Jens Schwamborn of OrganoTherapeutics tells us about cutting-edge discovery and development targeting Parkinson’s disease.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jens Schwamborn: Thanks, all is fine.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded OrganoTherapeutics.
Jens Schwamborn: I had an academic career studying Chemistry and Biochemistry. I did my Ph.D. in Biology, and after some postdoc experiences, I started my own lab. At some point, I realized that it would be very difficult to bring therapy to patients in the academic context. Therefore, I started the first company. However, that one failed, and the business model was directed too much to services and hence was not scalable. Our current company, OrganoTherapeutics, aims at developing its own small molecule compounds for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
How does OrganoTherapeutics innovate?
Jens Schwamborn: We use a human patient-specific three-dimensional representation of the midbrain, the region affected by Parkinson’s disease. These are called brain organoids or mini-brains. These structures have the advantage that they nicely recapitulate some aspects of the human brain complexity as well as of the Parkinson’s disease pathology (when we derive them from patient-specific stem cells). Being able to reproduce aspects of the pathology puts us in the advantageous position to be able to screen for compounds that rescue this pathology in vitro. Our claim is that, since these models are so close to the actual patients, it is very likely that compounds working in brain organoids are also functional in the patient.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jens Schwamborn: Obviously, it affects our working routines. However, we adapted, and by now, we can confidentially say that we work as efficiently as before the pandemic.
Actually, in the end, it can also be an interesting business opportunity for us. There is more and more data showing that SARS-CoV-2 can infect the brain. Hence, we now have infected some of our brain organoids with the virus, and we test for compounds that specifically address the brain infection of SARS-CoV-2. That is a set of very exciting experiments.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jens Schwamborn: No difficult choices, but we certainly learned a lot about improving our organization skills and using digital tools to navigate.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Jens Schwamborn: We work a lot with SLACK, which works quite fine for us. Other than that, we use the usual video call tools that these days probably everybody is familiar with.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jens Schwamborn: There are few companies that use brain organoids and quite a lot who do drug development in Parkinson’s disease. However, I think we are rather unique in using specific midbrain organoids to address Parkinson’s. Additionally, we are really far advanced concerning the actual brain organoid technology as well as the computational analysis algorithms that we are using. Hence, we are rather optimistic that our position in the game is pretty strong.
Your final thoughts?
Jens Schwamborn: Thanks for asking us for this interview. We are currently in the middle of a fundraising campaign, and anybody interested is invited to get in touch.
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