With Benjamin Hoak ’97
This story first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Kentucky Wesleyan Magazine.
To view the full magazine, click here.
Dr. Angelos M. Stergiou ’97 is the founder, CEO and chairman of SELLAS Life Sciences Group. He has held international positions in pharma and biotechnology companies, as well as clinical research organizations in the United States and Europe. We caught up with Angelos to ask him a few questions about his life, his career and his time at Kentucky Wesleyan.
What is your family background, and why did you attend Wesleyan?
“I was born and raised in Germany, but my family comes originally from a poor, remote village in Greece. I have the utmost respect for my parents and will always be grateful for their sacrifices.
With perseverance and hard, diligent work, along with integrity and ethics—which they passed on to me—they started their first restaurant in the late 70’s in Germany. They subsequently opened more restaurants and were able to build a better
tomorrow for my sister and me. I learned from them to accomplish my dreams—with hard work, nothing can hold you back. They are indeed my heroes. I was able to come to the United States as an exchange student— the land of equal opportunity, but not of equal reward.”
Tell us about your best memories of Wesleyan.
“My best memories are of the friendships I was able to build with students and professors. The work ethic was high, there was great competitiveness—especially in the pre-med and science programs—but there was also mutual respect and constructive thinking. I have memories of going to the lab at midnight for research purposes and conducting surgeries as part of my thesis, as well as studying for exams.
I had a great time as a resident assistant and research lab assistant and was able to write and publish a Concepts of Biology Research Laboratory Manual at Wesleyan. I also remember the last day after final exams as a senior when I threw a big party at my residence hall. I was still an R. A., so Dean of Student Life Scott Kramer had to “write me up,” but I forgave him, although I tried to bargain with him!”
Describe your relationship with Dr. David Oetinger and other professors.
“Dr. Oetinger was my mentor and, in many ways, my ‘alter ego.’ I learned critical thinking from him and to never take ‘no’ as an answer—you have to keep going and challenge facts. He was by far my most influential professor, and I adopted his favorite quote from Louis Pasteur: ‘Chance favors the mind that is prepared.’ I will always be indebted to him for everything he taught me, including micro- surgical processes I learned in his lab. He was also a friend with whom I played tennis. I frequently gathered with other professors around the fountain for a cigar and coffee and talked about science, medicine, philosophy, religion, life and all the topics so important for all of us to think about.”
How did Wesleyan prepare you for your career?
“Wesleyan was the best thing that could have happened to me. The courses and professors were extraordinary, and the students created a strong group. We competed against each other while supporting each other. The College prepared me to take on challenges in my medical, clinical and research profession, as well as in biotechnology. I believe studying hard, challenging the professors and going the extra mile paid off tremendously.”
Why did you launch your company?
“I have always wanted to give back to humanity, and without clinical research, discovery and drug development, we would not have new drugs. The biotechnology sector is a passion of mine. It combines medicine, research and business, and I truly love doing this every day. The fact that we are currently developing a cancer vaccine with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is very exciting and gets me going. The thirst to get to
the finish line and get this approved, so we can potentially save lives, is breathtaking.”
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
“I believe my proudest professional accomplishment was the cancer vaccine project I led in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This was a very exciting technology, which we had licensed from the National Cancer Institute and developed into Phase III clinical studies. It showed that patients who received our cancer vaccine lived longer.
I am equally proud of the founding of SELLAS Life Sciences Group with my friend and colleague, Miltos Sougioultzoglou, the relationship with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and further developing this exciting WT1 cancer vaccine. We have already shown that our vaccine appears to be prolonging survival in acute myeloid leukemia, mesothelioma and other indications. We are entering pivotal Phase III studies and have an
exciting path ahead of us. My eventual goal is to build SELLAS into a global immunotherapy company.”
Tell us about your family and your interests outside work.
“I am married to a beautiful cosmetic dentist, and we spend time between New York and other parts of the world due to business-related matters. Work takes a lot of time, but I try to travel with Maria Anna as much as possible and combine work with pleasure. I like going to shows, movies and the gym, and I like to read in my spare time. I’m getting more into philosophy and critical thinking. My parents are mostly in Germany, and they spend some time in Greece. I am indeed blessed and thank God for how my life has worked out.”
What was it like to return to campus in May and receive an honorary doctorate?
“It was very special to receive my honorary doctorate in science. The fact that I saw faculty and shared this special occasion with my parents and my wife, who have been with me throughout this journey, will always be memorable. I want to give back to my alma mater and hope to support a biotechnology and research-focused approach at Wesleyan. Without the
College, I would not be where I am today and would not have achieved what I have. I will always be grateful!”
What else do you want people to know about you?
“Keep dreaming and keep on going. Make your dreams a reality, and after difficult times, always get back up.”