Founders Spotlight: Gene Modulator Therapeutic

Editor's note:

Student Venture Associate Grace Kim had a chance to virtually sit down with TRx cohort member and Scientific Director of the Harris Wang lab, Kristin Beiswenger. The project team (led by Dr. Wang) are developing a platform technology for an orally delivered programmable gene modulator therapeutic based on research from several departments and centers at Columbia.

Grace Kim
June 18, 2020

Grace Kim: Tell us about your team, how did it get started?

Kristin Beiswenger: DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) put out a request for proposals for a very exciting concept. We were lucky to have world-class experts who had the expertise that the project needed here all at Columbia. Professor Harris Wang, our lead PI, is an expert in synthetic biology and genome engineering. Professor David Brenner and Professor Sally Amundson are experts in gene expression responses to radiation, Professor Alex Chavez is the inventor of our CRISPR activation and repression technology while Professor Kam Leong is a pioneer in nonviral gene delivery. Altogether, we make an amazing team.

Grace Kim: Tell us about your focus, what are you building/researching?

Kristin Beiswenger: We are developing a platform technology for an orally delivered programmable gene modulator therapeutic. Our proof-of-concept for this technology is a pill that protects the body from ionizing gamma radiation. Through the CRISPR/Cas gene modulator, the pill will activate the innate defenses of the body quickly by triggering protection and regeneration of intestinal cells as well as the regeneration of blood cells in the bone marrow.

Grace Kim: Why did you choose to join TRx accelerator?

Kristin Beiswenger: From Day 1, DARPA pushed us to meet ambitious milestones for our regulatory planning and commercialization. Joining TrX was our quickest way to tap into the great resources and network of Columbia and NYC. We love the mentorship amongst the Executives in Residence (XIR) but also enjoy being able to learn from other teams about their processes and experiences..

Dr. Harris Wang

Grace Kim: What are the biggest challenges you have faced since forming your team/startup?

Kristin Beiswenger: I think the biggest challenge we’re facing right now are issues that have risen from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has shut down a lot of our wet lab efforts but we have been able to focus ourselves instead on our computational efforts.

Grace Kim: What is the biggest lesson you have learned since joining TRx? What are the next steps for your company/research?

Kristin Beiswenger: If you’re thinking it’s way too early to join a bootcamp with your idea you’re actually probably right on time. I think the best advice we got is to not wait to perfect your technology and try to fix every technical and scientific issue before working on the regulatory and commercialization efforts because these can be developed in parallel. We definitely thought we were too early to join but having a conversation with people at TRx made us realize that we were not early especially given our interest in commercialization. Our next steps are to have an in-vivo capability demonstration that assesses radiation protection at cellular and organ levels in mice.

Grace Kim: What type of support/partnership are you currently seeking?

Kristin Beiswenger: We are looking to hire a regulatory consulting firm with expertise in gene therapy products that can guide us through an INTERACT meeting with the FDA and then the IND process. After our IND application is successful, we’ll be seeking funding partners and investing partners for the clinical trials.