A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Antibody Pros


Antibody Pros Alums target cancers with new immunotherapy.

It’s a pivotal moment for two Brown alums, Rob Markelewicz ’04 MMSc’05 MD’07 RES’09 and Ian Chan ’95, MBA. Their start-up, Abpro, is about to go public, which will help them scale up therapeutic antibody development for diseases and patients who need better treatments.

More than three decades after the first therapeutic antibody entered clinical practice, more than 1,100 antibody therapies are in development, half of them targeting cancers needing a less-destructive solution than surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. The immune system’s natural antibodies bind to specific targets; one of Abpro’s bispecific antibody strategies can simultaneously attach to both immune cells and to cytotoxic T-cells to selectively destroy the tumor in a biologically natural way.

“We are using natural immune cells to latch onto cancer cells with specific binding sites to destroy tumors,” Chan says. In other words, while radiation and chemotherapy broadly kill cells, antibody therapies are selective for their targets.

In 1997 Chan and his brother Eugene Chan, MD, founded US Genomics to bring high-speed gene sequencing into commercial use. In 2007, the brothers founded Abpro to shoulder the next generation of antibody therapeutic development. Ian Chan is CEO.

Markelewicz, a nuclear oncologist who became Abpro’s chief medical officer in 2018, has the experience to shepherd discovery-stage molecules into the clinic. During residency he participated in numerous clinical trials, where, he says, “I could see the early signs that many new targeted therapies entering first-in-human clinical trials were working and I wanted to be part of that new frontier.”

Biopharma is generally a risky and costly business; Chan says Abpro can enhance the risk-reward ratio by both shaving discovery time and increasing throughput on antibody generation, enabling more shots on goal. Now Abpro can generate a new antibody in two to three months. “Having an engine at the front end to help replenish and diversify molecules while focusing on the most promising is our way of managing risk,” Chan says.

The company has candidate antibody therapies for age-related macular degeneration and diabetic macular edema, and breast, gastric, and liver cancers. By the second quarter of this year, the company expects to be trading publicly via a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company, giving it the liquidity to help it scale up its platform so it can address more diseases.

For both Chan and Markelewicz, treating cancer is a near and dear goal. Both have family members who have had breast cancer, including Markelewicz’s wife, Kimberly O’Keefe Markelewicz ’02. He also lost his father to colon cancer during his third year of medical school. Markelewicz says that joining industry wasn’t an easy decision, because he was trained to care for patients. “But I have always been driven towards cutting- edge medicine, and in industry I saw the potential impact that even one drug could have on patients in need,” he says.


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