ENPICOM celebrating 5 years of innovation
Founded only five years ago in September 2017, today ENPICOM is one of the fastest-growing Data Science companies in the Netherlands and has been so for three consecutive years. In five years the ENPICOM team has grown to over 50 people, built a leading-edge software solution to contribute to the battle against deadly diseases like cancer and serves clients around the globe. Today, we look back at where we came from, and to which point the journey has taken us so far.
Worldwide, an estimated 19.3 million new cancer cases and almost 10 million cancer deaths occurred in 2020. And of course, the 19.3 million is all related to genetics, behavior and environmental factors, but the 10 million deaths is the number that can be lowered by bringing leading-edge technology to the field of drug development.
Thus, on the first of September in 2017 a company was born based on the idea to contribute to the quest for even better immunotherapies. This, in the fast innovating and rapidly growing field of analyzing the vast amount of data generated by the different ways of sequencing B- and T-cell repertoires.
As Jos Lunenberg (co-founder and CEO) puts it: “We want to empower biopharmaceutical companies and eventually doctors to make the adaptive immune system an even stronger weapon in the battle against deadly diseases like cancer.”
“It is all about getting the right people in the bus and then drive the right direction”, Nicola Bonzanni (co-founder and Chief Product Officer) adds. We have been very fortunate in attracting top experts from around the globe from the early days onwards. They joined us from top research institutes like, the Netherlands Cancer Institute, Erasmus Medical Center, Karolinska Institute, MIT and many more. Now, 5 years later we have a team of over 50 experts with 18 different nationalities who jointly research, develop and commercialize a leading-edge technological solution, warrant professional operations, a happy team and customers and financially sound business approaches.
The Product Journey
The idea to start our company was born by the interest shown by Kite Pharma Europe in analyzing this type of data to support their T cell-based target discovery research. Additionally, early scientific and market research showed a wealth of opportunities to strengthen immunotherapy development across the different phases. Supported by a governmental early phase loan on innovation (VVF) we started building our team and product. Seven subsidies (EU, NL and regional), an Innovation Credit (IK), three investments rounds, and the revenue generated after finding our first true product-market fit allowed us to grow the team and expand the product over time.
Initially, we anticipated that user-friendly tools to analyze and visualize immunomics data, the receptor repertoires from T and B cells, were sufficient to start serving our target markets. Soon we learned that these needed to be combined with a flexible data management system, resulting in version 1.0 of our IGX Platform. However, in 2019 we had to conclude, that even though our IGX Platform was a very powerful data management solution, each application in immunotherapy discovery and development required its specific analysis and visualization. It became our company’s transition point.
It costs an average €2.5 billion to bring a drug successfully to market and 43% is spent in the discovery and pre-clinical stage according to research performed by DiMasi in 2016. Technologies that can make even minor adjustments to improve this can have a massive impact on the overall cost and time to develop new drugs.
After thorough market research we decided to build a first fully tailored vertical on our platform to strengthen candidate discovery and selection, as part of the antibody discovery process. Out of the top 10 best-selling drugs five are therapeutic antibodies. Besides, the market was opened by other vendors already and due to the introduction of modern sequencing technologies like, Next-Generation bulk and Single Cell Sequencing, there was a true need for better data analysis products. To warrant a good product-market fit extensive product discovery research was done – we interviewed over 75 experts from more than 50 organizations, in the different market segments and collected all the pain points, challenges, needs and desires related to this specific field. In parallel, we set up a solid and professional product management and development process.
We learned that the aim of the game is to select a small diverse set of antibodies with the best binding characteristics, as these correlate mostly well with better clinical profiles, or higher response rates in patients. A moment of truth, as if you cannot identify your top binders at this stage, they are lost forever, and you will never bring the successor of one of the top 10 antibodies to market. Additionally, this is early-stage drug development, and a lot of money will be invested in further engineering and development of the selected candidates. You want to avoid banking your bucks on candidates with developmental issues, like instability, aggregation or reduced binding caused by glycation.
Our product discovery research revealed that a lot of prospects consider the – so-called liability analysis – of great added value, especially if we would incorporate a structural analysis tool based on 3D modeling, as developed by Oxford University. And so, we did. On January 2021, the first version of our Antibody Discovery Module (ADM) was launched. The ADM consists of a growing number of Apps to address all important pain points and challenges identified in the market. Besides, it set a new standard in market when it comes to flexibility and ease-of-use.
If you look at our ecosystem in Antibody Discovery, our solution improves and accelerates “discovery” and “selection” of the right therapeutic candidates. Sourcing comes from different animals and main workflows are the hybridoma, Single B cell, and display technologies. Screening is done with a series of vendors as listed and after we are done, the selected candidates move to the optimization and engineering stage. In short, our in-silico workflow looks like this: Our main input is antibody sequencing data. We analyze, integrate data from other relevant domains, like affinity data from assays and the end result is identifying better therapeutic antibody candidates faster.
Up and until recent date, we could only support the Hybridoma and Single B Cell workflow, but since this summer the ADM has been complemented with another App called IGX-Track to also serve clients using the Display Technology. With this product expansion, the ADM version 5.0 became the most powerful and comprehensive solution in the market. And this is noticed by our target audiences. At this 5-year anniversary date we can proudly claim to already serve a series of top 25 big pharmaceutical companies, several premium Antibody Discovery CROs and a growing number of SMEs in biotechnology.
The ENPICOM team is in great shape. The journey ahead is one we look very much forward to. Our company purpose is clear, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to achieve all of our goals.
We are proud of all the developments made to our IGX Platform over the years and the fact of currently having the best-in-class repertoire sequencing data analysis solution as well as having passed the final ISO27001 audit with great success. But most of all, we are proud of and thankful to all the people that have contributed to this result during the first five years of our journey and the amazing team we currently have. The current atmosphere of our constructive collaboration and open communication can be best classified as unique.
Let’s not forget, our ultimate goal is to drive immunotherapy discovery and development to bring better and more affordable therapies to patients in need. At the same time, looking at the achievements of our team in 5 years there is ample reason to celebrate.