This article is the first in a series of Innovators Speak, where Kolabtree chats with the world’s leading scientific and business innovators such as Jacob Glanville, and picks their brains on the latest advancements in science and technology, how academics are switching to remote working within a rapidly burgeoning expert economy, how the pandemic is shaping our future and much more.
In this interview, Jacob Glanville sits down with Kolabtree CEO Ashmita Das to discuss Centivax going into clinical trials on June 1 with their SARS COV 2 antibody vaccine, and how maintaining a lean model has helped keep the costs down.
[See below for transcript]
Jacob Glanville is an immuno-engineer and entrepreneur, developing the core business model and technology for Distributed Bio and its spin off Centivax, both of which follow a lean business model to minimize redundancy and maximize efficiency, resulting in sustained profits without external investment.
He is developing and distributing broad spectrum vacuum tech through Centivax, receiving the Gates Foundation Grant Challenge ‘Ending the Pandemic Threat’ for his work and being featured on the Netflix documentary ‘Pandemic: How to prevent an outbreak’
In this interview, Jacob sits down with Kolabtree CEO Ashmita Das to discuss Centivax going into clinical trials on June 1 with their SARS COV 2 antibody vaccine, and how maintaining a lean model has helped keep the costs down.
Talking about the significance of freelance scientific consultants, he also touches upon why it’s important for young entrepreneurs to identify what tasks need to be hired for in-house, and what needs to be outsourced to freelance experts as and when the need arises, resulting in lower costs and greater productivity.
Discussing the pandemic, Jacob elaborates on how humans have always been plagued by pandemics throughout history, and the work his team are doing will eventually hope to alleviate this by going beyond our natural immunity and hopefully enable our immune systems to win the ‘forever battle’ against constantly evolving pathogens.
Through the work Centivax and other therapeutic vaccine developers are doing, Jacob explains in detail how a global disaster like Covid-19 can eventually be reduced to a manageable crisis, where people simply have to take a routine periodic shot to be safe.
There’s also more thoughts and discussions on why the price of medicines is exponentially higher than cost of goods and is distorted by multiple market forces, and why remote working could result in a more even distribution of people across communities.
Full interview transcript
00:00:03 Ashmita: Hi, I’m Ashmita Das.
I run a platform called Kolabtree where we connect scientists and industry experts with business organisations for on-demand services and I have here with me today Doctor Jake Glanville. Jake, thank you so much for joining us today.
00:00:24 Jacob Glanville: Hey, thanks for having me on. I’m looking forward to this.
00:00:27 Ashmita Das: Absolutely. So Jake, quite famously you were featured in the remarkably prescient Netflix documentary Pandemic: How to prevent an outbreak and you’ve served on multiple advisory committees or boards.
You’ve received grants and awards from the Gates Foundation. You are a National Institute of Health principal investigator. You were a guest lecturer at Stanford and USF. You’re also a principal scientist at Pfizer. Over your career, you developed seminal methods and technologies published in top journals like ____ and Nature. And since 2012, you co-founded a company called Distributed Bio and you are now running its spin off Centivax. So you’re a serial entrepreneur and inventor, computational immuno-engineer, among other things.
How would you describe yourself in your work?
00:01:26 Jacob Glanville: I’m an immune hacker, so the way I describe my work is that I have been very fortunate that the things that I’d like to do have coincided really nicely with the emerging golden age and biotechnology. So what I do is I use math and computers and then good old fashioned roll up your sleeves wet lab work to interrogate the immune system and to try to figure out how to get the best responses out of the immune system, to treat various diseases as well as harness therapeutic molecules directly out of the immune system. Monoclonal antibodies that can serve as drugs. And kind of the beautiful thing about where I am and what I do and what I love about it is that first off, the immune system is affecting pretty much every disease — the obvious things like infections — things that maybe not obvious to everyone like cancer and nerve degeneration and heart disease, and pretty much …you’re actually hard pressed to find somewhere in medicine, where the immune system isn’t involved because your immune system is designed to detect changes in tissues, and that’s what disease is. And so inflammation and tissue attack, these are — these are all areas where ithe mmune system acts as a powerful keystone in understanding and treating many disorders.
And then the flipside of it is, it’s also a great source of medicines like antibodies and understanding how to produce better broad-spectrum vaccines. All these cool applications have become much easier to attack with vigour with the emerging golden age of biotechnology. We have high-throughput genomic sequencing instruments, high-throughput DNA synthesis instruments, and a plethora of other really cool single-cell sequencing technologies and microfluidics and other shiny toys, so part of my job is to try to understand that system using math and computers and try to come up with good engineering tactics from creating better medicines that can treat problems that have plagued us since the beginning of time.
But finally, in our generation we can attack them and win some of these forever wars.
00:03:24 Ashmita Das: Okay. I think the whole world, whether they like it or not, has become a lot more acquainted with the immune system and immunoresponses.. so can you talk a little bit about your latest venture called Centivax, where I think, from the description on the website, you’re aiming to develop broad spectrum medicines to treat 21st century diseases and that includes a flu vaccine to protect against all strains of influenza, anti venom to try to treat all snake bites, therapeutics against rapidly mutating cancers. So what’s the vision with this new company?
00:04:04 Jacob Glanville: Sure, so yeah, this has kind of been my long range plan and dream and I’ve finally been able to manifest it. It was the idea of being able to harness some of these new technologies which I spent time optimising and engineering first as an advisor, then my first venture distributed bio and then after I sold it, now I’m finally ready with a decade of my research tying into being able to build antibodies or even provoke antibodies out of a living organism that bind these Achilles heels on viruses and pathogens. These very special sites that you get the right antibody against that special site and they tend to be much more effective so that in the case of the coronavirus we are getting ready to start our clinical studies on an antibody. The plans are very. pre conserved part coronavirus..these new state variants ..these mutants from like the UK ..or The Indian strain were able to hit all wearable engineering antibodies to do that?
We do something similar with our broad spectrum vaccine technology, where we teach the immune system to make those kinds of antibodies for the snake bite. We have this amazing guy in Intem 3D and his body had generated these antibodies that are able to bind those sorts of concerned sites across snake venom from all snakes. These are the kinds of applications.There are also ones that may surprise you that are important in autoimmunity and oncology where you are also targeting these very mutating and diverse populations of some cancers or parts of the immune system for diversity, and we hack those systems pretty well. That’s the strength of our technology, so we’re a therapeutics and a vaccine company. We work on humans as well as veterinary medicine, and our goal is to create substantial advances using the new technologies that are available to us to attack systems where other scientists before us have already figured out kind of what the problem is, it’s just the challenges of engineering to attack that problem.
And the core issue in therapeutic science there’s two challenges. One is what’s the target and two: can you drug it?
And I’ve always felt that what’s our target is a way harder problem than, you know that can you drug it. It is just an engineering solution and that’s our strength
So we basically attack with bigger problems that people have gotten pretty close, but not all the way, and we think we can solve them up.
00:06:21 Ashmita Das: Okay, and when you say you’re immuno-hacking what you’re trying to do is maybe take the natural responses our bodies produce and use that as the therapeutic.
00:06:32 Jacob Glanville: We extend beyond what the human body can produce the human body, the problem, the viruses and pathogens, snakes and cancers and autoimmunity have have hacked arming system.
They figured out what we’re really good at, and there’s this never ending arms race of trying to have a diversity of the pathogen or the cancer against the diversity of our immune system.
And these two — these two armies have met at war since the beginning of time, and they both learned each other’s weaknesses.
And that’s where the stalemate arises. And that’s why sometimes you get sick. That’s why you can’t just take nature. But there’s a lot of technologies out there people are trying to pull a single cells from patients, and the problem is patients get sick, sometimes with these pathogens have ways around it.
So we engineer beyond what nature can deliver. We learn how to use these systems so we can hack beyond where nature naturally gets stuck. That’s nature.Doesn’t normally produce abroad, indeed neutralising response against all influenza or an we don’t have a working HIV vaccine permanent.
That’s where our technology comes in. We ask ourselves, where is the defect, and then we engineer beyond it to try to push beyond what nature has provided so that we can actually win some of these forever wars against some of these pathogens that harassed us since the beginning of time.
So that’s that’s the added pieces. The golden age of biotechnology can help us push back past the stalemate and achieve victory. And I will say that sounds ambitious, but I’ll remind you back in 1980 we were able to eradicate smallpox and we have nearly eradicated a number of other pathogens. There has been this remarkable success of vaccine science and remarkable success in multiple Nobel Prizes awarded around monoclonal antibodies.
But those technologies are really still operating based on last century’s biotechnology capabilities, so we’re bringing in these new technologies to be able to make better engineered medicines to break through the continued limitations of nature. So we infer from nature, but we move beyond it in order to create better medicines.
00:08:26 Ashmita Das: Fascinating stuff.
Now with Centivax you’re currently creating an antibody therapeutic treatment for the coronavirus, and I understand it’s going into clinical trials very shortly.
So what’s the progress on this therapeutic and what role do you see it playing in managing this pandemic, even as the effort to vaccinate continues?
00:08:51 Jacob Glanville: Yes, so since the beginning of the outbreak release January 29th, 2020, I initiated this programme and because my team specialises in Pandemic medicine Broadspectrum medicine, we we knew right away there are going to be two big problems that we needed to address here. There’s actually a third that the clinical trials will tell us for right or not about.
The first was. We knew the virus is going to start mutating and so there were some efforts to produce antibody therapies really fast last year and they came out and there are already being revoked by the FDA.
Because the new mutant versions of the virus which are more infectious, they may be more deadly, but they’re also more mutated and that’s causing those early antibodies to no longer bind effectively to the virus, so the early antibody has been revoked.
The Regen-cov antibody cocktail still works, but it’s weaker against the new variant strains we spent the time to engineer an antibody that binds like I said, to an Achilles heel, very sensitive part of the virus that binds all these new emerging strains and not only doesn’t get affected by any of the current variants, but we can anticipate that the new variants in the future won’t pack into our antibody either so that’s one important thing.
The second one was that I could anticipate it was going to be a major problem to try to deliver a normal antibody therapy in the midst of a pandemic, and the reason for that is that normal antibody therapies you have to give a big dose in an infusion bag, and that means you have to get an IV and someone is a specialist to give you an IV has to give it to you in infusion centre.
The problem in a pandemic is that anyone who can get an IV or can give you an IV or any location where you could receive an IV. Those areas are already full of much more sick patients, and so the best time to give an antibody therapy is right when you found out you got sick as early as possible, you want to stamp out the match before it becomes a forest fire.
The problem is if you call right now and say hey look, I just found out I have SARS-COV 2 I’m infected, I want to get the antibody therapy when you think the doctors gonna say they’re going to say you know what? You’re not sick enough ..like wait. Hope you don’t get more. So the problem is then you’re getting more sick so by the time you arrive you’re in a much worse position ..so that was a problem we want to address and that’s where our engineering advantage comes in. What we were able to do is engineer anybody to be able to go ultra high concentration so we can fit it into an injectable syringe.
Then you don’t need to go to an infusion centre, you just get a pop in the arm or in the leg.
And you can get the medicine early. We can get a smaller dose, we can give it much early, which means we can make much more doses.
And it means that is a powerful way to transform how scary this pathogen is, because you can get a shot early so you don’t get sick in the first place.
You don’t risk going to the hospital. You don’t risk death and you don’t risk ..we’re going to evaluate this, but we believe that It will avoid some of the long collar risk of the complications that arise from a serious infection here, so that’s a really big deal.
Being able to actually have a medicine which you can mass produce and is accessible and is able to work against the future variants and that’s the area we hope to bring in.
The big picture goal is… well yes vaccines are great, they are definitely important and we’re going to have them, but the truth is we are not going to make enough vaccines for the world.
We have about 10% of humans vaccinated right now.The new vaccines are already having to be created to adapt to the new mutant strains, and 2nd, there’s not enough people in the world willing to take the vaccines for us to achieve herd immunity, which means the coronavirus is here to stay.
We can reduce the amount of the outbreaks, but they will still happen, and that means what we really need is a therapy – An effective therapy downgrades this from a medical crisis to a manageable infectious disease because what you want is instead of saying Oh no, I got Coronavirus it’s a disaster you go to ah no this is so annoying I’ve got to go get my shot and I’ll be fine and then then the world goes back to normal. So that’s where we fit.
00:12:33 Ashmita Das: Okay, alright and I understand that actually, and you touched upon this a little bit. One of the primary aims of Centivax technology is to make it more affordable and accessible than the alternatives. Can you talk a little bit about the strategy and approach you are using to make this possible?
00:12:56 Jacob Glanville: Yeah, sure so. There’s two types of strategies here. One is technology driven and the other one is really financially driven.
So from a technological basis there’s a couple things you can do to make a medicine more affordable. You can make it more potent or you could make it be able to be delivered at a smaller dose at a more opportune time, like earlier and infectious disease.
The effect in both of those things is that they reduce the cost of goods. Also, if you can produce some medicine where you can manufacture more doses in a given batch..Those things are to your advantage because you can make more.
The second thing you can do is aggressively explore our new manufacturing technologies. So right now the whole world… for antibodies, almost everyone uses a technology called Shell.
It’s like a floppy disc, Everybody uses it. Everybody knows it sucks. So people want to look to the future to a manufacturing technology that could scale much larger, produce a lot more doses and be able to make these medicines mass producible.
Right now there is really a problem of being up. There’s a finite number of sites around the world where you can produce shell-based antibodies that limits the utility of the biologics revolution. So we invest heavily in a number of technologies cause we aren’t sure which one’s going to win, but we’re looking at the ones that are going to be able to be that next manufacturing Mega Juggernaut..and that could have the effect of reducing the cost and increasing the distribution. So that’s the technology side of things.
The other side though, is the economics.So I just talked about reducing cost of goods, but it’s important to remember that the cost of goods of biologic is nowhere near the price that you’re charged.
If you had cancer and you are to receive a typical biologic antibody cancer drug, you might be charged somewhere, be around and say 5000 thousand, $10,000 for adults, a single dose. You might need multiple doses.
The cost of goods for adults. What do you think that is? It’s $100, maybe $200, so the cost of goods is not what drives the cost of the medicine. The rest of the cost of the medicine is a calculation on how much the insurance company is willing to pay for that medicine.
That’s why if you have an antibody for cancer and an antibody for macular degeneration of blindness disease..they’re both the same type of product and they cost about the same to produce, but you’re going to pay more than twice as much for the cancer drug because the cancer drug is more expensive for an insurance company to deal with you if they don’t have a medicine, and so it’s really an absurd scenario, it’s driven by the objectives of the pharmaceutical company to maximise revenue, but unfortunately it doesn’t maximise the number of people who benefit.
And there are many people who can afford it if they don’t have effective insurance and there are certainly many nations who may not be able to afford it.And there in fact there’s some tension between some of these pricing and what medicines make it into Europe because the European Commission has issues with some of these pricing decisions which are artificial as I’ve just indicated ..they are not subject to normal market forces. These are really nowhere near the cost of goods of the product.
Now the pharmaceutical companies will say listen, we’ve invested so much money and time in order to make this medicine successful, we have to recoup some of those losses. And, the truth is that is true. I’ve benefited from a lot of the great work that’s gone on for decades, by these mega pharmaceutical companies to build a lot of tools that I benefit from.
Now, since then, I’ve also created my own tools, but I couldn’t have gotten there without them. So the truth is that investment has been worth it. I’m OK with them making money on this first set of generation of medicine.
However, that said, we are now in a position where you could form a different structure of a business that does not require 50,000 employees. It doesn’t have the same level of overhead, and you don’t spend the 10 years of some costs on a bunch of medicines, so they have to recoup such large amounts on a blockbuster medicine.
As an example, Cinemax formally became independent and spun out on the last day of last year December 31st, 2020. We are going clinical with our first therapeutic candidate in July of 2021, so we haven’t spent ten years to get this guy going. We’ve launched it within the same year of founding have a second drug coming in the next year so we have spent so much less time in the discovery and optimization phase then we spend less money. The team is smaller, we could have way less overhead and that translates to us being able to attack market opportunities where we could lower the price on purpose in order to be able to gain better access for everyone and grow a business more efficiently.
It also opens up markets that other people have neglected like anti venom, anti infectives and a number of other areas where it’s not that there are people who can’t pay for these medicines, they just can’t pay outrageous prices. And some of these are actually pretty easy problems. They’ve been neglected. That’s nobody’s worked on them and so anti venom for instance is a relatively easy one. It will never make a billion dollars a year but it could make $120 million a year. And you could help a lot of people, hundreds of thousands of people a year die or lose a limb..And we can make a medicine for them and the technological path is relatively easy. We know that the venom is the problem. We know antibodies from sheep and horses work against them. We’re just going to make a better product and because of having a leaner business model and ideally under our… with better manufacturing technologies, we can mass produce the stuff so we don’t need the new methods.
We don’t need the new technologies for mass production to achieve this objective. But if those come online, then our model makes us pretty impossibly powerful, because then we can go mass produced medicines. We can deliberately lower the price using the Henry Ford model and we’ll be able to do mass produced and mass accessible biologics. It’ll be a revolution… A new class of very powerful, but currently someone cost prohibitive medicines.
Ashmita Das: Great, and actually that touches upon a topic that’s quite dear to us at Kolabtree as well. So if you don’t mind just digging a little deeper, you know giants like Pfizer.They obviously do have a critical role to play in very many areas, including you know funding, mass producing drugs and therapeutics that, and you know, driving large scale clinical trials.
But I also firmly believe that a lot of innovation that happens, it happens on the ground among smaller biotech or other types of organisations. Small steps not not with huge staff, you know.These are probably organisations with less than 100 people. Would you agree with that sentiment? Do you think that a lot of the innovation is actually driven by smaller players or? And yeah, can we hear some more thoughts on that?
Jacob Glanville: Yeah, I mean. So the answer is yes, and here’s why. I think my perspectives have led me to that conclusion as well. I spent four years working in Pfizer. Pfizer just acquired Wyatt had 120,000 employees at one point. It was a juggernaut. I then spun out to create my own 1st and now second company.
In distributed bio, my first company, I ended up running 78 antibody discovery and optimization programmes for about 60 different pharmaceutical and small biotech companies. And then we also had extra licences for our libraries and our software. So through that process I ended up meeting hundreds of companies, many of which became my clients and some they range from the major pharmas to small biotechs, and that gave me an opportunity to watch the trends in the industry and also see how they were shifted.
And so a couple things became obvious. One was that.
This isn’t your.. You know, this isn’t your Daddy’s Pharma like, things have changed a lot. The big thing that’s changed is that it used to be the case that everything had to happen within the hallowed halls of a major pharmaceutical company.
So if you needed to use any of the technologies or expertise.. that had to happen within say Pfizer or a Genentech and Amgen that from initial discovery hybridoma, you know you had a department for hybridoma you had a department for manufacturing Department for Safety, Department running clinical, and then you have distribution departments.
Modern Pharma has fractaled that out into a constellation of contract research organisations. A whole bunch of different groups that enabled many of my previous clients and now my own company to run clinical trials and to partner with.. We partner with Milliporesigma for manufacturing ..We partner with Charles River Laboratories for safety and talks. We partner with a regulatory specialist and premier to do our clinical study with the military.
There are groups you can reach out to and that means that the big pharmas have realised this and they started downsizing, but it’s challenging. It’s hard to gain a lot of weight and then try to lose it. It’s better not to get fat in the 1st place, so the ..what I’m seeing now is a bunch of small biotechs have been able to avoid growing in the first place.
They keep themselves strategically lean. They have a key set of experts that are difficult to outsource because that’s central to their core mission, but otherwise anywhere they can, they reach out to either consultants or to contract groups and the power of it is that they do it on an as-needed basis because there’s a change in the needs of that organisation as it moves through a series of steps. As it reaches clinical.
So of course you want to establish good relationships with contract research organisations or consultants. But you may want them for periods a lot ..for a period of four months, and then you don’t need them again. But if you like them, you call them up again six months from now, and it’s that periodic access and the use of an existing expert outside without having to build everything internal ..that allows my company to remain relatively lean. That keeps my costs down, and it really is faster, because if I have to go build every one of those expertises in-house, it’s going to take me years to be able to do that. And those people aren’t going to be working 60% of the time they’ll just be working a lot for short periods.
So it’s not really that good of a fit with the actual model of my industry. What makes much more sense to outsource those sets of expertises except for the core things that we are uniquely good at and or it’s just very challenging to outsource effectively, and so I’m always looking for organisations like what you’re doing I really like, because it is another way to be able to access people and expertise on an as-needed basis as you move through certain stages of these complex programmes.
Ashmita Das: Thank you, fantastic. Talking a little bit more about them or digging deeper into how the sausage gets made. I think with Distributed Bio, you develop the core business model, the research team and the technologies that kind of enabled Distributed Bio to become profitable without any investment.
How would you.. What would you advise other biotechnology founders to do to replicate this kind of success and use it? Have you faced challenges with this kind of model where you do have to piece together expertise or services from, you know, kind of the market out there?
Jacob Glanville: Sure, so I would say not every business is the same structure, so I got a little bit lucky and I had a good strategy. This I will say I did write this down on a napkin back in 2011 with my previous two partners.
It was a strategy for how to Bootstrap with their previous company without investment, and thus the strategy was a little bit based on an opportunity of time that I was planning ..that first new build, a software platform and then licence it to a bunch of biotechs. That software platform would use the cloud computing where you can now rent computers. You don’t need to go buy a bunch of computers to generate ..to analyse populations of antibodies and T cells using deep sequencing instruments that were commoditised so we didn’t need to own them that the group stood on them or they could send out the sequencing to a contract research organisation, but was missing in the industry was someone who could analyse them.
And so we created a software platform so people could go in and use that platform to analyse their data. We licenced that out to a bunch of pharmaceutical companies and small biotechs. That funding from the first protocol empowered us to open up laboratories and build out because we had seen more antibodies than anybody else, and we had resources now to build an even better mouse trap which is a better antibody discovery library technology and optimization technology, again based on computational principles. But it was now a laboratory technology and then we licence that out and then we started doing services on that back of that.
That had a greater cost of setup. So we needed the software money initially to get it going. But it also had much greater return, so that I was like, you know, 10X better value in business. And then because we then had the software and the antibody discovery technologies, then we could begin sending internal programmes through those and analysing and optimising towards challenging things that I thought could be really breakthrough medicines but which I thought would also be too risky to offer as a service ..A service deal, you want them to work most of the time, so you need to be a little conservative
Internally, I’m willing to go throw three darts and only one of them hits. So I’m willing to go try hard things and have them fail, but if you if you have a dart that hits, it’s a breakthrough medicine. But that’s a worthwhile exercise. And that makes sense to do internally and so that was the trajectory we took. So, I would say to other founders, if you have a mechanism by which you can become profitable early, I would recommend to gear your business model towards that and the reasons for that are not just reduced reliance on external funding sources and continuity ,It also forces you to make things that work and I cannot emphasise how important that is.
I think the standard model we all know results in lots of failures, and there’s a bunch of reasons for it. I think forcing those biotechs into, I think a lot of biotechs are pushed into maximising revenue business models, or they only have one asset that.. they’re putting all their eggs into one basket…and they’re basically told to focus, which is.
It’s not whether VCs do. They don’t focus on one asset, they have multiple assets.. but these companies are told to focus on one thing, and I think that’s this is bad portfolio management. You should always have a couple of different things going on in your company that have a range of ‘pretty sure thing maybe not worth that much towards risky, but huge’, and that ensures that the organism which is your company was able to thrive as it moves to the future and then having clients early is so powerful because if you get a whole bunch of cash from your VCs and then you have no feedback for the next four years ..But like four years later, you find out whether or not it works…then there’s not that constant pressure to make things that work. The presence of clients means that everything I made had to be successful since I was getting constant feedback and if the stuff made didn’t work, they were going to complain and we wouldn’t get new clients and the business would die.
I learnt this from my father running a restaurant ..if the food wasn’t good, you wouldn’t get more people through the door and that forces you to make excellent things. And I think I benefited from that because now all of our technologies are ultra robust. They’ve been more validated than almost any other technologies out there. We know them intimately, cause we’ built them.., and that means we are uniquely positioned to apply them to go after challenging targets and be successful at them. So there are problems that you don’t have a bunch of money laying around to hire a bunch of people. Sometimes you obviously wish you could scale better and get a new instrument if you had more money coming in where calculations like, well, we want that we need to get more contracts and this one. And as I enter now, this next phase with Centivax, it’s a therapeutics company, so we’ve raised 14 and a half $1,000,000 and non dilutive funding from the Gates Foundation and the National Institute of Health, the Navy. The army, Charles River Laboratories and a number of other organisations, but we’re about to go clinical and then after that we’re about to, you know, go through face to face 3IN rapid approval and we have 13 other programmes that are about to hit as well. So we are taking on some investors now and we’re contemplating going through an IPO and those will give us the mobilised resources that you just can’t use the service model to be able to achieve. But that also takes us through a radical influxion point in an.. what is ultimately our objective, which is to make medicines and that people want but.. But we got here and we got here without the rounds of..without the risk of somebody who’s given us money, and says hey guys, I want you to actually focus on this one thing so I can get a rapid exit, which I understand ..i understand why they think that way but that means we’re going to neglect the vision, which is a whole bunch of these great medicines that could do a lot of good, but we had to usher them through this path of being self disciplined and self produced, self manifested destiny through profitability to be able to achieve that objective. And that means that we had to be all strategic and lean on the business and make things that worked the entire time.
Ashmita Das: I think that’s great advice for any business, not just for biotech businesses.Kind of going into the various areas that, let’s say a biotech organisation has to deal with, you know, running a research team, doing translation research, developing new technologies plus obviously, know the developing the business models, the supply chain, the manufacturing capabilities, or even if you’re outsourcing, you know, kind of identifying the correct suppliers etc. So as you look at building an in house team and as you look at supplementing this team with the various services and capabilities, can you talk a little bit about the different parts of the ecosystem that you tap into, as and when you need some part of this process done or when you need an expert to step in?
Jacob Glanville: Sure, so I’ll tell you about what we’ve done so far that we’re pretty happy with. I’ll tell you about areas that I’m still.. I’m actively looking for and I’m.. I’m actually planning on looking at your website after this call, so in terms of our process, we use a number of organisations that enable us as a small company to be able to go clinical, and this is something that I..I first heard of back when I was introduced to a company called _Lorente_ back when I was at Pfizer and I watched.
It was two guys.. the company consisted of just a couple of people and they created a new organism like a transgenic rat that was able to produce human antibodies and it was like mind boggling to me that two people could do this and that was when I was first exposed to this concept of a virtual lab tech that if you can, if you have the knowledge to be the centre of you know at the beating heart of this thing that you can contract out with various tasks.
I then saw Atul Butte at Stanford speak to the concept of this virtual lab tech. That’s the extreme version. There’s actually no let lab. I don’t fully do that because engineering is the unique advantage that we have, so I always do need a laboratory for what I do, but it taught me is that the game has changed a lot and then I saw that happening again with many of my clients who came to us to produce their antibodies and I was realising then that they’re going to another group for safety, another group for talks, another group for you know and so forth from manufacturing and then clinical..so teams of you know 15..20 people. I saw them at the J Labs incubator and then they would go IPO or they would manifest these incredible value propositions and bring great medicines forward with small teams. And the way they were able to do that is the same thing we’re doing now with Centivax.
So..we used Charles River Laboratory for our safety and talks.We used Adam to produce our cells. We used milliporesigma to manufacture and go through the CMC and PNP process. Premier is taking our medicine through our clinical research. We’re partnering with them, man with a Co-PI from the armed forces.
We used Berkshire to do our fill finish. We used a group called Applied Biomath to do our bio statistical analysis for R&D and so forth. There’s a constellation of these organisations that we now have relationships with, so will keep using them as our pipeline to bring medicines forward quickly using experts. We also have a panel of really great consultants that we reach out to for specific tasks where we want really good expertise in short period chunks. So some of those things have been solved and we really do that through our network. I will say I have a list of things on my card.. if everyone’s busy on my team or we don’t have this specific expertise would it not be great to reach out and they’ll find someone to go do this then.. for very senior functions I top my network for it. We’re looking at a very senior CMC consultant that we’re going out too, but there’s other expertises where it would be really nice to have someone we could go to and tap on the shoulder and ask them questions for or to carry out like certain Bio-Informatica analysis.
I have a list of them right now and I’m trying to figure out who wanna torture on my team to do it but there are not many people who can do. But that was my background, but I’m increasingly busy being a CEO, so I have less time to do the fun bioinformatic stuff and so I have to go hand it off to someone else. I would love to go reach out to… Kolabtree is an example where I can just put it, put it up and be like .. Here, here are four research projects when I’m too engaged to go do that and there are other tasks like you know accounting and other aspects of running a business where you’d like to reach out and have access to scientific experts or various other technical experts to bring in.
I think the way we do it is.. some types of tasks are just inherently finite. There’s a lifetime to the project, in which case a short term relationship makes sense. I think there’s other things that we do where as a growing company we find someone really great. We work with them multiple times. I think over time we need to begin asking ourselves. Hey look, maybe we want to bring this person in full time and so this gives an opportunity to try working with someone which is just so much more valuable.
I don’t trust interviews. I don’t believe or trust my own judgement of a person over one hour, whereas I absolutely trust my judgement of a person over three months or six months or a year. And so I think that’s the way that we’ve been able to build and be successful. I think what you’re doing, which is really great, is just a vastly increased market of access to these experts because otherwise I’m limited by my network and so that great person might be out there and I don’t know about them if I don’t have a way to contact them.
Ashmita Das: Yeah, thanks for that. On that note, that is one of the reasons we kind of do what we do because is difficult to access this network.. these skillsets. So kind of touching on that, You mentioned you know.. you’re looking for. For example, someone senior to help you out. Someone with a senior background or skill set, and you’re also looking for a second person to maybe do some of the not grunt work exactly, but still fairly technical, fairly advanced work so right now, what are the ..what are the various methods use apart from kind of asking around in your network to source either an individual or an organisation when you’re looking to outsource their service?
Jacob Glanville: Sure, there’s just kind of three major ways that I have.. four major ways that I do this.
The first is the network, so I go if I can think of someone and I have a big network like I said, because of me working with frankly, most of the seven of the top 10 pharma are my previous clients. I’ve talked to hundreds of biotech companies I’ve worked with, over 60 of them like I know, a bunch of people. So I ask people that I know the problem is if there’s someone who’s really good and there in that network that person may have already tried to hire them..but you know just give it a shot.
The second thing I do is ask my team and say, hey, there’s that extended network. Do you know anyone who’s good? The third thing I do is I’m a scientific Advisory Panel board member for the.The University of San Francisco Biotechnology programme and I have been taking on interns from that programme back since 2014 and that was very instrumental. I’ve hired, I think, 12 people from that programme..that’s helped me build up distributed bio. We already have new meeting members from that same programme at Centivax.
So I reach out and for that I just checked and I think if it’s a junior level function and with some training someone could do it. It’s a growth opportunity for them. It’s a way for me to test them out and get results back. Nice to have programmes in that circumstance coz you’re taking on a pretty junior person.But the flipside is you can build someone amazing by identifying someone remarkable who did good work, and then they work with my team.
The last thing I’ve done is I have because of the Netflix documentary series and then, you know, just worked in this industry for years. I have a pretty large network on social media and like LinkedIn and so in one example I sent out a tweet and I sent out a notice on LinkedIn some months ago. I said, hey, anybody want to work with me who’s got a scientific background on solving a couple different problems and 11 people signed up right away, so suddenly I manifested a team that I was able to work with to solve a couple of these problems that were going to result in a publication. And it was very useful for us doing diligence around manufacturing, and there’s some other scientific application. So those are the methods that I used.
But those methods have holes in them because I’m not actually doing a big exhaustive search. That’s like I’m a little bit biased towards whoever reads the tweet and then let you know I have a decent following, but it’s not like the world, it’s a, it’s a tiny little sub slice. And So what I worry about is my blind spots. I worry bout there’s that great person out there who hasn’t heard the message and I don’t know how to reach out to them and I think that’s the power of being able to look through a larger network of individuals like you’re building.
Ashmita Das: Okay, awesome. And um, I think coming to kind of the the current situation, the situation we’re in right now. So maybe the first question would be how is the pandemic and kind of the evolving face of biotechnology affected how you’re growing your company?
Jacob Glanville: I mean it’s affected us in a very direct way cause we’re making a medicine for the pandemic, but it’s also had some indirect, and I think sometimes beneficial effects on the way the companies grow so.
Um, as a consequence of the spin out you know we were planning your laboratory sites and we had new policies that we deployed at distributed bio and applying in my new organisation that people who don’t need to go into the office should work remote.Also, in the process of creating the new business, you know some of our key personnel at Centivax live in different places around the country, because if you don’t need to stop at the site.. what’s the difference between not showing up and being a mile away from not showing up and being 1000 miles away? Nothing. As long as you have a team which is commonly motivated and organised. I think if you have a group where people feel unmotivated or uninterested this doesn’t work and I think that’s why you need everyone showing up. I don’t think you actually need that for a group of passionate people who believe in a cause. I think then the physical locality doesn’t matter and in our team team for instance, we have people in South San Francisco and San Francisco. We also have people in San Diego. We have people in Chicago. We have people in Boston. We have people In Egypt we have people all around the world who work with us. In the internship group, there’s people in the UK, there’s people in a whole bunch of multiple nations.I think France, Canada and it doesn’t matter because what we end up doing is we collectively we meet up, we have shared tools for sharing data.
We meet up through zooms. And we were able to get the work done. Now I think there is a power in meeting up in person. That’s part of the reason I just travelled to Hawaii was that I’m planning to get a property so that Centivax has a research retreat then that gives us an opportunity for the diaspora of organisation which is truly global at everyone’s distant, but I think it is a good idea to have key members all gather in a certain location.
You know to have like surfboards and track boards so we can kind of come up and theorize and work together in person. I think that’s good for an organisation that can accelerate creativity and I figured if you’re going to do that you might as well do it somewhere awesome. So that was the strategy there. That’s how I’m intending to grow the business..it’s going to be strategic. It’s the right set of minds, and there’s this sort of Halo of intellectual support that could span the globe.
We have a hardcore laboratory and I need to be local to it cause I want to be able to go into it sometimes.But that flexibility has really helped me pick there, not just the people who are local and handy, but really the right people. The right people with the right passion and an intellectual drive and background training and ability to execute and I can grab them from anywhere, which is really exciting. And I think that actually..First off, everyone likes it better cause you can. You can say you don’t have to do traffic. Traffic is terrible.Everyone hates traffic. You can work from home. You can go get your coffee. You can do the projects. You can spend more time doing stuff, less time wasting time in traffic, more time with your kids and your family.
I think it’s better work life balance and if anything I actually think we might be a little bit more productive than in a common location where you know, I think there’s a benefit from walking around talking to each person in the lab, and I can check in on people. There’s some value to it, but I think also when you have a bunch of people in a common space they sometimes goof off more and so I think here you really do think okay, I’m gonna go into my office when I get the work done I’m gonna contact the people I need to and then I’m going to sign off and go do other things and I think that I hope that continues to be the more eco friendly than more efficient and that better New World Order of how to make a business like mine and hopefully many others that can make new breakthrough products to sell them for less and benefit more people and people enjoy working there for longer periods of time.
Ashmita Das: Fantastic, so do you foresee you know once the pandemic ends and we’re able to be around each other again a lot more safely? Do you kind of foresee this trend growing even when people go back to the office or are able to go back to the office?
Jacob Glanville: Yeah. at least I can speak to what happened in San.Francisco San Francisco has ridiculous pricing, basically this is an artificial ..absurd housing and it’s really like to be honest, like there’s a lot of things I like about San Francisco. But it’s not like I don’t know. I think Austin has more fun things going on, I think.
Honestly, the prices got so expensive that a lot of the artists and the cool people that do fun things that benefit and enrich the rest of our lives..they had to leave and and I think because of this crisis there was a lot of people who were like everything shutdown the things that are left to do aren’t available like why should I pay if I can now work remote because all the hi-tech companies that are hiring people say don’t come into the office so like why should I pay San Francisco prices but to not receive San Francisco benefits?
And so there was an exodus you could see U-hauls all over the city for months where people were like we’re off to the country and they continue to do their high tech jobs. And I think it’s just going to be really difficult for these companies to change a policy and say, okay, you guys need to come back in now. They’re not going to do that…there’s now a permanent diaspora and changing culture of not needing to physically be in the office, which is crazy.
But they required that for high tech companies anyway, because those people. Like by definition, most of them are going in front of the computer all day and then stopping so they could work on the moon, it shouldn’t matter.
And I think that trend and lots of other organisations ..people moved right? people changed where they lived. I think this is actually alleviating and solving some of the problem of forced physical relocation to city centres which could be good for traffic. It could be good for lifestyle, it could help reduce pricing on housing.
So actually I do hope this continues. I hope that we..There’s certain types of tasks we need to be in person, and for sure we make space for them but a lot of the.. you know..the types of business that doesn’t require physical location.. Those people should be encouraged to live somewhere distant. This actually insulates the world from the next pandemic, but it also just creates a better distribution of people out in different communities.
And I think there’s a lot of benefits to that, and I hope it continues. I certainly hope to continue leveraging that and incentivise.
Ashmita Das: Alright, um, final couple of questions so you know with the Netflix documentary. Obviously it was really so timely and I think all the participants in the documentary for everyone ..it was a question of when, not if, but were you surprised with how quickly things unfolded in this?
Jacob Glanville: So it was nuts, but I also caveat that at the end, so yeah, it um..You know we spent half of 2019 getting films and I didn’t realise how much I signed up for. I thought it was a good idea. My feeling was that there’s been kind of a broken trust between the Pharmaceutical industry and people and that broken trust has given rise to conspiracy theories and vaccine hesitancy.
And as I thought, you know where small companies like I’m not gonna change the whole world with this, but I thought in my small way, if I could open the door so people can see how we are actually doing these things ..that we are good people trying hard and these things are challenging and there we could see kind of our triumphs but also our troubles and failures and frustrations that people would really maybe that would create a new dialogue and a little bit more trust and understanding..and nd at least create a policy of transparency in our organisation that we’re going to take people on that were right for us.
So we tried that, but at the same time you know when it was getting ready to come out in January, people are like arguing that they are gonna betray us as well. This is going to be goofy..they are going to make us look like villains. And I was like you know what guys in the end it doesn’t matter because there’s 10,000 things on Netflix and no one’s going to watch this.
Instead, the day it came out ..within a day, 57 million people were quarantined in China, and so we ended up on the front page of Netflix globally for like six weeks. So that was..that was definitely nuts that the timing was crazy. I mean, this whole experience has been crazy and it’s what I’ve been fighting to try to avoid. And it’s been kind of remarkable that I now talk to people who now are having like ..before, they barely understand what a vaccine is and now people are like “What do you think about the effector functions of antibodies?”.. So it’s kind of cool that, like the world’s more aware of my work.
But also if I step back it wasn’t that crazy .. so people have surprisingly short term memories for troubles past. And if you think about it. So this one is a particularly bad outbreak, right? But what have we had recently? It’s it’s…There’s always been some outbreak. It seems coincidental that it came out around this because we had HIV ..we had MERS. We had the previous SARS outbreak. There was this African swine fever thing happening in pigs.
There’s been influenza pandemics.. five in the past century. Like I said, HIV, there’s been the borculo SIS expansion globally. We’ve had problems with smallpox, polio. And you name it. Humanity has been constantly plagued since the beginning of time by massive epidemic and pandemic outbreaks, and so if it wasn’t this one, it would be something else and I’ll tell you once this thing resolved, there’s going to be another one until we put our foot down and we demand to create broad spectrum vaccines and broad spectrum therapeutics to be able to win the Forever war against some of our most ancient enemies. And I think that is why I’m an optimist.
Unlike every generation before us that has passed the torch of knowledge on how to fight these pathogens all the way back to like the most ancient texts and excavation sites. Now we are better armed than we have ever been before to begin winning some of these battles forever, so I think it is possible for us to fight through this pandemic and begin to create the kinds of medicines where we exterminate …We eradicate some of these pathogens and we can create a future for our children that is a post pathogen future when they look back on these things and they seem seem as outdated as the plague and they can live in the beauty of doing that is that every generation after that will live healthier lives because we can eliminate some of these things that have been bothering us and we do have those powers within our generation that that’s that’s why I do what I do and I think that’s a good reason for us not to be depressed in the middle of this pandemic.
I know this one seems tough. But when this trouble came to us, this time we were better armed than we ever were before, and it’s given great attention right in the middle of the golden age of biotechnology. And so I am hoping that I, as well as other groups, will stay focused on continuing to engage eradication policies against these pathogens so that we can just live better lives for every generation that comes after us.
Ashmita Das: Absolutely. So one final question, as someone who’s worked in academia as well as on the business side of things, do you have any advice for Kolabtree and how we can help organisations like or support organisations like Centivax and the thousands of others out there?
00:49:28 Jacob Glanville: Interesting. Yeah, so I think having academic access would be great coz that’s often what is what these sorts of organisations need. I think ..what I’ve watched.. small startup biotechs and medium size biotechs is that when you watch them falter, which acts like perversely, always fascinated by like why did they fail? It’s such an interesting question because the more you learn about that, hopefully you can guide towards better success. Often it comes down to either lack of an expertise in the room or a lack of empowerment of that person to be able to provide feedback. So it’s the same reason, you know..why many things fail.
So..access to experts or some group should be able to evaluate a problem and give an assessment, I think there’s two aspects to that.
One is that having someone to be able access to someone to come in. I think there’s a more subtle problem here and I don’t know how to solve it exactly. But sometimes these groups don’t know what they don’t know, and so something having some sort of like review forum where they could go in and say hello, Here’s where we are. What do you think? And some meta group they can, so let it go. You know what? Here’s what I think are your problems, and then you think you could actually have a group of people come in giving them counselling guidance or like steering guidance and then they could recommend additional people in the network to go fill in holes.
I think that is a two stage process that I would consider really important because that’s what I watched at the incubator I was at ..and many of these companies I’ve gone in and and I’ve done that a little bit.I said hey guys, I’m a little worried cos I’m noticing you’re not doing this thing that I know a number of other companies are doing and it seems like there’s a hole and what you’re doing right now.
Some guys get consultants to do this, but there’s a hole for these small biotechs. The VCs don’t know enough. That’s the power of VCs. They’ve seen a bunch of companies, so if they are informed VCs they can protect their investments, but if they’re not that familiar with the space then I think the company can kind of run blind in the wrong direction and they also won’t know who else to reach out to in Kolabtree. So that’s the power of it is you actually it almost like get a temporary scientific advisory or technical advisory committee which they would resource through Kolabtree then that group could only suggest additional groups of people that they should reach out to, so that would be one thing to consider. It’s the maitre-d’ of Kolabtree.
Then the second thing would be from the perspective of the other side ..the academic side or the groups. I think…They’re a little bit more empowered because they know what they can do, and so they could actually reach out, but they need to be able to see what’s on the other side.They need to see the group of people that are out searching and know a little bit about them.
Coz then that solves the problem as well by them tapping them on the shoulder and be like hey you might want to consider what I have to do. I mean, I know like LinkedIn, this happens to me all the time. It’s a bit annoying because I get a bunch of stuff that’s not relevant for me, but it’s very..I’ve had a couple of times where people have reached out and it’s actually if they’ve done their research right, It’s exactly what I’m interested in and then I start a conversation with them. So I think that could be helpful as well.
So I think the challenge with academics is..You are… I’ve worked with a mix of…And I don’t want to over generalise. I find that this is an irritating stereotype, but it is the case that reward structures for academia are quite different than in the industry. So sometimes academic groups ..when you engage with them, the big question industry people ask them is like what’s your example of being able to finish projects. Sometimes really smart people like to agonise over things they don’t like to finish. So, I think just having a precedent of a set of transactions they completed previously for other engagements.. that gives a lot of confidence that they that person is good to work with and so I think something like that with the review process or some mechanism where they can go talk with people who worked with him before.
Or, you know, okay, if I have engaged this person, they’re going to be professional. Going to get this thing done in a timely fashion. It’s going to be an excellent work product. That sort of review process would be valuable.
Ashmita Das: Thank you, that’s I think really valuable advice for us and you know, we have seen experts and consultants in fact kind of, to their credit, tell organisations if something they are proposing is not feasible or or you know not the correct way to go..They will outright say no this is not the correct approach..we need to rethink, rather than just kind of taking on the project and things like that. So very valuable advice. So Jake thank you. This has been a fabulous chat I think.
And so thank you for your time. Thank you for having this chat with me and I’m just going to end the recording on that. Are there any last words or parting words you want to say before Istop the recording?
00:54:14 Jacob Glanville: Sure, I just wanna say thanks for having me on and for the work you do at Kolabtree.