From idea to impact: Creating drugs that matter
Apr 13, 2023
Joining Absci to live the dream of building a successful drug portfolio with maximum patient benefit
In a sense, Christine Lemke’s pharma career has progressed in the same direction she thinks about drug discovery itself: from finish to start.
“I have seen every single part of the pharmaceutical value chain during my career,” Christine says, “starting with the commercial side where I really got into this connection between drugs and drug delivery. I eventually found my way to proteomics, target validation, and even biomarkers — very early in the drug development pathway. So you might say I moved backward through the drug creation process.”
As Senior Vice President of Portfolio and Growth Strategy, Christine will put her understanding of the entire biopharma value chain to full use. She will develop Absci’s internal pipeline of assets and bring those assets and her R&D insights into partnered programs to create better biologics faster.
Beginning with the end in mind
Christine’s philosophy is that taking a patient-centered approach from the beginning is good for customers and essential for drug makers.
“You have to imagine the whole package and how patients will experience your drug, from the way they will take it all the way to reimbursement, and think about that early on,” she says. “If you don’t, it could kill your product.”
The target product profile, or TPP, is one place where drug makers focus on the patient’s point of view. The TPP defines the ideal drug from both a patient and a commercial perspective, considering the relevant patient population and their specific needs and priorities around efficacy, safety, dosing, and administration. It serves as a kind of north star through the complicated drug development process.
Christine says you have to think even more holistically. “The biggest disease burden for a person with chronic lower back pain might be isolation at home due to mobility challenges,” she notes. “Getting out of the house with some help and socializing may be a more important outcome measure than the duration and threshold of pain.”
Making drugs more user-friendly
Christine thinks that technology increasingly offers patients a better experience around the drug itself. She thinks back to her drug delivery experience as one example.
“In chronic disease settings, it is important that drugs come with a good delivery device,” Christine says. “For example, prefilled syringes or pens give customers a new level of convenience and safety. Nowadays, smart pens can even ‘talk to you,’ providing feedback and helping to ensure optimal dosing. This kind of innovation is easy to underestimate. Yes, of course, the foundational innovation is the drug. But from a patient perspective, going to the clinic for an IV injection versus at-home delivery with a smart pen could be the difference between a winning product and a commercial failure.”
“A major challenge for patients in the US as well as for society overall is managing drug costs,” Christine says. “As a biopharmaceutical company, we must think about how to get breakthrough drugs to patients faster and cheaper.” Technologies like zero-shot generative AI have the potential to shorten preclinical development timelines by more than half while also increasing the clinical probability of success. Ultimately, this could decrease drugmakers’ costs and risks, with the savings passed along to patients and society more broadly.
“We are failing if our technology isn’t increasing accessibility to life-changing drugs for the patients everywhere who need them,” she says.
The value that partners bring to drug creation
In designing the patient experience from the beginning, Christine says that big drugmakers are crucial partners in ensuring focus on the patient experience.
“Big biopharmaceutical companies have an intimate understanding of their markets,” she says. “They know the indication space very well, what current and potential future competition looks like, and they know the patient journey and the unmet medical need. In successfully bringing drugs to the market, they have experience and disease-specific networks with patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals, payors, and regulators, enabling them to scale drug development. It is a great opportunity for a company like Absci to collaborate with large biopharmaceutical companies. There are a lot of things that we can learn from their networks.”
Creating an R&D strategy
Combining a manufacturing perspective with patient-centricity, Christine aims to bring a holistic approach to shaping Absci’s R&D strategy. Ultimately, it will guide which market segments Absci taps into and when.
“Absci technology has very broad applicability, but we will not be able to tap into everything at once. We have to stay on a path, understanding what the killer app is today as well as the markets we want to tap into tomorrow,” she says. “We will develop ideas and technologies that we can fully leverage now, and there will be others that may be ready from prime time tomorrow. For some solutions, we may not even be the best owner and they only can get to full potential through partnering or out-licensing.”
Christine says it is tempting for tech companies to burn money trying to realize every potential opportunity. “But it’s just too big of a universe to do everything,” she says. The trick is to generate maximum value through partnerships, licensing, spin-offs, or otherwise.
“We need to be very clear on what we are doing. What capability are we missing, and who is the best partner to achieve it? And what can we give away because it’s not on our path to success? These kinds of questions,” says Christine, “are at the core of an R&D strategy.”
Value writ large
Christine sees a lot of other places where companies like Absci can bring huge value to the world. Addressing health inequalities is chief among them. For example, as shared in Harvard Health, 70% of those affected by chronic pain conditions are women, whereas 80% of pain research is conducted on males. Other studies show that resources are often disproportionately allocated to diseases primarily affecting men.
And when it comes to creating better biologics for patients, Christine already has a strong opinion about where Absci should go.
“I want Absci to be first-in-human for de novo antibodies,” she says. That would not only be a huge victory for patients, she says, but it would also open the floodgates for a world of applications in biologics beyond antibodies.
As Christine embarks on her role at Absci, she’ll be asking lots of questions that take us back to the start.