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Life Sciences CEO Interview: Joe Payne, President and CEO of Arcturus Therapeutics

Joe Payne headshot

Joe Payne

What are the company’s core areas of focus? 

Arcturus is a clinical stage messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines and therapeutics company. We currently have multiple SARS-COV-2 vaccines in later stage clinical trials.

While most people are familiar with mRNA due to the COVID vaccines, what people may not yet be as familiar with are other uses for the technology. Arcturus is working on multiple applications for mRNA with different delivery platforms: vaccines using intramuscular delivery; liver disease therapies delivered intravenously; and lung disease therapies delivered by inhalation.

We are creating next generation, self-amplifying mRNA technology, which will allow for lower dose immunizations that will be longer-lasting. And with respect to our liver therapeutic, we could be one of the first in the world (if not the first) to establish proof of concept for intravenous delivery of mRNA.

How did the pandemic affect the company?

The pandemic has accelerated the vaccine franchise dramatically. Typical timing in this industry is 5-10 years of development. We are already in advanced and late-stage clinical trials for two different vaccines.

The reality is that billions of people need to be immunized. In addition to accelerating the research, we have also improved our manufacturing technologies, which will help strengthen our pipeline. To support this growth and increased efficiency, we raised close to $500 million last year through investors; strengthened relationships with strategic partners; and partnered with Singapore, Israel and most recently Vietnam.

What are you, in your role as CEO, most focused on right now? 

This year, Arcturus is striving to achieve emergency use authorization (EUA) in Vietnam. Successfully navigating through the approval process is one of our main areas of focus. Additionally, I’m focused on our partnership strategy to enable us to compete on a global scale. We have always worked hard and as efficiently as possible to advance our technology and grow, and will continue to do so. Even with that work ethic, in order to provide our next generation mRNA globally in the short term, we will likely need to develop commercialization partnerships.

What one message would you like to share with your employees?

It may not be a message some want to hear, but the reality is that COVID is here to stay. And it’s going to continuously change. We are going to need to stay on top of it — both evolving our company’s technologies and personally getting vaccinated and staying current on vaccinations. We can do this. We can tell the virus how we choose to live and not allow it to continue to disrupt our lives.

What is the most frequent question you get about the company?

Depending on where I am and who is asking, the most common questions I am asked fall into two categories:

When will your drug be approved, and when will we be able to get it?

What else can mRNA do?

Any final thoughts?

The massive success of vaccines in the United States and other developed nations is a credit to the innovation unleashed by capitalism, and that influx of capital is allowing us to expand the reach of this technology. 

If the pharma industry is like a yellow taxi, then mRNA is going to Uberify it. This disruptive technology will create new classes of extraordinarily effective immunizations and therapies. Arcturus is excited to be a part of this transformation.

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