Antiverse is building a world-first computational antibody drug discovery platform to predict antibody-antigen binding and provide antibody drug candidates in one day.
Co-founder Dr Rowina Westermeier has a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Cambridge in cell-free protein synthesis and is using this cutting-edge technique for the high-throughput generation of antibody fragments. She previously worked as a protein synthesis scientist for drug development for the contract research organisation Domainex.
We sat down with Rowina to talk about why she entered the competition, what impact it’s had and what’s next for Antiverse.
What made you apply for the Accelerate@Babraham programme?
The most important thing for us was the mentoring, both scientific and business, but especially the scientific mentoring. Having access to exactly the right people to mentor us, who have built companies like the company we are trying to build and have worked in companies like the company we are trying to build, was a big draw.
Which parts of the programme have you found most valuable?
What’s really unique about Accelerate@Babraham is that it is so tailored to what we actually need. Karolina (Dr Karolina Zapadka, Accelerate@Babraham’s Business Acceleration Manager) will ask beforehand whether a contact is useful, either from our own network or from the wider Babraham community. Having that very targeted approach is rare and really powerful, especially at the stage we’re currently at.
We have been part of other accelerators in the past where we’ve had a lot of advice on business issues, such as IP, but when you encounter very specific real-time challenges, you need to be able to access someone who has dealt with the same challenges and has succeeded in tackling and surpassing them. Accelerate@Babraham has allowed us to do that.
Is there a mentor that you have particularly enjoyed working with?
Where do I even start? There have been so many! I really enjoyed engaging with Peter Pack, CEO of Crescendo Biologics - he has so much experience and is very supportive but also very frank in giving that really honest feedback which is a gem to obtain.
Kai Stoeber from Shionogi has also been great, giving us very good feedback and input on working in partnership with other companies, how to obtain those and how to make them work to the benefit of everyone involved.
What has your experience been of the wider campus at Babraham?
It has been amazing. Babraham Research Campus is a community of incredible people and we have been really, really fortunate to be part of it. For example, I’ve met people from other companies on site for the first time in the cafeteria, had a quick chat and then met them again and kept those relationships going.
Before we arrived at Babraham, we’d heard that there was a fantastic network of people here, but it’s only when you’re actually based here, that you get to experience it first-hand.
It’s a powerful campus; the accelerator has acted as a gateway for us, facilitating those first introductions, enabling us to make new connections and grow our network, which in turn will help our company to grow.
Can you describe the programme in three words?
It’s a tailored, powerful and supportive programme. It really does accelerate us and enable us to grow. It was a positive move for us to transition to an industry-based location and be part of the wider Cambridge cluster, to give the signal to the outside world that we are now a serious enterprise.
Are you planning to carry out any crucial work while you are in this three-month accelerator phase?
Yes, we are planning to carry out phage display experiments to generate data for our machine learning algorithm, funded hrough an Innovate UK grant - our new employee is currently setting that up.
Have you experienced measurable progress in the development of Antiverse whilst at Babraham?
One of the biggest moments we’ve had whilst at Babraham is that we have set up another pharma collaboration and a collaboration with the one of the ten biggest biotechs in Europe - that’s a big achievement I would say!
But some progressive things are more difficult to measure, for example there is a lot of focus and one-to-one support on pitching. The accelerator has really helped us refine our pitch and the messages we are sending to our customers.
Where would you like to see Antiverse in 12 months’ time?
We would like to be in a position where we had a fully functioning, well performing model that is approved by our first customers.
What have been your Accelerate@Babraham highlights?
Some of the progress made in the eight weeks can’t be put into measurable terms but we can feel it in the company.
Karolina has really challenged the teams and supported individuals - she has been amazing.
In short, Accelerate@Babraham has been a unique and invaluable opportunity for Antiverse. It has accelerated us and given us the opportunity to get feedback on our strategy from people who have actually done exactly what we are trying to do.
(+44) 1223 496 000
Babraham Bioscience Technologies Ltd
Babraham Research Campus
CB22 3AT, United Kingdom
01223 813 557