Dr. Eugene Chan is the president and co-founder of Abpro, a company with a mission to: to improve the lives of humanity facing serious and life-threatening diseases through next-generation antibody therapies.
What initially attracted you to the field of genomics?
DNA is simple, four letters, but when put together, it is beautiful and defines life. I began my career at the end of the Human Genome Project (HGP), one of the largest collaborative biology projects to date. According to the NIH, the project was considered the first human effort to completely sequence the human genome. The interdisciplinary approach of the project was inspiring and inspiring and exposed me to a whole new world of potential drug targets that will allow us to identify and quantify DNA and RNA to benefit patients with critical illnesses.
While in your early 20s, you founded your first US Genomics company, a high-throughput gene sequencing company focused on identifying and quantifying DNA, RNA and proteins in complex samples. What were some of the key lessons you learned from this experience?
Choosing the right problem is very important. When 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 has contributed to starting a new field. The HGP encouraged the scientific community to look beyond how we previously targeted critical diseases and advance to the next level of biotechnology.
What we did in our early 20s still amazes me. we picked the right problem, we built the right solution, but we just didn’t have the right supporters to move an entire field. I constantly refer to the lessons I learned while founding American Genomics in the business decisions we make today at Abpro. Abpro has carefully selected external investors who want to support great science and make a difference in patients’ lives. I would say that we take a relatively conservative approach in our business development, focusing on the efficiency of our operations and the efficiency of our treatments.
Can you share the Genesis story behind Abpro?
Cancer treatments have recently begun to evolve to be more effective and less burdensome on our bodies. My mother was battling breast cancer. He won, but he was lucky because it was caught early. There are many others who could benefit from much better therapies, especially if the disease is not detected right away. Patients with severe illnesses still received harsh and not always effective treatment.
Abpro’s goal is to use monoclonal antibodies to develop treatments against traditionally difficult targets, and our mission is to improve the lives of individuals facing serious and life-threatening diseases. Powerful antibodies are traditionally produced slowly, but at Abpro we know that speed is of the essence for those fighting disease. If there are more powerful tools to make these treatments faster and more potent, then we can unlock nature’s natural method of fighting disease.
Why did you decide to focus on antibodies versus other possible treatment options?
Antibodies can be used for a variety of indications, not just cancer. We are currently manufacturing monoclonal antibody treatments for use in the treatment of breast, gastric and liver cancers, infectious diseases and wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or diabetic macular edema (DME). Using this type of therapy allows us to fulfill our mission to reach more patients fighting serious illnesses. Additionally, and most importantly, our bodies already have antibodies, which makes monoclonal antibody therapy safer and more flexible than other treatments.
Abpro uses different antibody formats to select the one that best matches the disease and mechanism being targeted at the time. Our unique DiversImmune™ platform enables us to generate antibodies against traditionally challenging targets using antibody building blocks.
Can you share some insights on how your approach reduces time to market?
Abpro’s approach takes the best of our body’s immune system and combines it with AI for target selection, allowing our team to quickly predict which antibody will be effective against which disease.
Infectious disease is on Abpro’s radar, can you discuss some of the diseases that Abpro is tackling?
In 2020, we saw the need to strengthen the arsenal of treatments available for Covid-19. Although vaccines are available to the public and antiviral treatments are widely used for individuals infected with the virus, we realized that we would need more types of treatment to keep up with the ever-changing virus and protect immunocompromised populations from epidemics. The monoclonal antibody cocktail, ABP-C19-002, uses artificial intelligence technology to help predict the evolution of virus proteins, making it a future-proof treatment and ready to tackle the next stage of the virus.
We are currently rapidly developing our monoclonal antibody treatment for use as a pre-exposure prophylaxis given the high need. Abpro’s cocktail could be in the clinic in 2023, pending regulatory and clinical milestones.
How does Abpro use the human immune system to target cancer?
We have bispecific antibodies that activate CD3 on T-cells and bring them close to cancer cells for cytotoxic cell killing. We have a safe, regulated method of doing this, and we have very specific antibodies that suppress the immune system by putting T-cells in contact only with cancer cells. This tailored approach allows us to minimize the side effects of engaging T-cells while allowing the body’s immune system to attack the deadly cancer cells.
What are some of the ways machine learning works in Abpro?
We use machine learning, structure prediction and in silico mutational analysis to rapidly predict the pathway of Sars-Cov-2 mutations. This allows us to verify targets and approaches faster than wet lab testing.
Can you discuss the DiversImmune platform and how it enables the development of novel antibodies and antibody therapies?
Abpro’s unique DiversImmune™ platform enables them to generate antibodies against traditionally challenging targets using antibody building blocks. Each disease area, whether cancer, infectious disease, or ophthalmic disease, has unique and specific treatment requirements. We are able to tailor and repurpose these monoclonal antibodies to treat the specifics of each indication. The platform is also front-loaded with powerful AI and a fast method to generate real, physical antibodies. These are combined to merge in silico predictions with reality to allow us to rapidly find drugs.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about Abpro?
Abpro’s history is as important as its future. we saw with HGP that collaboration between science centers would be incredibly important to the success of the program, and we are doing the same thing at Abpro. The future of drug discovery is the fusion of artificial intelligence technologies and biology. I’m incredibly proud that the Abpro team is leading the way right now.
Thanks for the great interview, readers who want to know more should visit Abpro.