The Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt lives and livelihood across the globe. And the transition to normalcy is only possible when most of the world’s population gets vaccinated. But, vaccines have yet to reach some of the poorest countries, especially in Africa. And where the vaccines are available, a sizeable number of people are reluctant to get vaccinated. “About 30 per cent of the world’s population either can’t or won’t take vaccines,” says James Lindberg, Founder and CEO of Covimro Ltd, a biotech company specializing in agnostic antiviral solutions. “And for them, we need a different way of tackling the problem.”
James asked two basic questions when looking for an alternative way, and those questions led to the formation of Covimro Ltd. In this exclusive interview with CIO Views, James talks about the two questions and reveals the driving force behind the launch of his biotech company. He explains in detail how Covimro can be a game-changer in the fight not only against Coronavirus but other viruses. And James also talks about challenges, what success means to him, and his future plans for the company.
Every leader has a unique definition of success. Tell us about your thoughts about success and why do you feel that?
Starting a business is a daunting task and the odds of success are stacked against you, with a typical 90% failure rate for startups. To be successful in business usually requires three things; knowledge, avoiding errors as much as possible, and persistence.
Of the three, I think persistence is the most important. If you have a big vision and big goals that inspire you and your team and match them with a laser focus and relentless drive, the odds of success are significantly improved.
Leading a company to success is not an easy road to take. What inspired you to take the step of faith? What laid the foundation of Covimro Ltd.?
The COVID-19 pandemic is the largest public health crisis facing the world today, since the Spanish Flu of 1918. With 226 million cases and 4.6 million deaths worldwide, it has disrupted families, society and wreaked havoc on the global economy.
Compounding this is the fact that at least 30 per cent of the world’s population either can’t or won’t take vaccines, or where vaccines are simply not available, most of Africa for example. It’s clear that no one is truly safe until everyone is safe, so for the 30 per cent of the global population we need a different way of tackling the problem.
I asked two basic questions;
- Is it possible to develop a compound that could inactivate the virus with a safe non drug approach with zero side effects?
- Does the virus have an Achilles heel that could be targeted with such a compound?
These two questions laid the foundations for Covimro Ltd.
All enveloped viruses are composed of 3 main parts, the lipid sphere which is nothing more than a protective ball of fat, the viral RNA inside the lipid sphere and the protein spikes which attach to cells – triggering the point of infection. The RNA is just a simple piece of genetic code which has only one purpose, to make copies of the virus inside an infected cell.
Vaccines target the protein spikes, via the creation of antibodies by the immune system. The challenge is that the protein spikes mutate over time, so it’s an ever-moving target. This requires vaccine booster doses to remain effective against new variants like Delta as we are now seeing and others like Mu, which are on the horizon as well as the as yet unknown ones.
It became clear to me that if we could instead destroy the lipid sphere of the virus which is static, we could not only inactivate the virus but also be future proof against its variants.
Drawing inspiration from the work of Linus Pauling, and with safety as the paramount metric, I examined the underlying biochemistry of everyday products like mayonnaise and ice-cream using first principles thinking. These ordinary everyday products gave clues to the mechanics of the interface between oil and water.
Studying dozens of research papers on lipid biochemistry going back decades gave some clues but there was still an incomplete picture. Building on what was already known, I started a series of experiments, and with each iteration improving on the one before, until I eventually arrived at formulation number 137, the one I felt stood the best chance of getting the job done.
To test it, the compound was sent to Leeds University, one of the few UK Universities open at the time, which had a Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope facility to image Coronavirus as it came into contact with Covimro.
Below are the original images from that first study. The image on the left shows untreated Coronavirus with uniform structure and spike proteins intact. The image on the right is Coronavirus after treatment with Covimro, showing degradation of the lipid sphere and dislodged spike proteins.
“Our current pilot studies have suggested changes in virus integrity in the presence of Covimro with degradation of the viral spikes. This is significant as the infectivity of the virus will be lost if we can degrade the spike structure” – Dr Stephen Muench, School of Biomedical Sciences, Leeds University
For me, seeing those images was like seeing Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon for the first time. That was the Eureka moment and I knew we were on to something.
Challenges make you stronger. What is your take on this? What were the roadblocks that taught you valuable lessons in your professional journey?
Facing challenges and obstacles and navigating your way through them builds resilience, a prerequisite for success in any endeavor. The biggest obstacle of all in my view is facing dogma, resistance to new ideas, new ways of doing things in defense of the status quo and vested interests.
Overcoming an authoritarian or bureaucratic mindset that is impervious to logic and reason is challenging at best. It requires social skills and emotional intelligence, skills which can take a lifetime to master.
In my own businesses, I try to circumvent dogma by developing a company culture where it’s not important who is right but what is right.
Tell us in brief about Covimro Ltd. and its products.
Our company’s mission is to help defend against any enveloped virus with zero side effects. Respiratory viruses like Coronavirus and Influenza have 3 main entry points into the body; the eyes, nose and mouth.
The Covimro product architecture is designed to protect these vulnerable areas against attack with the Virucidal effects of Covimro 1 and Antiviral effects of Covimro 2 as shown in the graphic below
Additionally, Covimro 3 puts a brake on the ability of the virus to spread inside an infected cell and Covimro 4 potentiates 6 specific immune biomarkers.
It’s known that symptom severity with COVID-19 and other viral infections is directly related to the viral load the body sees. The end stage with COVID-19, called ARDS, short for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, is where there is so much viral load in the body, it becomes overwhelmed and starts to attack itself.
Production plans are in place to launch a range of Covimro consumer goods products later this year such as Capsules, Syrup and Lozenges and OTC products early next year such as Throat and Nasal Sprays. In the future we expect to introduce Prescription Pharmaceutical Drug versions, which will include Covimro1,2,3,4, Azinoquine™ and project code name “Bouncy Virus”.
The central idea behind Covimro products is to reduce the viral load, and give the immune system a reprieve so it’s not overwhelmed by the virus. By giving the immune system a helping hand, symptom severity is reduced and allows it to get on with the job of creating antibodies resulting in long lasting and superior natural immunity. In the final analysis, the creation of antibodies is the prize we are all after. Covimro just offers a different road to get there for those who can’t take vaccines.
Other studies have shown that Covimro is just as effective against other viruses, not just Coronavirus. A study conducted at Oxford University in April 2021, showed Covimro with 100 per cent inactivation of HIV / Lentivirus at concentrations above only 3 per cent.
“The results show a 3-log reduction in viral titre at all concentrations tested. This preliminary data warrants further investigation in to the Covimro effect,” Dr. Senthil Chinnakannan, molecular virologist at the University of Oxford.
Covimro was also tested against the Influenza virus in July 2021 in an animal model study conducted by AI-R Clinical Research in partnership with Pharmidex Pharmaceutical Services. The results demonstrated a 65 per cent reduction in viral load in the lungs of the mice as well as improvements across a number of other key biomarkers.
“In a pre-clinical model of influenza infection bearing many hallmarks of seasonal flu mediated clinical disease, daily oral Covimro treatment was shown to significantly reduce virus replication (42 per cent vs vehicle control) and protection against associated weight loss (65 per cent vs vehicle control),” – Dr Ross Walton, Respiratory Immunologist, A-IR Clinical Research Ltd.
Point to note that in this study, Covimro was administered internally via oral gavage while the virus was introduced intra-nasally. Therefore, we can reasonably expect to see even greater results in our upcoming human efficacy study with the full product architecture being applied. However even a 65 per cent reduction in lung viral load could mean the difference between being on a ventilator or not.
Details of these studies are available from our website www.covimro.com.
Tell us about your contribution in redefining the healthcare industry. What marked the beginning of Covimro Ltd. as a recognized brand in the industry?
I am inspired by the work of Linus Pauling who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1954 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. He made major discoveries in chemistry and founded molecular biology and coined the term “Orthomolecular”. “Ortho” means correct so the term literally means correct molecules, i.e., molecules which are not treated as foreign by the body.
Whether in scientific contributions, social activism or political impact, he had no peer in the scientific community. He is popularly remembered for championing Vitamin C, but few may be aware that he was hounded by the medical establishment for doing so. In a very real sense, Linus Pauling’s legacy marked the beginning of Covimro Ltd.
We are not aiming to re-define the healthcare industry. We are just trying to solve some real-world problems as efficiently as possible using natural food grade molecules that do no harm. In so doing, we adhere to the invaluable moral code of the Hippocratic Oath.
The evolution of spike proteins is what viruses do for a living. They’ve been doing it for 3.5 billion years so they’re good at it. For Covimro, the ever-changing protein spikes are a meaningless obstacle, as it targets and destroys the lipid sphere itself. This by definition makes it future proof against new virus strains and virtually all other enveloped viruses which puts the value proposition of Covimro into sharp focus.
It remains now for us to make our products available to as many people who want it and make their lives better.
What are the core values of Covimro Ltd.? How do you ensure a culture of integrity and innovation in the company?
Integrity is about being honest and having strong moral principles. You can’t really enforce honesty and moral principles, as they are more a state of being. So, I think it’s wise to make careful hiring decisions when building out the team. We have been very fortunate in this regard and have built a great team that I am proud of, many of whom are leaders in their own fields.
Innovation in any field is really nothing more than seeing what everyone else has already seen but thinking about it in a different way. With innovation, there also come lots of failures, which are to be expected when creating something entirely new. If we’re not failing, then we’re not innovating hard enough. There were 136 failures before the winning Covimro formulations came into existence.
As a leader with a moral responsibility, tell us how have you made a difference during the COVID-19 times?
Covimro was a direct response to Covid-19 times. In spite of the massive vaccine rollout campaign, there are still 100 million unvaccinated people in the United States, who won’t take the vaccine or can’t take the vaccine for whatever reasons. For others vaccines are simply not available, most of Africa for example. Globally about 30 per cent of the world, 2 billion+ people can benefit from Covimro products if they want them.
“Wealthy nations have hoarded enough (covid) doses to vaccinate their entire population nearly three times over, leaving some 67 developing countries (such as Gambia) with only enough supplies to vaccinate one in ten of the population. Vaccine diplomacy clearly affects poorer nations significantly especially given the huge reliance on donations paired with the dearth of vaccination supplies as people continue die in the millions. I have a strong belief that Covimro products, whilst not an alternative to the vaccine, will be invaluable in helping to close the gap in the fight to control the pandemic…” – Omay Sey, former Health Minister (Gambia), former Executive Board Member World Health Organisation
I want to stress that we are not against vaccines; on the contrary, we support the gargantuan effort by the world’s scientific community. But it is a point of fact that hundreds of millions of people remain unvaccinated around the world and the new strains are challenging and sometimes evading the vaccines, creating “breakthrough” cases. Covimro can contribute towards easing some of this global burden. That’s the why of what we do. Elon Musk puts it eloquently, “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favour.”
Tell us about your life before Covimro Ltd.
Before Covimro Ltd, I was working on Nadcare, a formulation designed to slow down and reverse ageing at a cellular level, by targeting Senescent Cells, and restoring the levels of intracellular co-enzyme NAD which decline as we age. When the pandemic hit, I paused this project and started Covimro. Before Nadcare I created Alcotox Ltd in 2012, with a formulation that is clinically proven to reduce acetaldehyde by 86 per cent, a record which still stands today.
Acetaldehyde is the toxic by-product of alcohol metabolism in the liver and is classified as a carcinogen. It accounts for virtually all known cases of alcohol induced biochemical harm including fatty liver, cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, oral cancer, alcohol addiction, and even hangovers.
New formulations have also been developed for Alcotox Beer and Alcotox Wine. These new category defining products are currently in lab testing and will offer all the benefits of Alcotox, yet are regular beers and wines in all other regards. They taste great too! We are presently filing patents for these new products. They will be launched early next year.
Before Alcotox Ltd, I was the founder and CEO of Sweden-based Swiftnet AB, a Software and IT Consulting firm serving Fortune 50 clients which I ran for 10 years.
You are an inspiring leader who is passionate about making a difference in the healthcare industry with innovation. Tell us what has been the best recognition that Covimro Ltd. received under your profound leadership?
Being passionate about what you do is important. We don’t want to be different for the sake of being different, but strive to make things better than they are.
Our work has been acknowledged by the British prime minister, health ministers from several countries, and leading scientists and virologists. Africa remains a top priority for us, and we are in discussions with the Government of Gambia who are considering Covimro as a potential interim solution. We are also in discussions with the U.S. Army’s USUHS division for a joint research project.
Peer level recognition is of course wonderful, but I believe the best recognition will come from the people themselves who are suffering from this pandemic as we make an effective contribution towards making their lives better.
What are your responsibilities as the CEO of Covimro Ltd.? Walk us through your regular day at work. Also, define yourself in one word.
The main responsibilities as CEO for Covimro lie in making the major decisions, develop strategic objectives and setting the direction for the company. However, as CEO you have to do all sorts of things you may not like to do, but you have to get it done regardless.
The first few months were spent on hiring and building the team, the company’s most important asset. I don’t start companies that I don’t personally invest in myself so initially the project was largely self-funded. Earlier this year we raised some seed capital, and we are presently in a pre-Series A fundraising round.
Much of my time is currently spent on product design, creating partnerships with vendors, Contract Research Organizations, University Research Collaborations, dealing with IP, Manufacturing and meeting with potential investors.
In one word I would describe myself as “Relentless”
How do you maintain a balance in your personal and professional life? How do you keep your employees and yourself, motivated to deliver the best services?
I work long hours, typically 80 hours per week, sometimes 90. It’s more of an obsessive drive. I take time to take care of my health and wind down by playing tennis or hiking in the mountains.
Motivation is not an issue. I have been an entrepreneur and inventor for quite a long time now and love what I do. The thrill of making a new discovery is a joy, but even so it’s just the beginning. The hard part is always the execution where you have to manage a lot of moving parts, be flexible and adapt when things go wrong.
If you truly love what you do it doesn’t feel like work even if you’re working twice as hard and twice as long as everyone else. When it comes to motivating others it’s about finding out what motivates them and how best to serve that, same as customers really. Things go wrong when interests are not aligned, so I try to align interests as much as I can with all stakeholders.
What are your plans for the future of Covimro Ltd.? Also tell us about your personal goals as a leader. What is your message to aspiring business minds?
We have incorporated a US company, Covimro Inc and planning to set up a physical office in USA in the near future. Next year we expect to see strong commercial traction and accelerate revenues to scale point. We also hope to forge strategic industry partnerships to achieve the global footprint necessary to make a meaningful global impact with our products.
The desire to create solutions that can knock out any enveloped virus with zero side effects is the driving force behind Covimro. The required hallmark for any therapeutic or drug, is indeed safety and efficacy. Covimro delivers both with unparalleled results, placing us at the forefront of exploring what this exciting new technology can offer. Hopefully it may better prepare the world against the next pandemic.
My personal goals as a leader over the coming years are, to build a great company and make people’s lives better. We aspire to do well by doing good.
My message to aspiring business minds is to believe in yourself, be passionate about what you do and put in the hours, which will improve the odds of success. If you’re passionate about your work, it won’t feel like work. Set some big goals that will scare you, later they may ignite you and your team to do some wondrous things.