Serimmune CEO Noah Nasser and CTO John Shon discussed the capabilities of the immune intelligence startup intended to aid in the development of diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics.
What is Serimmune?
Serimmune is an immune intelligence company devoted to placing the power and complexity of personal antibody response in the hands of consumers, patients, clinicians and researchers. Serimmune’s proprietary technology identifies and exploits the universe of relationships between antibodies and antigens. The company’s proprietary technology, Serum Epitope Repertoire Analysis (SERA), provides a holistic view of an individual’s functional antibody repertoire, to identify the diverse immunogenic factors in health and disease.
The company’s platform combines a novel, random bacterial display peptide library with next generation sequencing, machine learning, and custom bioinformatics to reveal the many diverse antigens stimulating immunity. Serimmune’s Human Immunity Map is a growing database of immune interactions that can be interrogated to inform the development of multiplex diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics.
Why did you join this company?
Noah: I’ve been in biotech, specifically in diagnostics, for over 25 years, gravitating towards companies and technologies that I felt could transform healthcare. Opportunities to work on transformational technologies and services are rare. I am driven to improve diagnostic medicine across the board. By commercializing Serimmune’s technology and bringing it to market in a meaningful way, we have an opportunity to change the very nature of diagnostic medicine and to radically advance immune research.
John: I am trained in medicine, but I have always been intensely engaged with data. I’ve worked at large and small companies focused on data-driven technologies leveraging machine learning and AI, that have the ability to change our understanding of disease and thereby change the way we diagnose and treat disease. Immunology had always seemed to be a complicated field that needed a data-driven approach. Serimmune has the technology to measure all the proteins that the human immune system is responding to by using only a small amount of blood. The opportunity to create large databases and bring genomics and immunology together in a way that had never been done before is exciting.
What specific need/problem are you seeking to address in healthcare?
Noah: Critical information about human health resides in the functional antibody repertoire—the complete suite of antibodies that circulate within the body—but tools to interrogate this information have been inadequate to date. Serimmune was founded to meet this need. The human immune system is the best naturally occurring diagnostic and potential therapeutic tool in existence. If we can access information in the functional antibody repertoire with superior tools and scale, it would open up a world of knowledge about patient health.
Deep immunome information has incredible value to patients who are concerned about their immunity or health status. This is the real value of Serimmune and our technology. Giving everyone the ability to understand their personal immune response to live healthier lives is central to Serimmune’s vision. Ultimately, leveraging the functional antibody repertoire will transform healthcare.
What does your product do? How does it work?:
Noah: The backbone of Serimmune’s technology is a massive random, bacterial peptide display library. Starting with less than 50 microliters of sample, we bind circulating antibodies to the peptide library. The bound peptide sequences are then sequenced and the data analyzed with our proprietary algorithms which leverage cloud computing and advanced machine learning. Through this analysis, we translate patterns of peptides to conserved motif panels and from motifs to epitopes, epitopes to proteins and proteomes. Using our database, we can link immune epitope patterns to individual disease and across disease states. Because the library is random and not dependent on a specific target proteome, we can connect these patterns without an a priori diagnostic thesis and so can identify signals from oncology, autoimmune and infectious targets in the same sample in a single workflow.
Long term, much of our value lies in Serimmune’s database which contains the disease, demographic and other patient information as well as the generated epitope-level data. As our database grows with each new cohort of samples, so does our overall ability to draw conclusions from epitope level data in individual disease states, across diseases or across diverse sets of symptoms. These data linkages are a key component of our long-term strategy and value. Archived data is automatically updated each time new associations between epitopes and disease are made. This may help identify individuals who share a common disease signature in their immune profile.
John: As Noah mentioned, the technology is based on a 10 billion random peptide library with which we can use to look for anything and everything that could impact someone’s immune health—the viruses we’ve fought, response to the medications we’ve taken, and environmental exposures. The real insights emerge once we have a baseline of a person’s immune map and then compare it to that of thousands of other people in the Serimmune database. That’s where diseases like cancer antigens or markers of an autoimmune disease can be revealed. We are working on methods where we can start with a known proteome and find epitopes and antigens that are significant for that proteome because we have that large database with multiple and diverse cohorts.
Is this your first healthcare startup? What’s your background in healthcare?
Noah: I have been in healthcare for more than 25 years. I spent the first half of my career at Quidel, an immunodiagnostics company in San Diego. I began as a lab technician and eventually transitioned into sales, marketing and leadership roles with the company. Quidel was incredibly entrepreneurial and allowed me an opportunity to to grow and learn rapidly.
In 2011, I joined Verinata, one of the first companies to commercialize non-invasive prenatal screening based on cell-free DNA technology. It was my first experience leading the commercialization of a truly transformational product and an incredible opportunity to prove the value of disruptive healthcare technology.
The team at Verinata was really great;I learned so much from them about leadership, teamwork and the challenges in commercializing novel technologies in our current healthcare landscape.
After Verinata was acquired by Illumina, I spent time in a few other startups in commercial leadership roles before joining Counsyl, where I worked on transformational systems designed to apply what we knew about reimbursement, work flows and detection technologies to improve both physician and patient experiences. Counsyl gave me a true appreciation for the importance of systems and workflows in bringing technology to market in healthcare.
Prior to joining Serimmune, I was Chief Commercial Officer at Human Longevity, where I gained meaningful consumer experience as well.
John: After completing my residency in internal medicine, I completed a post-doctoral fellowship in biomedical informatics at Stanford. I went on to work in a number of large and small companies where the emphasis has really been on developing large translational medicine data stores and applying computational methods to high-throughput genetics, genomics, cheminformatics, and clinical data for drug discovery and development. I worked for a decade at Roche and Johnson & Johnson as a VP leading transformational informatics teams, and then spent several years as a VP at Illumina to help refine their population-scale sequencing, variant calling and variant interpretation platforms for rare disease and cancer. The team I built there also made great strides in applying deep learning to large cohorts to predict pathogenic variants and splice site variants at the individual level.
Serimmune attracted me because of the unique opportunity to bring genomics and machine learning to immunology at scale with a high throughput, robust assay that has clinical-grade performance.
Who is your customer? How do you generate revenue?
Noah: Today, we apply our technology exclusively in research markets, partnering with pharmaceutical companies and academic researchers to better describe antibody antigen interactions in specific diseases. Many of these projects are bespoke collaborations. Most recently, we have launched a standardized COVID-19 specific application for our technology which we believe will accelerate therapeutic and vaccine development particularly with new variants being described.
We have been evaluating various strategies for commercializing our platform in clinical care. As we have formalized our go-to-market strategy in the clinical space, we recognized the challenges our technology presents to current care paradigms. Today’s diagnostics market operates in a very linear fashion: a single test, a single CPT code, a set of diagnostic criteria and hopefully an answer. This can lead to excessively long diagnostic odysseys for patients with diverse symptoms or complex disease.
With Serimmune’s unbiased and random library approach technology, we have the potential to test a universal set of targets based on symptoms without a prior diagnostic thesis and proceed to the root cause very quickly. In other words, because we use a random library and an unbiased approach, we are getting information without having to say, “I think you have X disease and I will test you just for that.” This is simply not how physicians are used to prescribing care or how laboratories are reimbursed for it.
We see two key trends in our market. First as a consequence of the ongoing pandemic, we have seen an elevated focus on the importance of immunity at the patient and consumer level. Secondly, individuals are playing a more significant role in their care and are paying more attention to laboratory diagnostic tests to assist in living healthier lives. Through our preliminary market research we have demonstrated that Serimmune’s technology may appeal directly to consumers who have concerns about their immune system, like those with an autoimmune disease, Lyme Disease, or chronic fatigue syndrome just to name a few. These are people who are engaged in their own healthcare and have an ongoing interest in their immune status. Of course this hinges on our ability to provide relevant, high value, clinically-actionable information in an easy to understand digital format.
John: Using Serimmune’s technology, we can look at many factors in immunity at one time and monitor appropriate responses longitudinally. We can understand how the immunome changes over time, for example in response to vaccines or treatments, and we can also compare an individual’s immune response to that of other individuals in our database with similar conditions. Putting this information into context will be critical for individuals as they try to understand their health.
One of the most profound uses for our technology is determining whether a person is suffering from fatigue or joint pain where tick-borne disease is a key differential diagnostic consideration. We have one of the best platforms for assessing the antibody response to tick-borne pathogens. Serimmune’s technology will also benefit customers who are concerned about autoimmune disease, myalgic encephalitis / chronic fatigue syndrome, or even COVID long hauler syndrome, and want to support research into how their immune response changes over time.
Do you have clinical validation for your product?
Noah: Scientists at Serimmune have published a number of papers documenting the performance of our technology in specific applications like tick-borne diseases, COVID-19, neglected tropical diseases and even cancer. We hope to publish many more in the near future further validating our clinical efficacy and performance.
So far, in a research environment, we have validated performance for more than 50 targets spanning infectious and autoimmune disease as well as oncology, with more being added. In the coming year, we are planning the launch of our CLIA lab. We will use a consumer-initiated physician directed model, with clinical staff that help facilitate testing and put results into context to help patients understand their information.
The future is exciting. Our researchers are working with partners around the world to validate our signals on orthogonal platforms, potentially to port our technology onto near patient platforms for underserved markets. Additionally, discoveries from our database may prove important to pharmaceutical partners as biomarkers of response or therapeutic candidates.
John: SERA is special in that we have demonstrated in multiple conditions that we can achieve clinical-grade performance with a high-throughput assay. With a data-driven approach, we have repeatedly identified antigens and epitopes that have previously been described in the literature that have clinical relevance. One of the ultimate long-term benefits that we’re seeing with this database is with clinical disease associations. For example, in a data-driven way, we find that multiple infections are associated with each other, confirming known geographic epidemiology or confirming known sharing of infectious disease vectors. Serimmune has the potential to really disrupt and change medicine, not only because of the clinical applications but because of the discoveries that we’re going to make about disease associations in populations, between infectious disease, autoimmune disease, and cancer, where the humoral immune system is central to disease understanding.
At what stage of development is your lead product?
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