Hybridize Therapeutics: developing new platform technology for anti-viral therapies
We met with Dr. Eric van der Veer, CSO and co-founder of Hybridize Therapeutics B.V., to discuss their being awarded a €250,000 loan from the NWO Take-off 2 program, gain insight into the plans of the company, and hear about their experiences of receiving funding application support from Catalyze.
Eline Vrijland (CEO) and Eric van der Veer (CSO). Photo from Hybridize Therapeutics.
An estimated 20% of kidney transplantation patients will experience BK virus-mediated complications within the first year post-transplantation, which carries a significant risk of graft failure or premature graft loss. BK-virus is present in a dormant state in 90% of the population and frequently becomes activated following kidney transplantation, causing the transplanted kidney to be (severely) damaged. Dr. Eric van der Veer, CSO and co-founder of the Leiden University Medical Center spin-off Hybridize Therapeutics B.V., is developing a platform technology for the treatment of BK virus-mediated kidney graft rejection.
Interestingly, Hybridize’s platform technology also shows great potential for the development of new viral therapies. Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, researchers are already anticipating the next viral pandemic. Hybridize aims to leverage their platform technology for rapid RNA therapeutic production, to respond faster when the next viral pandemic strikes humanity.
“Companies are still convinced that they can do it themselves, but Catalyze’s experience and expertise in grant writing is extremely valuable… Scientists often dream too big. Catalyze helps to make it realistic.” – Dr. Eric van der Veer
BK virus infection destroys 10% of all transplanted kidneys
More than 90,000 kidneys are transplanted every year. Following the transplantation patients require immunosuppressive medication to prevent the immune system from destroying the new kidney. However, the suppressed immune system provides a window of opportunity for BK virus, which resides in the kidney in a dormant state in 90% of all people. Van der Veer and co-workers discovered a novel RNA-based therapeutic compound that can effectively treat BK virus infection in end-stage renal disease patients after kidney transplantation.
The potential of Hybridize to rapidly develop new vaccines
The Hybridize platform is a flexible technology that can also be used to rapidly create RNA-based therapeutics. Eric explains, “RNA is incredibly flexible, allowing you to get started extremely quickly compared to other vaccine technologies. This is now evidently demonstrated with the new vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna, namely the RNA vaccines. Speed is essential to be able to quickly develop a new therapeutic, no matter what modality (drug or vaccine) that are effective against novel epidemic or pandemic-initiating viruses.
“COVID has made it clear that we as a world are not sufficiently prepared for viral pandemics. In such a situation, we need to make sure we have more options. As Hybridize, we don’t want to be a one trick pony that simply discovers one medicine that works for a certain disease. We want to be a platform that uses the lessons learned from existing viruses to challenge future viruses.”
Fuelling company growth with NWO support
Grants are a great way to build an early-stage company that can convince investors to take the plunge. After previously winning a Take-off phase 1 subsidy, Hybridize received a 1 year €250.000 loan from the NWO Take-off phase 2 program, which supports R&D performing universities and start-ups for a feasibility study or early-phase project. This financing plays a critical role in stimulating the utilization and further development of academic breakthrough discoveries.
Eric explains their approach: “We were able to use the Take-off 1 as the springboard to the Take-off 2. The €250K Take-off 2 loan enables us to reach an important milestone. As a start-up you have a lot of steps that need to be taken, such as a strong business plan and certain legal and business matters. You need to talk to experts and consultants to bring the business to the next level. A Take-off 2 loan provides you with the much-needed financial breathing room to get all of these aspects taken care of.”
Applying for funding as a company brings new challenges
The grant landscape is large and complex. In his long career as scientist and now CSO, Eric encountered these differences first-hand.
Eric says, “I have a lot of experience in applying for grants from scientific bodies. But when you start doing that as a company, you compete on a different level. Upon becoming a translational scientist at an academic hospital, I was quite successful in receiving grants geared towards developing a therapy for an unmet clinical need (BK virus). But when you are going to compete against companies, it is more about the total package. You need the combined expertise of a scientist and a business developer.”
Recognizing the critical role of the business component in grant writing for business, Eric concluded that some help with these aspects would be valuable. Eric describes how he found Catalyze: “Catalyze was recommended to me by an LUMC colleague. Since then, I have collaborated with Catalyze to write an NWO Take off 1 and now also our Take off 2.”
On grant success and next steps for Hybridize
Writing a winning grant is a complex endeavour. Catalyze possesses deep knowledge and expertise gained over 14 years – and almost €700 million in funding raised.
Eric explains his view: “Companies are still convinced that they can do it themselves, but Catalyze’s experience and expertise in grant writing is extremely valuable. Catalyze has the benefit of having gone down a path many times, and being able to extract from that process what works (and gets funded) and what doesn’t (and therefore fails to get funded). Also, Catalyze actively looks at the application from the perspective of the reviewer (panel). As a start-up you don’t have this experience. Scientists tend to think very complex in general. Catalyze knows how to bring the profession to simpler concepts, making something more feasible. Scientists often dream too big. Catalyze helps to make it realistic.”
Following the NWO Take off 2, Hybridize is now at the stage where they aim to finance the company through a combination of both dilutive and non-dilutive funding. Eric says, “The next step is to bring investors on board to bring Hybridize to the next level. But it’s important to never lose sight of the benefits of non-dilutive funding and the opportunity that it brings.”
Eric ends on a positive note: “The way I see it, Catalyze helps you increase your chances of taking the important next steps as a company.”
Visit the Hybridize Therapeutics website
Learn more about NWO grants