The biopharma industry in Asia is an exciting one. Despite uncertainty caused by a fragmented marketplace and different regulatory systems, innovators constantly overcome market challenges and produce useful inventions which brings the development of the industry to the next greater level. Among these is Immunwork, a Taiwanese biotech company which created an invention, T-E™ , a molecule containing both targeting (T) and effector (E) moieties for applications in cancer, autoimmune, infectious, and CNS diseases. The T and E modules, which are based on multi-arm linker units, are constructed separately and then joined together by click chemistry.
Ahead of him joining us at BioPharma Asia Convention 2017 to offer more insights into their exciting work, we asked Immunwork‘s founder, Dr Tse Wan Chang, a renowned academia and researcher in the field of immunology, to share with you more about his story in founding Immunwork.
Q: What inspired the establishment of Immunwork?
Chang: As an immunologist, I have been doing research focusing on the development of monoclonal antibody new drugs (anti-IgE, anti-CemX antibodies) to treat allergy and asthma for almost 30 years (since 1987). In recent years, while immuno-oncologic approaches are shown to be promising, I had been thinking about switching research focus to the problem of cancer. I came to appreciate the fact that even the best immuno-oncologic products, such as anti-CTLA-4 and anti-PD-1 antibodies, can attain responses in only minor proportions of the intended targeted patient populations. I believed that there exists a tremendous value, if the existing drugs can be improved for achieving responses in larger proportions of the treated patients. I therefore invented the concept of “T-E” pharmaceutical molecules and technology platform. In preparation for a practical mechanism to continue doing research after official retirement from Academia Sinica, I founded the company, Immunwork, Inc. in October 2014
Q: Can you please share with us your most memorable experience in founding and running Immunwork?
Chang: Immunwork is a very young company and there are lots of major challenges ahead of us in building our company. During the past two years, the most significant factor about Immunwork is that we have realized that the “T-E” technological platform is extremely versatile and can be applied to many severe diseases beyond cancer. Our team has established examples that T-E pharmaceuticals can be designed and prepared for various indications in autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, CNS diseases, and osteoporosis. The technology can also be applied to develop products in treating pathological clots in strokes, heart attacks, and in other cardiovascular conditions, and treating rejection reaction in organ transplantation. The large expansion of the portfolio of our proprietary technologies has brought many exciting moments among our colleagues in Immunwork.
Q: How will Immunwork’s T-E™ Pharmaceuticals disrupt drug delivery industry?
Chang: The bulk of the technologies and products in the current drug delivery field deals with the slow release effects rather than the delivery of therapeutics to the diseased sites. The T-E pharmaceuticals in our approach represent a new field of pharmaceutical research and development. Our technology can be used to prepare improved antibody drug conjugates and bispecific and multi-specific antibodies. The scope of potential application of the product candidates designed by us has expanded much beyond those pursued by the “magic bullet” concept. The therapeutic effectors in our T-E molecular constructs are chosen not only from small cytotoxic drugs or radioactive nuclides, but also from toll-like receptor agonists and a large spectrum of immunoregulatory components, such as cytokines and ecto-domains of cell surface receptors. Our pharmacological approach of bringing effector therapeutics to diseased sites has not been proposed before with other similar approaches.
Q: T-E™ pharmaceuticals can be difficult to synthesize, how do you foresee your team to overcome the difficulties of these synthesis?
Chang: Preparing antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) using our T-E technology platform is not more difficult than producing ADCs with site-specific drug conjugation using various other methods, many of which involve enzyme-catalyzing steps. The peptide cores, linking arms, and coupling arms in our ADCs can be easily synthesized. A large number of companies provide such services, and at this stage, we will outsource such synthetic tasks. The preparation of scFv using bacterial, yeast, and mammalian expression systems has also been well established in the biotech communities. Furthermore, we have also established methods to derivatize small molecules for conjugation.
Q: What are the current challenges which young biotech such as Immunwork is facing to build up its foundation and business in Asia?
Chang: In my own view, the major challenges for young biotech companies in Asian countries are mainly the inadequacy of laws and regulatory guidelines governing the production, human clinical trials, regulatory approval, and distribution of pharmaceuticals and medical products, and even the hiring of foreign professionals and the grafting of stock option plans. In general, the laws and regulations in Asian countries are outdated and less mature and less flexible and efficient than those of the USA and European Union countries. These inadequacy and laggards will of course affect investments in biotech businesses. Speaking of my own country, Taiwan, I have witnessed that the laws and regulations have been gradually updated and modified, although I hope that the pace can be faster.
Dr Tse Wan Chang will be speaking in our new Biotech Innovation track at BioPharma Asia Convention 2017.
BioPharma Asia, taking place in Singapore from 22-23 March 2017 in Singapore, attracts over 1500 attendees annually. Topics from early R&D, clinical research, biomanufacturing, supply chain, market access, medical affairs and more are discussed extensively in the 3-day conference. Book now to join us.