Paweł Zawadzki

Chief Executive Officer

KP: What does the name MNM mean and where did it come from? 

PZ: MNM means „Mutations No More”, which actually describes quite accurately the dream I had when launching MNM. Let’s start from the very beginning…. My whole scientific career was devoted to studying DNA repair mechanisms, as well as mutations – which, due to the fact that they contribute to the development of various diseases, are viewed as extremely harmful. From one side, this is true, although there is another side to the same coin. When performing diagnostics and analyzing these mutations, it turns out that they are very informative – they constitute the basis for rational therapeutic decisions by clinicians. Hence, what worked against the patient in the beginning can also be used to help them. This is why MNM exists.

However, back to my dream. I dreamed of a world in which mutational processes can be stopped so that the human cell will never acquire any mutation. That would mean no one would ever get cancer. Crazy, isn’t it? Even before the establishment of MNM, as scientist in academia, I decided that this is what I would like to devote my entire life to. Hence the name „Mutations No More”, and although the concept of the company changed, the name remained. Today, this concept is on the verge of science fiction, and it is virtually impossible. But… in a situation when MNM will really fulfil its aim to give every cancer patient the possibility to benefit from whole-genome diagnostics, it will be a good time to start making this dream come true. Time is an important factor here. The implementation of the MNM’s current mission requires much less time than it is needed to confirm this hypothesis. But as I mentioned – I am not giving up on it. I’m waiting for the right moment.

KP: Could you tell us the story of starting the company – what did it start with, what was the original idea and the current approach?

PZ: The idea of ​​establishing a company that will perform genomic diagnostics for each cancer patient was born when my father fell ill with lung cancer. I saw then the situation of genetic diagnostics in Poland- it was very, very poor. It was the moment when I realized how big the gap is and how much technology is missing in clinics, compared with the high-level technology created by scientists. One such technology is whole-genome sequencing (WGS). While panels of a few selected genes were and still are being performed, WGS only existed in the academic world. Hence, the idea of ​​MNM was to close the gap between academy and real-world medicine. 

The very implementation of the idea of ​​starting the company began after my father’s death in December 2017. It was a very strong emotional incentive for me to leave everything I was doing at that moment and follow this dream. Thus, MNM was established in February 2018.

In the beginning, we focused more on experimental work, but over time we completely moved away from it in favour of Data science and analysis. Now, we aim to develop tools based on artificial intelligence, thanks to which it will be possible to recommend the appropriate therapy for each cancer patient in the shortest possible time. 

KP: How has your experience at Oxford University affected what you are doing today?

PZ: I spent seven years in Oxford working on DNA repair. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t be able to start a company like MNM that interprets and understands DNA. This is the foundation on which my idea for the company was based on.

Moreover, I learned to effectively unite work and study together. I drew many conclusions from my observations in terms of building and managing an organization from my experience at Oxford. It is always the case that in one place you learn things that work very well,  in order to use them later for other purposes.

KP: Before, you had no experience in the business industry – you had to learn everything yourself. What do you think is the most fundamental aspect of building a successful company?

PZ: That’s true, but I learned a lot from watching my colleagues in the laboratory. When I was a postdoc, they started their own start-ups, and although I didn’t formally work in them, I was very much involved in their development. I even remember helping them do market analysis at the lunch table. It was the experience of those early stages of a company’s development, how it is formed and how it starts operating, that helped me a lot.

I can also jokingly say that I must have inherited the gift for business from my father. He also founded his company, back in the times of the Polish People’s Republic. It was not very big, but it prospered quite well. He had something within him that gave the business wings – and a lot of people think that I am like that too.

When it comes to the foundation of the company, I have some observations. Most academic businesses open up when someone discovers something in a laboratory and wants to commercialize it. And this, in my opinion, is not a good strategy, because at some point the question „what now?” – and this in itself is decisive for the end of the company. The second common problem is opening a business solely for money. It makes sense in the commercial world, but in the scientific world such a company is likely to burn down. Specific people are also selected for such an organization, and they will evacuate very quickly when problems arise.

What we did was start a company with the intention of changing the world. Our mission is very simple – whole genome diagnostics for each cancer patient. The next step was finding people who wanted to participate in this mission.

So that foundation is what you start with. If you start out with something that makes sense and you believe it deeply, it all naturally continues.

KP: How do you rate the development of the company over these 3 years? What do you consider to be your greatest success so far?

PZ: “Rollercoaster” or “bumpy ride”:) – that’s what I would call it. We now know that the only constant is change. In this case, it is so fast that some of us may find it uncomfortable – but there is no other option.

If I had to distinguish the two greatest achievements, it would definitely be the team and their ability to learn quickly. 

For me, learning is often a KPI (Key Performance Indicator), which may seem unintuitive when making decisions, but at the stage where the company is – i.e. the stage of creating the foundations – it is extremely important. I believe that the foundation of our company is solid, and this makes me optimistic when I look to the future for our further development.

KP: If you could say something to Paweł from 3 years ago – what would it be?

PZ: Actually, I wouldn’t tell him too much, so that, paradoxically, he wouldn’t spoil too much. The knowledge I have now would rather make it difficult to change things in the early stages. Of course, I would change a few things, including stopping experiments sooner, and pay attention to what I’ve already talked about – how important it is for the entire team to learn. I admit that this appeared relatively late.

However, I would not give him ready-made solutions – the problem with them is that they only work in one specific environment, which changes so quickly that basically the best advice is to be able to find yourself in a changing environment and learn a lot.

And also, of course, to believe in yourself – although this is precisely what I did not lack neither then nor now.

KP: What would you wish for yourself and the company for the upcoming years?

PZ: It’s simple – I wish we could talk about the fact that our competition did nice things  – but then MNM Diagnostics came along and did something „WOW”!

KP: Can you tell us about your plans for the next year?

PZ: There are alternating periods of focus and expansion in the company’s operations – we are currently in the focus phase, and our two priorities at the moment are: breast cancer and operating in the United States. We’re focusing on convincing people to use the solution we have created for ovarian cancer, developing solutions for breast cancer, and, from the summer holidays, we will again enter the expansion phase of our business. Regarding our activity in the USA – the different markets make it a very big challenge, especially for me.

KP: Something that everyone is waiting for and no one knows about is: a curiosity about Paweł!

PZ: Honestly, I have such a feeling that in my spare time I am quite … a boring person – at the weekends I go to the countryside to visit my mother, go fishing, work in the garden … I think it works on the principle that having an engaging and busy time at work, I do not have to look for exciting passions outside of it.

One surprising curiosity may be my educational – in the second and third years of high school, I wanted to be an artist, and I wanted to apply for the Academy of Fine Arts. Ultimately, however, it didn’t happen, after my interest in biology was sparked by a program that showed the three-dimensional structure of a protein. At the age of sixteen, after seeing this material, I knew I had to study biotechnology. Along the way, there was a „plan B” in the form of the navy, but nevertheless, I finished my studies at the University of Adam Mickiewicz. Later there arose the opportunity to do a post-doctorate at the Faculties of Chemistry, Biology and Physics simultaneously. If it wasn’t for this particular doctorate, it is possible that I would have become a teacher …

I also seem to be more risk-inclined than many others. In my opinion, taking risks is the only way to do what I call „legendary”. Admittedly, it also carries the risk of having „legendary” problems, but so far things are going smoothly and are optimized for success.