“My uncle who has Stage 4 lung cancer can finally go back to driving his taxi because of immunotherapy,” said Ng Choon Peng, co-founder and CEO of Singapore biotech company ImmunoScape.
Triggering the body’s immune system to kill cancer tumour cells is emerging as a promising therapeutic approach to combating cancer, he explained.
Therefore, when his co-founder and COO, Dr Alessandra Nardin, introduced him to immunologist Evan Newell and postdoctoral research fellow Michael Fehlings from the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) under A*STAR and suggested the possibility of collaboration, he immediately agreed to it.
Newell currently serves as the co-founder and Advisor while Fehlings is the Director of Scientific Affairs.
“We are providing the immune landscape, thus the name ImmunoScape,” Ng explained to Vulcan Post over the phone.
Sharing more about his background, 49-year-old Ng said that he holds an MBA from University of Michigan’s Ross Business School and an Economics degree from the London School of Economics.
“I worked in [pharmaceutical giant] GSK’s Philadelphia office and later in the Bay Area with Johnson and Johnson in the marketing function, before returning to Singapore to “carry the bag” in Janssen-Cilag,” he added.
He was then headhunted to be the CEO of Asia for LEO Pharma, a pharma company headquartered in Denmark.
He grew the operations of LEO Pharma in 15 markets across Asia, including China, Japan and Korea.
“In a lunch with the Chairman of A*STAR, Lim Chuan Poh (his ex-boss in the Singapore Armed Forces) persuaded me to join A*STAR to contribute to translating technology to the clinic and to the market,” said Ng.
He was convinced and joined the A*STAR Biomedical Research Council as their Senior Director, where “he was passionate about shaping the biotech ecosystem and tried to identify gaps and address issues”.
He went on to secure the funding to set up today’s Experimental Drug Discovery Centre (EDDC) in A*STAR.
After its conceptualisation in 2017, the ImmunoScape team bootstrapped themselves for the first 18 months.
“We slept in low-cost hotels and homes each time we travelled [for business]. We chased the project payments daily and ended up taking a loan on personal guarantee when our combined contribution almost ran out while actively pitching for funds to replenish our account.
“There is a Chinese saying “万事起头难”, which means, “everything is difficult at the beginning”. It was definitely tough in the beginning when we were starting out. We had to assemble resources from all the co-founders to help fund the seed round when we started the company.”
Today, the biotech startup specialises in high-dimensional immune profiling.
In other words, they study what T cell populations are actually doing and how they change as they respond to specific pathogens – bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease.
To put it simply, a T cell is a type of white blood cell that acts like soldiers who search and destroy the targeted invaders.
ImmunoScape works with global biopharma companies and research groups to help discover novel biomarkers, uncover the impact of candidate drugs on the immune cells, and discover novel drug targets in cancer, infectious diseases and autoimmune diseases.
The company licensed the intellectual property exclusively from A*STAR and further developed the applications to help speed up the drug development process for partner companies.
“ImmunoScape differentiates by using unique reagents that are produced by the team, by tapping on the downstream pipelines for data analytics developed by our bioinformaticians that are loaded on cloud so as to uncover deep immunological insights,” said Ng.
They raised S$3 million from their first funding led by University of Tokyo and subsequently raised US$11 million (S$15 million) in their second round of funding led by Anzu Partners and Edge Capital.
Prior to Covid-19, 90 per cent of their work was on cancer, which is the second-leading cause of death in the world.
“One in three people will have cancer at some point of time in their lifetime. Most people will know som…