P | P | P – our chat with Elasmogen
We caught up with Caroline Barelle, the CEO of Elasmogen, as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. Elasmogen is progressing next generation biologics for inflammatory, autoimmune diseases and oncology.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Zoe @ADLIB: Hi Caroline, great to meet you! Please can you kick us off with an introduction to yourself and Elasmogen.
Caroline: I am Caroline Barelle, CEO of Elasmogen Limited. I have been in life sciences for a long time all the way from academia to small biotech to big pharma and then back to biotech, so I have had the privilege of viewing life sciences through a variety of lenses.
Elasmogen Limited is in the North East of Scotland in Aberdeen and was spun out of the University of Aberdeen in 2016. Our technology uses soloMERs, which are therapeutic biologics which can take many shapes and forms, the ones we are interested in are antibody like molecules. These originate naturally and come from the immune system of sharks and are a lot smaller than mammalian antibodies. What we are doing is using synthetic biology to recreate these binding domains invitro and isolating against multiple disease targets, the ones we are most interested in is oncology, autoimmune disease, and inflammatory disease.
Elasmogen a late stage pre-clinical company and has several soloMER candidates that are showing efficacy in models of human disease. We have collaborated with Almac Discovery in a programme called soloMER drug conjugate, where the soloMER targets the specific cancer cells and is a fused toxin that is taken in by the cancer cell and kills it. We are also working with Queens University in Belfast and Intract Pharma to develop orally delivered soloMERs.
Zoe @ADLIB: Can you share the story behind the origin of Elasmogen?
Caroline: The idea came from an initial piece of work that was conducted at the University of Maryland where they were looking back at the oldest ancestors who have an adaptive immune system, so produce antibodies (B-cells, T-cells). The oldest existing vertebrate which has the toolbox for an adaptive immune system is a shark (Elasmobranchii is where the name Elasmogen comes from). They discovered a variable novel antigen receptor which acts like antibodies inside the sharks and is a single chain that is 1/10th the size of antibodies and has the ability to bind into different parts of the target, so opens up new mechanisms. They can also be linked together to bind more than one target at any one time to intervene in complex disease pathways.
This technology was taken into a small biotech, that was spun out of the University of Aberdeen, which was acquired by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in the mid 1990’s, where I was the team leader. Then Pfizer bought Wyeth, but when Pfizer left the UK, the technology rolled back to the University of Aberdeen. We managed to get grant funding for 3 years and then spun out the company in 2016.
Zoe @ADLIB: Can you share some challenges you are currently facing?
Caroline: The biggest challenge that we have had with hiring is the geographic location of Elasmogen, as Aberdeen is not known for science, so here are no large clusters of scientists. However this landscape is changing through the work of Opportunity North East (ONE) who are championing the excellent life science companies we have in the region and are supporting the construction of a brand new bio-hub to consolidate companies into a fit-for-purpose incubator.
Zoe @ADLIB: What has been your approach to understanding and implementing product market fit?
Caroline: We have a lot of intel on the market and after a lot of analysis we decided to focus on the areas of oncology, autoimmune and inflammatory disease. We have engaged with clinicians to see what they would think would change the way they work and what would help patients. We believe that you should always be mindful of the ‘why’ and what and who you are doing it for.
Zoe @ADLIB: What challenges have you had to overcome to create Elasmogen?
Caroline: I would say money, as there is a struggle getting investment and with investment, we would be able to do a lot more.
Zoe @ADLIB: Investment can often be a challenge for start-ups & scale-ups. Do you have any piece of wisdom you could share around best approach?
Caroline: You need to be passionate, honest, and realistic about your technology. You need to be honest to your investors about the amount of money you need and the amount of impact your product can make. If you can, select the type of investors you want on board with your company as you want ones that support the ethos and culture of your company.
Thank you so much for your time.