Duke-NUS Bio-Entrepreneur Series – Spinning out a cancer immunotherapy startup – The Story of PairX Bio: Post-Event Write-Up

Published by Biotech Connection Singapore on

9 September 2020

Zoom Seminar

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In the latter half of 2020, BCS partnered with Duke-NUS to host the Duke-NUS Bio-Entrepreneur Series. This series consisted of two talks that featured two different start-ups: the newly minced cancer immunotherapy startup PairX Bio and a Singapore-based biotech company, Enleofen.

The first webinar of the series titled “Spinning out a cancer immunotherapy startup – The story of PairX Bio” was moderated by Dr. Natasha Ng, President of BCS and featured Dr. Raymond Lee, Research Fellow at Duke-NUS; Mr. XQ Lin, Managing Partner at Esco Ventures X and Ms. Cheryl McCaffery, Director, CTeD Duke-NUS. Together they shared how PairX Bio was spun out from a humble lab-based setting with an aim of developing novel cancer immunotherapies against shared tumor-associated antigens.

The webinar started with Raymond discussing the challenges of spinning out a new technology. A basic understanding of what a biotech is; dealing with the unknowns such as IP, business venture model; the need to show capability (that the technology will work) and to use it to address fundamental questions were some of the things that were brought forth. In their case, there was also a huge unmet need to identify new cancer antigens, especially shared tumor antigens that are derived from aberrantly spliced proteins. PairX platform, built upon the mRNA splicing process, therefore focuses on discovering novel antigens that are shared across subsets of different cancer types and validating them in different settings.

XQ emphasized that apart from science, it is important to address bottlenecks early-on such as whether the platform technology has the potential to generate assets that could advance to clinical trials. Translational potential of the idea should also be discussed at the early stages of a project and the need to build a working prototype should take precedence over everything else. Additionally, it is imperative to engage with experts with diverse skill sets and foster collaborations, not only locally but globally as well. Cheryl addressed the importance of protecting the technology, even if it comes at the expense of publications. She emphasized that unless a patent is filed, the scientific work should not appear in any public platform irrespective of the time it takes to file a patent.

Together they shared the importance of bringing life-saving therapeutics to patients and discussed the next steps in commercializing the technology such as expanding the data sets to include different cancer types, getting regulatory approvals and approaching global investors to seek funding. They shared the importance of engagement with stakeholders early-on, talking to the right people at the right time and finding the right platforms to generate interest about the technology or product. It is also worthwhile to understand who the consumers are, how will the technology benefit them and how will it reap commercial benefits in return.

By Shainan Hora on behalf of BCS

Key takeaways from this webinar:

  • Great science and good substrate go hand-in-hand. Doing good science is extremely important but it is also imperative to trust in other people’s capabilities. As such, a scientist must learn to let go and let the specialists step in as and when required. Only then can the work be matured into a fruitful product.
  • Navigating the scientific and business world at the same time can be challenging. Hence, developing meaningful relationships with people of diverse skill sets, and especially the ones who believe in you goes a long way. Together it is easier to navigate the uphill battle of entrepreneurship.

Spinning out a cancer immunotherapy startup - The Story of PairX Bio

Biotech Connection Singapore (BCS) is part of an international network of non-profit organizations, that aims to promote the transfer of ideas from theory to real world applications by providing a platform for fostering interaction between academia, industry and businesses.