It's been two years since we launched our successful crowdfunding campaign to kick off Remedy Plan. Can you believe it? We've been feeling a bit nostalgic, but also very happy with how much we've accomplished since then. So this quarterly update, we thought we'd take a look back at Remedy Plan's progress and give you some hints (at the bottom!) about what is ahead in 2018.
Though it's hard to say just what 2018 has in store for us, be on the lookout for future updates on using chemistry to improve our lead drug candidates, raising a Series A round of fundraising, hiring new team members, preparing patents, and navigating the FDA new drug application process.
All of the scientific discoveries I have been part of involved teams constantly bouncing ideas off each other, sometimes arguing, occasionally agreeing, only to prove ourselves wrong or suggest a completely new direction later—but always advancing forward step by step, together. This is how science happens.
When Remedy Plan first opened our lab, it was a small windowless room. For the better part of a year I worked there by myself, doing the early genetic engineering required to build, test, and use our drug testing technology. Discussions with our scientific or business advisors were held mostly by phone. At times, I missed working in a bustling lab full of people working on many different projects.
One of the best things that has happened in the last few months is that we have dramatically expanded the community around Remedy Plan. Most importantly, we added a full time team member, Dennise (more about Dennise here), who has been a spectacular addition to the team. While taking the lead on our research program, she also adds her voice to our science and business strategies. She provides invaluable feedback, often pushing back on my assumptions and designing new ways to to test our hypotheses.
In addition to bringing Dennise on board, we have dramatically expanded the circle of scientists and biotech experts with which we collaborate. In Boston, we worked with a phenomenal group of scientists at Harvard Medical School’s drug screening facility to test more than 35,000 drugs (many thanks to Jen, Gary, Dave, Katrina, Richard, Rachel, and Stewart, and Jen). This team helped us work through our early assay work, which can be a frustrating stage in the screening process (see our last post on one of the issues we faced when working with robots!).
Without the help of the brilliant Harvard ICCB-L group, we might still be pounding our heads against this step (this is only a metaphor, Jen. I promise I wasn’t banging my head on any of the robots). We also started a contract with two talented medicinal chemists to prepare for in vitro and animal testing of our drug compounds (shout out to Matt and Dave).
On the business side, our admission into the Maryland Venture Mentor Program has connected us with three knowledgeable, local biotech leaders to mentor our company as we develop and execute our business plan (thanks to Sol, Chris, and Matthew for all the great advice). And even closer to home (or closer to the lab), the incubator we are a part of has expanded, bringing new companies into the Rockville facilities where our lab is based. Along with the existing neighborly labs in the building, we share equipment, reagents, and occasionally work together.
This is all to say that we’ve come a long way from working alone in a small windowless room! In fact, our lab itself has expanded into a neighboring space; we now work in TWO small and windowless rooms! More importantly, we are part of a growing community of scientists and businesspeople dedicated to scientific advancement. Our research program has not only accelerated, it’s also a lot more fun.
When asked what I do, I typically respond that I am a molecular biologist. But when asked what I do—as in what I do each day in the lab—I usually say that I mix tiny little drops of liquid with other tiny drops of liquid. On any given day, I am pipetting small measures of important liquids from one place to another, hundreds of times. Ah, the glamorous life of a scientist.
Thumbs of steel
Luckily, there are robots that are really good at quickly and accurately mixing tiny drops of water together. By working with the ICCB-Lab at Harvard, a world class drug screening facility, we were able to test thousands of super-tiny drops of liquid containing individual drugs (screening = testing lots of things quickly). With our engineered cancer cells and their robotics (plus a little training), we tested 40,000 drug candidates in just over a month. That is twenty times more drugs than we tested in our pilot screen.
An interesting and frustrating issue when working with tiny, tiny drops of liquid is that a small bubble becomes a really big deal. We often need to pipette measures as small as one or two microliters (that is 0.000001 liters), or about the size of a bead of dew. On this scale, a bubble might be just as big as the entire drop of liquid I’m trying to pipette.
This problem can be particularly troublesome when working with robots, which are programmed to do one task: pick up the contents of one container and mix it with the contents of another container. The robots may not identify that they’ve only transferred an air pocket from one container to another, rather than the sample. These tiny air pockets caused us to go back to our protocol and redesign our methods before we could move one. Who would have guessed that a little bubble in the sample would be such a big fly in the ointment?
Check out the robots in action in the short video below:
Thanks to the patient ICCB-L staff, we were able to establish a protocol to test tens of thousands of drugs, solving problems like the bubbles issue and many others that naturally arise along the way. We spent 6 weeks working with the Harvard lab and came home with reams of data to begin working through-something that makes us very happy!
We are very pleased to announce that we have hired Dennise A. De Jesús-Díaz as Remedy Plan’s Director of Scientific Operations!
Dennise will be providing project leadership for our scientific operations to ensure our drug development process continues to move forward efficiently. We are excited to bring Dr. De Jesús-Díaz on board and we know that her competencies in cell biology will be a key asset in our fight against cancer.
“Remedy Plan is excited that we recruited a rock star scientist from the National Institutes of Health to be our Director of Scientific Operations. Dennise has over a decade of experience in cell biology, genetics, and high throughput screening, and even has management training,” says Remedy Plan CEO Greg Crimmins. “She has stepped into Remedy Plan without missing a beat, and is already accelerating our research program.”
Dennise discovered science at an early age playing in the mountains of Puerto Rico. However, her scientific career started as an undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey where she participated in research programs both in Puerto Rico and in the United States.
After graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, Dennise participated in a post-bachelor internship at Tufts University in Boston, MA. Through this opportunity, she acquired crucial skills – like high-throughput development, screening, and candidate hit selection – that she now brings to the Remedy Plan mission.
Dennise holds a Ph.D. in molecular microbiology from Tufts University School of Medicine. While studying host-pathogen interactions as part of her doctoral thesis, Dennise became proficient in the fields of cell biology and cell cycle regulation. During her graduate studies, Dr. De Jesús-Díaz received numerous awards for her research including the National Research Service Award by the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases and the Biomedical Science Program Hope Scholarship.
As a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. De Jesús-Díaz gained invaluable knowledge in stem cell biology and in the development of human-derived structures that resemble whole organs, for which she received the prestigious NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence.
“I’m really excited to be part of the Remedy Plan team,” says Dr De Jesús-Díaz. “We can learn a lot by looking for alternatives in cancer treatment, but I really believe that Remedy Plan’s strategy would change the way we approach cancer”.
Working at Remedy Plan is not only scientifically exciting for Dennise, but also represents a personal goal, since she saw firsthand the devastating effects of the lung cancer that led to her grandfather’s death. In addition to her scientific interests, Dr. De Jesús-Díaz believes in the power of fostering future generations of scientists. She currently serves as an Adjunct Professor at George Mason University and as a S.T.E.M. mentor for the Next Scholar Program from The New York Academy of Sciences.
And get this! We didn’t even force her to say this:
“Greg [Crimmins] is a person with a great sense of humor, but more importantly I commend his capacity to think critically and listen to ideas. I respect his scientific inputs and his dedication towards bringing Remedy Plan to what it is today. I am sure our skills will complement very well to move Remedy Plan forward. We will be a great team”.