Sumi Biswas – Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Spybiotech
Spybiotech is utilising unique protein superglue technology, that enables them to develop safe and highly effective vaccines with greater ease and speed.
The company’s ambition is to leverage the benefits of its unique platform to address major human health challenges around the world.
Becoming a founder
Growing up in India, I became aware of the huge burden placed on so many people by infectious diseases which we still did not have effective vaccines for, despite vaccines being one of the most effective ways to prevent the morbidity and mortality caused by such diseases. My study of vaccines, particularly in the context of malaria which I had a strong interest in, brought me to the UK in 2015 where I studied for a master’s degree in medical microbiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Since 2016, I’ve been based at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute working on malaria vaccines, initially doing my PhD.
It was not until I started collaborating with Prof Mark Howarth that the idea to found SpyBiotech emerged. Mark was the one who discovered the superglue technology and applied it in seeking to generate malaria vaccines in 2016. The superglue technology consists of two parts known as SpyTag and SpyCatcher, with one part linked to the delivery platform and the other to the antigen or antigens. When we started seeing promising results with this proprietary technology, we decided to found Spybiotech with the aim of tackling different diseases through the creation of different vaccine delivery platforms. The company was formally founded in 2017 with seed funding from OSE and Google Ventures.
The most character-forming experience for me as a founder is …
Starting the company itself was undoubtedly challenging, especially when you are working to accelerate the development of treatments for diseases that affect millions of people all over the world. Going through the process of starting the company, demonstrating the potential of our medical technology and raising the funds from investors and then meeting those targets is challenging but we have achieved it successfully. We still have a long way to go to make these promising vaccines a reality but we are on the right path.
The business success I’m most proud of is …
Our biggest strength is our vaccine technology. Our technology enables us to generate and develop vaccine candidates for indications which have previously been too difficult to develop a vaccine for. Ultimately, we are a vaccine technology platform company and we now have a number of promising vaccine candidates using our platform technology, including a vaccine for Covid-19. We are also developing our own vaccine candidate for human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), a disease which was previously seen as too complex to develop a vaccine for.
Our Covid-19 candidate is now in human clinical trials and is being conducted by the Serum Institute of India with whom we have an exclusive global licensing agreement. For SpyBiotech, this is an opportunity to provide an accelerated proof point for our platform technology, alongside the other candidates which we are advancing into clinical development.
What is your ambition for SpyBiotech?
We want to see multiple different vaccine candidates using our SpyTag/SpyCatcher technology platform to be used to prevent infectious diseases and cancer. We want our technology to be used not just for challenging diseases that we know about but also any outbreak pathogens causing smaller outbreaks and future pandemics. The world now recognises that being ready and having technologies that can easily be used in these instances are of vital importance. That’s what makes our technology attractive. The potential for our vaccine platform technology to be used therapeutically for a number of indications is also very promising and that will be an area we will also actively explore.
What are some of the key challenges you face in the years ahead as a company?
Whilst the strength of our vaccine technology lies in its ability to create vaccines for indications which are hard to develop, as well as its ability to be developed at radical pace given its platform character, clinical trial processes and getting good scientific data before you can commercialise a candidate can be time consuming.
Initial results for our pipeline have been hugely promising, however, medical innovations in general, are slow to develop but hugely impactful for patients and commercially successful when they are concluded. This is always a challenge when you are dealing with infectious disease outbreaks because time is of the essence, but we believe our vaccine technology, with its “plug and display” solution that can generate vaccines rapidly and safely, has the potential to change that in the future.
Finerva supported my business vision by …
Finerva has been an excellent partner in helping us with our growth and successful funding rounds since the start of the business. We are particularly impressed because even though an outsourced partner, they always act and show the same degree of care as if they were an in-house part of the SpyBiotech team.
When not living life as a founder I love to …
I spend a lot of time at the university which I enjoy very much. I am a mother to a 3-year-old, and I love to travel when not busy with work.