At Johnson & Johnson Innovation, we are committed to helping healthcare entrepreneurs create transformational potential solutions that aim to improve peoples’ lives. As part of our goal to inspire innovation, we are periodically highlighting innovators and entrepreneurs from our global network of incubators—from San Francisco to Shanghai.
In this post, we highlight Larry Forman, CEO of CHO Plus, an early-stage innovation company developing technology that aims to increase the productivity of cells used to manufacture therapeutic proteins. CHO Plus recently entered a research collaboration agreement with Janssen Biotech, Inc. (Janssen)—one of the Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson—and moved into Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS @ South San Francisco in December 2020.
At the Forefront of Accelerating Science
From the ‘80s to the late ’90s, Larry Forman was a process engineer at Genentech working to increase the productivity of cells by making changes to their physicochemical environments. He discovered that by modifying salt concentrations, he could induce record-high rates of protein production in cells, enabling them to create more product needed for therapeutics. However, despite this achievement, Larry soon found that the proteins he was creating with this method were not adequately populated with the types of sugars needed for therapeutic significance.
“I was frustrated by the concrete limitations of the production processes so I began thinking of different ways I could push forward the bottlenecks that were creating these barriers,” said Larry. “Naturally, my focus was set on the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus, two structures within cells that are very involved with the production of proteins.”
Chinese Hamster Ovary cells, or CHO cells, have been popular since the 1960s, originally being used to study genetics. Over time, they were selected for recombinant protein production because they exhibit strong characteristics of growth and adaptability. Today they are the most popular cell system in the production of pharmaceuticals, including complex biotherapies like antibodies. Through their popularity, the CHO cell genome has been studied diligently by scientists, drawing clear conclusions of the physical production limitations that exist within them.
“I have always been fascinated with evolution and the idea that there may be ways to create changes in species by triggering major, chromosome-shifting events rather than waiting for longer periods of random natural selection,” said Larry. “I wondered whether I could create these DNA-changing events for CHO cells, hoping to create new, improved intracellular structures that would go far beyond the rate of protein production I was previously achieving in my experiments with osmolality.”
With the goal of developing a generation of cells that addresses the current limitations of protein production, CHO Plus hopes to create new options for startups and well-established companies alike by seeking to cut infrastructure costs and to enable the creation and production of drugs for a fraction of the cost it takes today. By bringing down the barriers of entry in the pharmaceutical industry, Larry hopes CHO Plus will make a world of possibilities open to innovators who will be able to bring their ideas to fruition at a more affordable price.
As one who knows that raising money is one of the hardest challenges of the entrepreneurial journey, Larry says he wishes he had gone straight to pharma companies early on. As a manufacturing platform company, CHO Plus had trouble fitting into the portfolios of traditional investors who often prefer to invest in companies bringing solutions directly to the patient. While CHO Plus isn’t creating a new drug, it is helping patients behind-the-scenes by allowing innovators to pursue potential solutions that would have previously been too costly or too risky to seek out.
Remembering the potential impacts and solutions your company brings to the industry is what Larry says is key to staying confident throughout your process as an entrepreneur. “Keep your goal at the heart of what you do every day and be tenacious and focused on making it a reality. There are people waiting for your innovation to change their lives, so take your idea with confidence, and make it real for those who need it most.”
Find Out More
At Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS, we understand the potential of technologies like CHO Plus’s and choose to support innovations that have the potential to unlock new possibilities in healthcare. We also know that bringing innovators into a community where they can share their experiences with other entrepreneurs can be critical to them staying confident and motivated in their pursuit.
To find out more about what Larry and his company are doing, please visit www.CHO-Plus.com. If you are an entrepreneur looking for the type of mentorship and programming that was made available to CHO Plus through Johnson & Johnson Innovation, please visit JLABS Resident Application page to learn more.
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