January 14, 2022

Member Spotlight: Neogene Therapeutics

Neogene is pioneering the development of next generation, fully individualized engineered T- cell therapies for a broad spectrum of cancers.

Dr. Linnemann, you were in the middle of completing your Ph.D. and the opportunity to start a biotech company arose. Why did you decide to take on this new challenge?

My academic research at the time was focusing on developing tools to genetically engineer T cells for the treatment of cancer. Working under the perspective of clinical application and industrial utilization was therefore already part of my work. A biotech company was an exciting opportunity to continue this work in a different environment and take responsibility for science I was passionate about from a business perspective.

Tell us what makes Neogene’s approach to T-cell therapy for cancer unique?

Neogene’s approach is novel as it delivers a tailored T-cell treatment containing a set of individual T-cell receptor (TCR) genes for each patient. These TCRs are engineered into patient-derived T cells, directing them toward neoantigens—mutated proteins found in cancer cells due to cancer-associated DNA mutations—in tumor cells with the goal of eliciting strong and durable responses in a variety of solid tumor indications. Our approach to cancer treatment has the potential to engineer large cell numbers with higher potency and aims to deploy T cells against multiple targets to potentially achieve deeper and more durable clinical responses. We have made tremendous progress to date, and we have aggressive growth plans to build a fully integrated cell therapy company from discovery to development.

What made you choose Los Angeles as Neogene’s home base in the U.S.?

Southern California—and Santa Monica in particular—has become a leading hub for cell therapy development over the last decade. With a vibrant and unique concentration of companies with expertise in the cell therapy space, it provides a strong base for recruiting exceptional talent, as well as world-class facilities necessary to continue our rapid growth in this highly specialized area of oncology.

What’s happened over the last year at Neogene and how have you led the charge?

Over the past year, Neogene raised $110 million in a Series A financing and kicked off a partnership with Twist Bioscience to accelerate our development capabilities by leveraging Neogene’s proprietary expertise in targeting tumor neo-antigens together with Twist’s DNA synthesis platform and product lines to develop personalized TCR therapies for patients with cancer.

We continued to grow our European headquarters in Amsterdam, and in the Spring of 2021, Neogene established our operational footprint in Santa Monica, California, including a 20,000-square-foot lab and office facility and an 18,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, which will be used for current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) manufacturing of our novel neo-antigen T-cell therapies.

In parallel, Neogene was able to expand its core leadership team with the appointment of Brent Pfeiffenberger, Pharm.D., MBA, as Chief Operating Officer, and Han Lee, Ph.D., MBA, as its Chief Financial Officer. Brent and Han bring tremendous operational expertise to the company to support our global expansion and development of our investigational therapies for a broad spectrum of solid cancers. Both join a leadership team that is tremendously experienced in the development of cell therapies.

We’ve heard that the corporate culture at Neogene is unique—what sets it apart and how have you helped shape it?

My goal is that the company is fully committed to innovation. As a team, we are looking to develop solutions for individualized medicine. This requires that our team is able to imagine novel solutions to some of science’s toughest challenges and then pursue a path toward implementation with tenacity. To achieve this, we aim to empower our team members to both voice ideas toward a solution and assume responsibility for decisions.

How have your most influential mentors over the years impacted your career?

My longtime mentor and Ph.D. advisor, Ton Schumacher, Ph.D., told me early on in my time in the research field that I would be ideally suited for a career in the pharmaceutical industry. At the time, I was a little shocked as I was in the midst of my research and getting my Ph.D. Looking back, Ton was completely right. Working with Ton has made a big impact on my career. After completing my Ph.D., we co-founded two biotech companies together. It is an absolute privilege to work with someone like Ton as it provides the opportunity to continue to learn from him every day.

A word of advice:

Identify and articulate top priorities and empower your team for maximum impact.

What are the most difficult obstacles you’ve faced in your role leading Neogene?

Being able to lead Neogene is a great honor and a tremendous experience that allows me to learn every day. One of the biggest adjustments for me was becoming the most senior executive of the company and the broad set of responsibility this role entails. This responsibility can feel immense at times, but I was fortunate to be able to rely on the advice of very experienced leaders like our Chairman of the Board, Dr. Franz B. Humer, who led Roche Holding for many years. His advice helped shape my leadership approach—specifically around the importance of identifying and articulating the appropriate priorities and how to empower my team for the most impact.

What advice do you have for those entering the life science industry?

Speaking from my own experience as a scientist who transitioned to industry, it is important to be able to balance scientific curiosity with focus on execution. Being a curious person at heart, I am fascinated by novel, daring ideas. However, as an industry leader, my responsibility is to ensure that innovation is developed vigorously and rapidly. Being able to not only conceive great ideas but also to effectively execute on them is one of the most important skills in my view.

Talk to us more about your collaboration with Twist Bioscience to create next-generation personalized T-cell therapies. What do you look for in a company when you’re considering a partnership?

At Neogene we pursue innovative collaborations to accelerate the pursuit of our mission. Neogene’s partnership with Twist Bioscience, a leading innovator in the synthetic DNA manufacturing industry, was driven by our shared passion for innovation and the fact that our technologies are very complimentary to each other.

Where do you see the most promise within the life science arena today?

Personally, I am very excited about how novel tools of precision genome engineering have impacted engineered cell therapies. It has substantially increased the possibilities for the use of T cells for the treatment of cancer, for example by using genetic engineering to overcome immunosuppressive mechanisms in the tumor microenvironment. Importantly, I believe the opportunity to deploy engineered T cells spans beyond cancer therapy, and holds great promise to treat infectious, as well as autoimmune diseases.