May 10, 2021
By Kerri Luttrell
Immunology-Based Technologies in Startups: Seven Tips from Founders

The immune system is fine tuned to defend the body from foreign invaders, but when the system malfunctions it can spell disaster for a person’s health and quality of life. The panelists of IndieBio’s Biotechnology x Immunology event are using biotechnology to offer solutions to those suffering from immune dysregulation and overactivity. 

Read the top insights from our panelists below or rewatch the event below. 

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Meet our Panelists:

  • Alex Martinez, CEO of Intrinsic Medicine. Intrinsic Medicine is a biotech therapeutics company that is currently developing a safe, effective treatment for Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) from a bioactive, anti-inflammatory sugar found in human breast milk.
  • Trill Paullin, CEO of Free to Feed. Free to Feed is a startup that empowers mothers of food-allergic infants throughout their breastfeeding journey. The company offers consultation services as it develops a food allergen test strip product that gives mothers an “ingredient deck for the boob” and the confidence to feed themselves and their baby without worry.
  • Cody Shiriff, CEO at Serenity Bioworks. Serenity Bioworks is a biotech therapeutics company that uses insights from cellular stress pathways to develop anti-inflammatory drugs for autoimmune diseases. Currently, the company is moving into clinical trials with a compound that can treat kidney inflammation in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus patients.

The panel followed the journey of each company, revealing these 7 tips for building a startup:

1. Identify the Market Need    

Locate a problem before you start working on a solution.

AM: “I started with the market and a deep understanding of the problem itself. Then we were able to go and find a solution for it. Having that match is actually a very powerful competitive advantage.” 

CS: “There are recently approved drugs that have marginally increased efficacy and clinical response in lupus nephritis. We’re talking about 40 percent effective. We want to increase that and we believe that patients and clinicians are going to want to use a drug that’s more effective than that.”  

TP: “The research indicated that the numbers of mothers experiencing food allergic responses were expanding exponentially year over year, especially through breast milk. So 1, the research indicated that it was a problem that was continuing to expand and to grow; then 2, when I found fellow parents that were going through this as well, their pain point matched and or was worse than mine. That is what led me to believe that this is something that should be addressed, it could be addressed, and it is truly a market that is unmet.”

2. Choose your startup team wisely

Find people who can add unique value to your business.

TP: “Finding a co-founder meant finding somebody who could truly understand the problem, and so I ended up finding another woman who’s breastfed through food allergies.”

CS: “For drug development, we found building the team from San Francisco was a little easier. We were able to recruit people from Amgen or from Genentech who have previously developed drugs…those people are critical for people with a science background, like myself,to collaborate with as the company approaches the clinic.”

3. Prioritize efficient business growth

Success requires a commitment to intelligent planning and focused effort.

AM: “Part of our pattern was to find compounds eligible for 505 (b) (2) regulatory pathways so we could rapidly expedite our FDA interaction.” 

TP: “We’re direct-to-consumer so in the midst of [completing our FDA pre-submission package] we are also building out all of our customer-facing pieces: the website, the social media platforms, and navigating what is truly resonating with parents.” 

4. Choose and recruit patient populations

Balance business pragmatism with patient need.

AM: “I was identifying patient populations where the bleeding edge science really points to immune dysregulation and where there is a stagnant standard of care… My goal was to find patient populations where we could show that our drug produced clinically meaningful results within 12-week endpoints without reliance on surrogate endpoints.” 

AM: “People are asking their deepest problem in Google. You can get in front of every person who is looking for your solution and you can educate them on your clinical studies.”

5. Build strong entrepreneurial networks           

Opening lines of communication opens doors to opportunities…

…with your resources:  

AM: “Developing a great relationship with the tech transfer office is a very useful thing. Build that relationship and then once you’ve internally formulated what your screen is, just have an ongoing dialogue. Our compound was actually served up by the tech transfer office at UC San Diego.”  

…with your peers:

CS: “A lot of the network I was able to form by being in San Francisco for that four months [at IndieBio]. The person who just joined our board was somebody who I met at IndieBio.” 

…with your customer:

TP: “I continue to talk to the customer segment to fully understand the customers’ needs because I personally am no longer breastfeeding a food allergic baby.” 

 6. Remember your ‘why’ 

A successful business is driven by the mind and fueled by the heart.

TP: “There’s nothing quite like living and breathing the problem every single day to feel motivated to continue to work towards a solution for other parents.” 

AM: “I talk about ‘comparably mild’ because this is not a mild disease. I think this is an important note. I’m a patient as well. When you’re a patient, there’s no such thing as a mild disease.” 

CS: “The drugs that are currently being used are extreme. It’s cyclophosphamide, which is a chemotherapeutic. While we’re not going to deviate too much from the use of that, we want to get them off of that drug and into remission as quickly as possible.” 

7. If at first you don’t succeed…

Try, try again.

CS:  “I applied to IndieBio the first time and got rejected. I think it was because I was stuck in all the science speak and wasn’t able to properly communicate the bare essentials of what is important for an investment… I had to learn how to properly communicate and the pitch was better the second time. That’s what led to the first money.”  

TP: “Similar to Cody, I applied more than once and the first time I did not get in. If you are listening and have applied, definitely apply again and continue to iterate and improve.”

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