen: Leading a large team requires a clear mission, effective communication, and a strong company culture. We have the most exciting opportunity to seize together : cure cancer. We prioritize transparency and proactive participation to ensure that our team understands our mission and how their work contributes to it. Regular updates and open-door policies help us foster a sense of community.

Nicolas Wolikow: We are passionate and energy driven, and so are all our team members. Motivation and performance are driven by creating an environment where employees feel valued and empowered. We invest in professional development, offering training programs and opportunities for growth. We also encourage innovation and reward initiative, which helps keep our team engaged and motivated.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start their own ventures in the healthcare and digital innovation sectors?

Nicolas Wolikow: I would say the number one driver is a passion for what you do, no matter what business you undertake. First and foremost, deeply understand the problem you are trying to solve. Healthcare is a complex and highly regulated industry, so it’s essential to have a thorough understanding of the challenges and needs of your target market. Conduct extensive research, engage with stakeholders, and immerse yourself in the field.

Simon Istolainen: Build a strong, multidisciplinary team and a clear vision. Healthcare innovation requires expertise from various domains, including medicine, technology, regulatory affairs, and business. Surround yourself with individuals who bring diverse perspectives and skills to the table, and who share your passion for making a difference.

Nicolas Wolikow: Be prepared for a long and challenging journey. Healthcare innovation might  be sometimes slow and frustrating and requires persistence and resilience. Stay focused on your mission, be patient, and celebrate small wins along the way to keep yourself and your team motivated.

Simon Istolainen: Lastly, never underestimate the importance of collaboration. Partner with academic institutions, industry leaders, and regulatory bodies to leverage their expertise and resources. Building a robust network of collaborators can significantly enhance your ability to innovate and bring your solutions to market.

Nicolas Wolikow: In summary, the path to success in healthcare and digital innovation is paved with challenges, but it is also incredibly rewarding. Stay true to your vision, build a strong team, and be relentless in your pursuit of improving patient outcomes and transforming healthcare.