Cure Genetics CEO Xu Yuanyuan: double down on development of CRISPR original applications
Startup business, Cure Genetics Co. Ltd. (Cure Genetics), has deeply impressed BioDiscover with its interdisciplinary “post-80s” CEO, R&D transformation team consisting of alumni from Yale University, MIT and other renowned universities, and strategic cooperation with Thermo Fisher Scientific, GENEWIZ and other industrial giants within two years of inception.
From Tsinghua University to Yale University, from academic realms to the industrial circles, Dr. Xu Yuanyuan, CEO of Cure Genetics, has just started his journey in entrepreneurship.
In 2004, Dr. Xu was recommended as a candidate of Academician Rao Zihe at Tsinghua University for the doctorate program from Nanjing University Base Class. He told BioDiscover, “Academician Rao is one of the first scientists to study abroad and return to engage in structural biological studies and has been dedicated to interpretation of protein three-dimensional structure and description of its biological functions. As the structural biology involves multiple disciplines, I crossed the boundary for the first time from ‘mathematical physics’ to ‘biological physics’ during my Ph.D studies.”
Following his doctorate award in 2009, Xu continued with his studies at Yale University on DNA damage repair, tumorigenesis related protein structure and functions. During this period, he made the second leap from “biological physics” to “biological chemistry”, and moved further towards the biomedicine field.
After completing his studies at Yale University, Dr. Xu responded to an invitation by Dr. Wang Peng to join the novel drug discovery platform newly built by Yabao Pharmaceutical under the 1000-Talent Plan. During this tenure, he undertook development of novel drugs and pre-clinical biological evaluation of two Category 1.1 small molecule drugs.
For Dr. Xu, the experience at Yabao not only enabled him to get familiar with the process of new drug discovery, but also helped him understand the importance of international cooperation in the enterprise development. “I have always appreciated the valuable experience at Yabao,” he said, “Dr. Wang Peng is an elite R&D senior executive. He taught me that running a business requires not only hard work but also foresight to effectively integrate resources to explore the inevitable booming development of global drug discovery in China.”
In July 2016, Dr. Xu established Cure Genetics in Suzhou. He shared with BioDiscover his experiences leading to the startup.
In January 2013, Zhang Feng, Cong Le et al at Broad Institute confirmed in Science for the first time that CRISPR technology can edit the genome of mammalian cells, opening the door to the widespread application of this gene editing technology in life sciences.
“Dr. Cong Le and I had the same mentor at Tsinghua University and have kept close communications during my studies in the United States. After the paper was published, we thought it was a great opportunity. But more studies and breakthroughs were to be made for CRISPR technology, including the safety of off-target effect, editing efficiency in animals or human beings, maturity of delivery tools, among others. Therefore we felt a lot still needed to be done before the technology is industrialized,” Dr. Xu recalled.
In the following two years, they closely observed the application and development of CRISPR. Meanwhile, they continuosly analyzed the Chinese market, policies, talents and capital environment's ability to provide the gene editing companies with an agreeable environment. In July 2016, Dr. Xu grasped the opportunity to establish Cure Genetics when all conditions aligned perfectly.
Cure Genetics’s founding process is clear.
In terms of product arrangement, Cure Genetics has established the world leading medical-level CRISPR gene editing and delivery platform and focuses on the development of CRISPR innovative applications in the novel drugs and diagnostics fields. On one hand, it will maintain its core values and focus on gene editing technology based drugs and therapies to promote release of novel drugs; on the other hand, it will expand applications of high precision identification ability of gene editing technology, establish molecule diagnostics technical platform and promote development and industrialization of innovative products.
In the field of growing its talent pool, Cure Genetics has not only introduced scientists from Tsinghua University, Harvard University, Yale University, National University of Singapore and other top class research institutes across the world but also lured professionals with rich experiences in pharmaceutical manufacturing, R&D management to establish a team with strong academic strength and rich development experiences.
As for external cooperation, Cure Genetics has recently reached a strategic cooperation agreement with Thermo Fisher Scientific, a global leader of scientific services. Both parties will jointly establish a gene editing R&D center and explore the liquid biopsy market by taking advantage of their respective technical strengths and market resources.
“The cooperation between Cure Genetics and Thermo Fisher Scientific is not limited to a single product, but cover the whole gene editing field. Our Gene Editing R&D Center is actually a translational medicine platform. We plan to introduce strong scientific teams to join the platform, double down on development of gene editing products with great potential.” Dr. Xu said.
Relying on strong scientific research strength and first class resource platforms, Cure Genetics has successfully carried out its R&D projects. Currently it has launched the world’s first clinical trial of a new drug discovery project and the diagnostic product has entered the product optimization stage. Meanwhile, the company has submitted applications for three invention patents and eight patents for utility models.
“Our goal currently is to expand our talent pool, establish the product pipelines, introduce more partners and promote viable projects to the clinical trials.” Dr. Xu noted.
In the interview, he told BioDiscover that the CAR-T therapy project has entered the clinical trial. Specifically, Cure Genetics uses the gene editing technology to edit T-cells of healthy providers (other than the patients’) so as to prepare a large quantity of CAR-T cells for different patients, i.e., universal CAR-T (UCAR-T).
Unlike autologous CAR-T therapy, UCAR-T can realize mass production and remain unaffected by the patients’ T cell quality. This significantly reduces the treatment costs and the need to prepare CAR-T separately for each patient, realizing the transformation from “customized service” to “industrialized product”. In this way the drug's availability can be significantly improved to really “benefit the general public”.
Cure Genetics’s UCAR-T project has drawn attention from relevant authorities and has been approved as an important national scientific and technological project. Dr. Xu has more insights on promoting UCAR-T industrialization.
He said, “Today CAR-T sector has aggressively grown in China. But as an emerging sector, the production process and systems vary among different companies. The quality standards based on their respective research results and clinical data differ too. Therefore, it is difficult to establish unified industrial standards. UCAR-T, as a real industrialized drug, can gradually eliminate these differences and eventually establish a series of unified industrial quality standards.”
He also emphasized that quality is the core of T-cell drug production standards. From a long-term perspective, only by establishing a large-scale production platform and a series of drug quality standards can the sector embark on a routine and fast lane development.
Actually since its establishment, Cure Genetics has committed to develop a set of scientific and widely accepted T-cell drug quality standards. It has taken upon itself to provide a large quantity of convictive experimental data to the regulator to promote formulation and promulgation of such standards. Moreover, Cure Genetics also expects more companies to join the conversation and pool efforts to contribute towards industrial development.
“We are willing to share the T-cell drug quality standards with the whole sector,” said Dr. Xu, “As an R&D oriented company, we are obliged to push the industry forward.”