Dr. John R. Swart is the CEO of Cytotheryx, Inc., a biomedical research company focused on the development of a consistent, high quality source of human hepatocytes (liver cells). Liver disease affects almost 5 million people in the United States and there are limited treatment options – primarily human organ transplantation which is rare and expensive. A readily available, high quality source of liver cells can address that need through liver dialysis or direct cellular injection. Cytotheryx plans to meet that need. Dr. Swart helped found Cytotheryx in 2019 as a spin out of the Mayo Clinic.
Dr. Swart received his B.A. for Northwestern College of Iowa in 1990 and his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska in biochemistry in 1994. Dr. Swart serves on several boards and has extensive experience in business planning, product development, regulatory acceptance, and market expansion.
Give us Cytotheryx’s elevator pitch.
In brief, Cytotheryx is focused on the development of a consistent, high-quality source of human hepatocytes (liver cells). Liver disease affects almost 5 million people in the United States and there are limited treatment options — primarily human organ transplantation, which is rare and expensive. A readily available, high-quality source of liver cells can address that need through liver dialysis or direct cellular injection. Cytotheryx was founded on technology that was developed at the Mayo Clinic, enabling for the first time the production of significant volumes of high-quality human liver cells. We utilize a patented bio-incubator that can expand liver cells a thousand-fold, making liver dialysis and direct cellular treatments realistic for the first time. In addition to addressing liver failure, the bio-incubator could also be a critical resource for the expansion of ex vivo genetically corrected cells for a variety of rare diseases known as inborn errors of metabolism. Cytotheryx is based in Rochester, MN and was founded in 2019.
Like so many industries, COVID-19 has taken center stage in healthcare. What was going through your head when the gravity of this situation hit you?
Our first concern was for the safety of our staff. With the early unknowns about the spread of the virus, we adjusted schedules to make it possible to continue our work but do it safely for all those involved. Fortunately, we were able to do that successfully.
As a leader, how has your role changed during COVID-19?
COVID-19 has reminded us not to take anything for granted. Cytotheryx started out strong in 2019 and the virus knocked that momentum back a bit. We deeply appreciate the flexibility and hard work of our staff during these uncertain times and the belief and support from our investors. My role is to provide the support necessary for those I lead to be successful. That has never been more important than during these unprecedented times.
How have you pivoted your company to address the needs that have risen since the onset of COVID-19?
I wouldn’t say we pivoted as much as I would say we adjusted course. We know that challenges will come our way and those challenges will take many forms. We did not anticipate a challenge like COVID-19, but our staff was up to the challenge and worked through it.
What are the big milestones to come in the next few years for Cytotheryx?
Cytotheryx has an opportunity to be a significant difference maker, initially contributing to the standardization of safety testing of pharmaceuticals and within a few years, developing treatments for liver disease in its various forms. This will require the optimization of our production methods and the identification of therapeutic partners. The next few years will be very exciting for Cytotheryx.
What does leadership look like to you?
Humility and confidence. Valuing every relationship and person. Pursuing excellence and the ability to change course as necessary. Drawing out the best in those he or she leads.
What is the best advice you have received in your career? What is the worst?
Success is usually not determined by a few, big, good decisions but by a series of consistently good small ones.
What have been the most rewarding moments in your career?
By far the most rewarding moments are seeing those I work with achieve great results and understand the value they are adding to the project.
What is one personal goal for the upcoming year?
I am always looking to improve and one of the areas in which I need to grow is to listen well. It is far too easy to talk about yourself. It is much more difficult to care about the thoughts, concerns, and needs of others. That is something I will be working on.
How do you relax / decompress?
Family, church, and the outdoors. They help me stay grounded and understand that there are much greater concerns than my own.
What do you enjoy most about the Medical Alley community?
I am a newcomer to this community but appreciate the support and encouragement provided thus far. I look forward to getting to know many new faces and companies.