*** This interview was conducted and written by Anja Brunner, and edited by Front Line Genomics ***
Ask Liselotte Brix what drives her as a scientist, a mother of two teenagers, and the Chief Scientific Officer of Immudex will answer without hesitation: “to engage in bettering things”.
A trained immunologist with experience in academic research, Liselotte entered the biotech industry because she wanted to contribute directly to improving the world. That drive permeates everything she has done – from active involvement in community organizations and school boards to founding Immudex in 2009.
Immudex provides products and services for precision immune monitoring. The Dextramer® technology is at the core of their portfolio of high-quality solutions that empower researchers and developers of immunotherapeutics and diagnostics to unravel the complex actions and interactions of cells in the immune system. Liselotte heads up a team of scientists that use their unique experience within immunology, reagent, and assay development to push the boundaries of how the immune system is probed and coaxed into tackling cancer, infection, transplantation, and autoimmunity.
In this interview, Liselotte discusses how Immudex finds itself at the forefront of a paradigm shift sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the role of Immudex solutions in bridging the multiple facets of unravelling immunity.
What motivated you to found Immudex?
My priority has always been to engage in bettering things. I joined the diagnostic company, Dako, after time in academia, and connected with a colleague – Jørgen Schøller – over a shared interest in T cells and using the immune system to address diseases. Together with Henrik Pedersen, we spun out Immudex in 2009. The timing was tough with the global recession, but we were spurred by the fascinating idea of coaxing immune cells into becoming therapeutic and diagnostic agents, and the knowledge that our technology pushed the boundaries of what could be done in identifying these disease-specific immune cells. At the time, immunotherapy was in its infancy. Its current explosive advancement has been a validation of our efforts. My contribution to this journey was to lay out a roadmap for the development of our technologies, finding new ways to apply and improve them.
Every technology has a “creation story”. What is the story of Dextramer®?
Jørgen Schøller (co-inventor of the Dextramer® technology) and I realized that our employer’s Dextramer® technology was tangential to its business but had huge potential to elucidate the role of disease-specific cells in the immune response. Immudex products are built on the avidity and stabilizing effect of Dextramer® and are designed to look deeper into the cellular constituents of the immune response with heightened sensitivity, large-scale multiplexing capacity, or with single-cell granularity. We enable our users to conduct decisive research at the antigen-specific level, addressing questions about the role of immune cells in specific diseases or in response to specific pathogens. That antigen-specificity within a given disease setting is crucial to the development of good therapeutics, good diagnostics, and a good understanding of disease progression.
Are certain application areas particularly active and exciting right now?
Today, our product portfolio addresses specific diseases, offering detailed characterization of T and B cells, even when these are in low numbers or have very low antigen affinity. Researchers can also customize their own reagents, which fosters innovation and the exploration of uncharted areas of immunology. Our high-quality products are designed to bridge the various investigative lines towards understanding immunity and disease. We enable examining antigen-specific recognition of immune cells via flow cytometry, and with our dCODE® technology scientists can vastly expand their probing scope to characterize not just one or a few cellular cell types but the full complexity of a disease-specific immune response.
We have products for in situ staining to add tissue-level localization information to the picture. Finally, we’ve partnered with genomics and multi-omics platforms, like the 10x Chromium and BD Rhapsody™ Systems, to dive into the cells and connect antigen-specific information with genomic signatures. Looking into the future, we want to cover the complete workflow from lab to clinic. So, we will expand our collaborations with diagnostic and therapeutic companies to help improve and speed up their development processes. We are also designing kits and assays that address relevant indication-specific needs. For example, we are currently expanding our portfolio to detect any T cell in the world! That is, we aim to cover most HLA alleles present in the global population. We are also developing new tools for nonconventional T cells, like iNKT and MAIT cells.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted biotechnology tremendously. Is that the case for Immudex?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought us to the edge of a paradigm shift. We have witnessed a transfer of knowledge from cancer immunotherapy to vaccine design and production – a merger of two areas that didn’t overlap before the imminent need for potent, widely available vaccines. The BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are good examples. Vaccine developers have expanded their sights beyond antibodies to include immune cells, and they are learning to convert an understanding of cellular immunity into good, broad-coverage and long-lasting vaccines. Immudex will catalyse that learning curve with tools to guarantee the safety and efficacy of novel vaccines, as well as a full understanding of the protection these vaccines elicit. To me, however, the real paradigm shift is that now we really want to know what happens in the immune system. That’s exciting, and that’s where Immudex can contribute.
Thinking of developments in advanced treatments like CAR T-cell therapies, what is the role you anticipate for Immudex?
This space is a perfect fit for Immudex. Developers can use our solutions for the quality control and standardization of cellular therapies – not just CAR T-cell but also other T-cell therapies. Both are critical aspects to make cellular therapies more viable at a wide scale. Additionally, the high sensitivity of Immudex tools allows a very granular characterization of cell populations in a batch, so developers can boost the frequency of the most effective cells, thereby reducing the overall number needed in a dose. Finally, the safety of the therapy can be evaluated at high resolution to assess specificity and prevent cross-reactivity. This can also expand our definition of cellular therapies to include transplants and pose the option of using a blood transplant to, for example, bestow immunocompromised patients with the ability to combat a virus. Dextramer® solutions are well positioned to help answer questions like, “Has virus-specific immunity been restored in the host after transplant, and can such immunity be transferred with the graft?” The possibilities are far-reaching.
Share your thoughts about where Immudex will be in 10 years.
We want to be at the forefront in antigen-specific immune monitoring as a provider of solutions allowing scientists to understand, measure and use antigen-specific immunity in the diagnostic and immunotherapeutic setting. In ten years, we will be much, much bigger and we will have moved from being a reagent provider to being a solution provider within research and diagnostics. Most importantly, we will continue to be a key partner of creative enterprises – research and commercial – looking to decode immunity and take advantage of T cells and B cells in combating cancer, infectious disease, and autoimmunity.