Jacob Glanville features in the new Netflix series ‘Pandemic’, discussing the pioneering progress that he and his team at Distributed Bio have been making in the world of bioengineered medicine.
This week we sat down with Jacob Glanville, CEO of Distributed Bio, field leaders in advanced computational immunoengineering of biomedicines. Featuring in the new Netflix series ‘Pandemic’, a look into the teams that are fighting to prevent a global outbreak of disease, Glanville is a highly renowned expert with an incredible track record. With a PhD from Stanford, and having spent four years as a Principal Scientist at Pfizer, he left to found Distributed Bio. With Sarah Ives, Director of Influenza Centivax at Distributed Bio, the team is developing a new class of universal, utilizing pioneering computational technologies.“We use high throughput computational docking to try to help characterize how many unique epitopes might exist on the surface of a viral coat protein or a pathogen protein. Then, we also use computational methods to identify distinct elements of those diverse members of viral cost proteins from lots of different evolved versions of the same pathogen. And that’s the centerpiece of how our vaccine technology works. We co-administer a bunch of really different variants all at a low dose so that only the shared sites are essentially at a high enough dose to be responded to.”
This technique allows for Distributed Bio to create vaccines for almost any virus, at a fast pace, and in a safe environment. For example, with the recent outbreak of the SARS-derivative Coronavirus, Glanville is working in collaboration with US military and World Health Organization’s program allows the creation of ‘pseudo-virion’ versions of the disease that can be examined without posing a significant risk:“They take chicken pox, and flow over the outside of the chicken pox, the cost protein of a more serious virus, like the Coronavirus. So it behaves like a Coronavirus and it looks like one on the outside. Like the crunchy M&M shell is, is Coronavirus, but it’s got the soft gooey M&M chocolate of, of chickenpox. It’s not that dangerous. We are setting up a relationship with [the military] where we could use our antibody discovery library in conjunction with their pseudo-virion particles. We could rapidly discover antibodies against, SARS for instance, without the risk of bringing SARS into our lab.”
Their work, however, is not just limited to fighting viral diseases. One of Distributed Bio’s leading projects focuses on creating a universal antivenom to snake bites. With between 80,000 and 130,000 people killed each year by snake bites, the majority of whom live in third-world countries, the need for an easy access and affordable antivenom is high. “There’s around 550 snakes in the world and each one has 20 to 70 proteins. It seems like a huge number of proteins you’d have to target to hit all snakes. But, for me analyzing them, they all collapse down to like 10 different clusters and homologous groups that all snakes share.”Having discovered that a universal approach was both possible and realistic, how did they develop the antibodies needed?“Our team [led by Tim Friede, Director of Herpetology at Distributed Bio, Sawsan Youssef, Chief Science Officer, and Raymond Newland, Principal Scientist.] found a man who spent 17 years injecting himself with snake venom from all over the world, because he loves snakes, and we took his blood. We’ve been using lab methods plus computational methods to help identify a series of antibodies that can hit like a bunch of shared determinants.”
But, with a team that comprises of roles varying from Data Engineers and Data Scientists to Bioinformatics specialists, the ability to work together is essential. How does Glanville look to create a collaborative environment? “I actually try to cross-train people as much as possible. My feeling is, that the extent to which you can actually cross-train people, the less likely you are to encounter a series of like assumption errors. I think what happens is often down to miscommunication between people who are making errors in the cracks where they have both misunderstood what the other person needed and what the previous person was giving them. If people are able to take their colleagues’ expertise into question when they’re working, you’ve reduced some of that risk.”
Having grown up in Guatemala, Glanville is all too aware of the need for easily-available and effective vaccines, particularly as the Western world grows more wary of injections, largely due to the amount of misinformation that is currently circulating. But he understands that these concerns are often down to trust:“It’s hard to communicate an epidemiological recommendation to a global population and not make it one sentence. And so, the loudest sentence becomes ‘get no shots’. I’m hoping that a more effective shot makes the story go away. The problem currently with a flu shot is that it still only works half the time. And so people complain about it. I’m hoping that better vaccines and more reasonable communication will cause calmer minds to prevail.”As for any immediate concerns about the impact of the Coronavirus, he once again turns to the issues of accessibility: “Right now I worry more about Ebola. It’s a larger outbreak problem and it’s in an area that is poorly served. I think China is pretty good at locking down medical problems.”If you’re looking to build out your team with the industry’s best, get in touch with some of our expert consultants:For our West Coast Team, call (415) 614 – 4999 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For our Mid-West and East Coast Teams, call (212) 796 – 6070 or send an email to email@example.com.If you’re on the hunt for your next opportunity and want to join an innovative, world-leading company, we may have a role for you. You can find our latest jobs here.Pandemic is streaming on Netflix now. You can watch the trailer below.