Eugene Chan, MD, is the Chairman & Co-Founder & of Abpro, a company with a mission to improve the lives of mankind facing severe and life-threatening diseases with next-generation antibody therapies.
What initially attracted you to the field of genomics?
DNA is simple, it’s four letters, but when stringed together, it’s beautiful and defines life. I began my career at the end of the Human Genome Project (HGP), which was one of the largest collaborative biological projects to date. According to the NIH, the project was considered humankind's first effort to completely decipher the sequences of the human genome. The interdisciplinary approach to the project was inspiring and invigorating and showed me a whole new world of potential drug targets that would allow us to identify and quantify DNA and RNA in order to benefit patients facing severe diseases.
While in your early 20s you founded your first company US Genomics, a high-speed gene sequencing company focused on identifying and quantifying DNA, RNA, and proteins in complex samples. What were some of the key lessons that you learned from this experience?
Picking the right problem is very important. At the time that we founded US Genomics, DNA sequencing was the right problem to solve at the right time; I’m incredibly proud to say that US Genomics had a hand in kickstarting a new field. The HGP primed the scientific community to be able to see beyond how we previously targeted severe diseases and evolve to the next level of biotechnology.
What we did in our early 20s still astounds me – we picked the right problem, created the right solution, but just lacked the right backers who could move an entire field. I constantly refer to the lessons I learned in founding US Genomics in the business decisions we make today at Abpro. Abpro has carefully selected outside investors who have the desire to back great science and to make a difference in patient’s lives. I would say we take a relatively conservative approach in our business development by focusing on the efficiency of our operation and efficacy of our treatments.
Could you share the genesis story behind Abpro?
Cancer therapies have just recently started evolving to be more effective and less strenuous on our bodies. My mother had a battle with breast cancer. She won, but she’s lucky because it got detected early. There are many others who could benefit from much better therapies, especially if the disease is not picked up right away. Patients with severe illnesses were still receiving treatments that were strenuous and not always highly effective.
Abpro’s goal is to use monoclonal antibodies to generate treatments against traditionally difficult targets and our mission is to improve the lives of individuals facing severe and life-threatening disease. Powerful antibodies are traditionally slow to make, but at Abpro, we know that speed is essential for those fighting off illness. If there are more powerful tools to make these treatments more quickly and with higher potency, then we can unlock nature’s natural method of fighting disease more effectively.
Why did you choose to focus on antibodies versus other potential treatment options?
Antibodies can be used in a wide variety of indications – not just cancer. Presently, we are generating monoclonal antibody therapies to be used to treat breast, gastric, and liver cancers, infectious diseases, and wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or diabetic macular edema (DME). Utilizing this type of therapy allows us to fulfill our mission to reach more patients struggling with severe diseases. Additionally, and importantly, our body already has antibodies, making monoclonal antibody therapies safer and more flexible than other treatments.
Abpro draws from a variety of different antibody formats to choose the one that best suits the disease and mechanism currently being targeted. Our unique DiversImmune™ platform enables us to generate antibodies against traditionally difficult targets using antibody building blocks.
Could you share some insight on how your approach reduces the timeframe for bringing drugs to the market?
Abpro’s approach takes the best of our body's immune system and merges it with AI for target selection, allowing our team to quickly predict which antibody will be efficacious towards which disease.
Infectious disease is on the radar for Abpro, could you discuss some of the diseases that Abpro is tackling?
In 2020, we saw a need to bolster the arsenal of treatments available for Covid-19. Despite vaccines being accessible to the general public and antiviral treatments being widely administered for individuals who contract the virus, we understood that we would need more varieties of treatments to keep up with the ever-mutating virus and help protect the immunocompromised population against the pandemic. The monoclonal antibody cocktail, ABP-C19-002, uses AI technology to help predict the evolution of the spike proteins of the virus – making it a future-proofed treatment and primed to handle the next phase of the virus.
Presently, we’ve been rapidly advancing our monoclonal antibody treatment to be used as a pre-exposure prophylactic given the large need. Abpro's cocktail has the potential to be in the clinic in 2023, pending achieving regulatory and clinical milestones.
How does Abpro leverage the human immune system to target cancer?
We have bispecific antibodies that activate CD3 on T-cells and brings them in close proximity to cancer cells for cytotoxic cell killing. We have a safe, tuned method of doing it and we have very specific antibodies that tickle the immune system, bringing T-cells in contact with only cancerous cells. This tuned approach allows us to minimize the side effects of T-cell engagers while letting the body’s immune system attack deadly cancer cells.
What are some ways that machine learning is applied in Abpro?
We are leveraging machine learning, structural predication, and in-silico mutational analysis to rapidly predict the path of Sars-Cov-2 mutations. This allows us to verify targets and approaches way quicker than running wet lab experiments.
Could you discuss the DiversImmune platform, and how it enables the generation of novel antibodies and antibody therapies?
Abpro’s unique DiversImmune™ platform enables them to generate antibodies against traditionally difficult targets using antibody building blocks. Each disease area, whether that be cancer, infectious disease, or ophthalmology diseases, has unique and specific treatment requirements. We’re able to arrange and rearrange these monoclonal antibodies to treat the specifications of each indication. The platform is also front-end loaded with powerful AI and a rapid method of generating actual, physical antibodies. These are paired together to merge in silico predictions with reality to allow us to quickly find drugs.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Abpro?
Abpro’s history is as important as its future – we saw with the HGP that collaboration across scientific centers will be incredibly important to the success of the project, and we’re doing the same thing at Abpro. The future of drug discovery is a merger between AI technology and biology – I’m incredibly proud that the Abpro team is at the leading edge of that right now.
Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Abpro.
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