Continued from part one.
Welcome back to part two in our conversation with Dr. Richard Wooster
It's a great segue into the COVID-19 issues that are affecting, scientists and businesses. There are even more mRNA approaches, advancing in clinical trials. They're gaining a lot of attention in the media. I speak, of course, about organizations like Moderna, which is, based in the Boston, Cambridge area like Translate Bio, but even companies, in Germany, like CureVac who are pursuing, similar strategies, in that sense.
Richard, you did touch on your relationship with Sanofi. Tell us how this collaboration has progressed.
From our perspective, this is a fantastic collaboration in how the teams are working together to leverage the expertise that everybody brings to the table. And I think that's what makes great partnerships when you've got that real synergy that comes together where it's sometimes might sound the whole sort of cliche, but one plus one equals more than two and I feel that we have that with Sanofi.
Do you think there's comparisons that you can draw from the scientific world about how your collaboration with Sanofi is going versus others?
We are wishing Moderna, CureVac... everyone success, there. Sometimes it might be that you have pharma companies, biotechs are competing against each other. I think here we're really competing against the virus. And I think that's been part of the learnings or changes that have happened in this real collaborative nature of how different people are working together to combat the disease.
We are wishing Moderno, CureVac... everyone success, there. Sometimes it might be that you have pharma companies, biotechs are competing against each other. I think here we're really competing against the virus.
And certainly as we look at what others have done in vaccines, we're encouraged as we've recently published our initial preclinical data, through our work with Sanofi. And that's very much paralleling what others have seen and hopefully we can continue and explore the clinical aspects of our COVID-19 vaccine.
Being unprecedented times, you're all essential workers. Yet you have to face the same lockdown challenges that the rest of the world faces. And so I'm curious to ask what have been the biggest changes that lockdown and this COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on your lab?
Yeah, it has been unprecedented in how we've had to adapt to that but the team has been fantastic, actually, in the way they have adapted.
This new term of social distancing applies just as much in the lab as it might do anywhere else, wearing masks and following other guidelines to protect people when they're on-site. We moved towards working in shifts in the labs. So, having fewer people in at the same time so we're reducing the density I think as we've learned more about the disease, about how we can work together, we've actually then started to allow people to overlap.
So, initially the shifts were completely separate and they didn't even see each other, but now we do have days where we have more people working in the labs, working together. But what it's also done is taught us how to use tools like ZOOM, which we used in the past, but now perhaps have become very reliant on those types of technologies.
But that doesn't distract from emails, from phones, from text messages, and it's really figuring out how do different people communicate? I know there are text message groups in the lab where people send texts to each other because that's effective for them. For other people it's using one of these video conferencing platforms, in different ways, whether that's planned meetings or even just ad hoc, meetings, where you can get on and speak to somebody very quickly.
But I think there's been this common feature throughout this is people's drive and passion to want it to keep on working, to keep on generating data, and pushing forward. And then innovating on how to do that and exploring how to do that in the world that we find ourselves, today.
Beyond the communication between staffs and departments are there any other tools that you would like to see incorporated into normal business practice that you're using today?
...we are all learning through this. It's highlighting communication, because what we do is done by teams, is done by groups of people coming together, sharing their expertise, working on different components of this. It's the energy to keep that moving; that I think has remained and I think will continue after this.
I think we are all learning through this. It's highlighting communication, because what we do is done by teams, is done by groups of people coming together, sharing their expertise, working on different components of this. It's the energy to keep that moving; that I think has remained and I think will continue after this.
I think recognizing that not only have we got the work we're doing, in the labs, but also of course everybody has their life at home. In some ways that’s highlighted the balance, and how we achieve that balance for people so they can feel productive at work and have an impact. But at the same time, it's not distracting from family, from friends and life outside of work, which is critical.
That's so true. Now, depending on what you read and who you believe we could begin seeing vaccines and therapies for COVID-19 before the end of this year. But even if it does take considerably longer for these to emerge, it does seem that progress has accelerated.
In terms of the pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate new approaches versus the risk of advancing too fast can you speak to that?
We'd always liked to move faster and we continue to actually implement ways that we're working faster, whether that's automation, applying new techniques or new ways of doing things. But I think speed is always going to be balanced for us in terms of producing robust and compelling data to understand how our programs might provide benefits. And at the same time, evaluating safety and tolerability at each step along both the discovery, experiments, but also in clinical development.
We'll continue with those aspects and achieving that balance. What we've seen in the labs, during the pandemic, when we were in our shift system, is that people were finding ways to plan experiments and run their experiments so they could do as much as possible on the day they were in the lab. And then in the days, which they were working from home, they could analyze the data, they could dig-in and start planning on what to do next.
And so, I think whether some of that will continue as we hopefully move through the pandemic and move into post-pandemic world, I suspect that will continue. But what hasn't gone away is certainly innovation, the passion from what we're doing with everybody rising to the challenge of how to work through this and to keep on advancing.
...we'd like to go faster and I think we are now going faster. Has that been stimulated by the pandemic? Yeah, I would say in some ways it has, but we're also cautious in making sure we understand both the pros and the cons of what we're doing.
As you say, we'd like to go faster and I think we are now going faster. Has that been stimulated by the pandemic? Yeah, I would say in some ways it has, but we're also cautious in making sure we understand both the pros and the cons of what we're doing.
I was going to ask what has forever changed for chief scientific officers and their teams, but what I'm hearing from you is that some things are just fundamental and cannot change - safety, for example.
But will there be things in a post-pandemic world you will no longer subscribe to?
The pandemic certainly reinforced aspects of how we work together, how we help each other hour-by-hour and day-by-day. That suddenly reinforced that component and how we keep alive that feeling beyond the pandemic. Absolutely.
It's how we remind ourselves, as I mentioned, that sometimes we need to be flexible. That's not distracting from what our mission is, but being flexible. For example, moving a meeting because somebody is working at home that day and they're homeschooling their children and that's the priority - absolutely, for them. So, let's move the meeting, let's have it at a different time, let's have that flexibility.
I think it's also in thinking how we can apply mRNA technology to new disease areas, to new applications and what things could we do in the future, which I think are many. In some ways we have a wealth of opportunity. The challenging part is to think through what should we focus, today? And where are we going to have that biggest impact?
While it's not clear what we might continue, post-pandemic, I’d say we've been learning a huge amount and certainly we'll be working hard to maintain those positive learnings for a number of years to come.
Conversations on this podcast, of late, have obviously focused on these doom and gloom scenarios, which can be so off-putting but it is our reality. So I like to end on an upnote.
And so our final question to you, Richard, is what makes you optimistic?
What has made me optimistic is really that people want to be good. I think people want to be helpful, people want to be collaborative and that sort of fundamental human nature is coming-out, through the pandemic.
One example, which..to me, would I have done before? I'm not sure.
So, I was, driving to the office and on the radio heard somebody talking about COVID-19 and this was somebody from a local hospital. And I had never heard of the name before. I didn't know what they were doing but it seemed really relevant to some of the ideas that we had in mind.
So, when I arrived in the office, I looked up their email, sent an email and the following day we were talking on the phone. Just that spirit of collaboration, bringing together expertise has been heightened during the pandemic. And I think that's what makes me optimistic that continuing that for the future.
For Translate Bio...how we can take mRNA from the stage it is today in terms of therapeutics and vaccines and seeing and hoping and believing that this will be a powerful path to generate medicines for patients and it becoming a mainstay within the therapeutic arsenal that we will have in the future for vaccines, for COVID-19 or other infectious diseases.
For Translate Bio, more specifically, is how we can take mRNA from the stage it is today in terms of therapeutics and vaccines and seeing and hoping and believing that this will be a powerful path to generate medicines for patients and it becoming a mainstay within the therapeutic arsenal that we will have in the future for vaccines, for COVID-19 or other infectious diseases.
And so I do feel very optimistic about the future and what it's going to bring for us.
It's so reassuring to hear about the scientific community working together and putting aside differences, engaging one another in ways that perhaps they didn't pre-COVID-19 and it's just a wonderful way to end this conversation.
Richard, thank you so much for your time today. This has been fascinating and I'm sure our community is going to really enjoy learning more about you, Translate Bio, and your work. Thank you again.
Thank you, Greg.