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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

CEO of the Year 2023: Developing a Competitive Edge in Cell Therapy

The healthcare solutions realm is drastically adopting some of the latest technology and trends to cater to the rising regulatory requirements. As Cell and Gene Therapy evolves, reliable controls are more pressing than ever – from initial discovery to post-commercialization patient monitoring. However, traditional diagnostic controls, assay validation, and manufacturing reagents (which rely on cell lines, cell-derived products, and polystyrene beads) have limitations that leave critical gaps in the development process, ultimately impacting patient lives and healthcare quality. This is where Slingshot Biosciences is making an impact by addressing an often overlooked but significant issue in healthcare—the lack of consistent reference material for cell-based assays. Under Jeff Kim’s CEO’s leadership, Slingshot Biosciences has developed some of the most cutting-edge and innovative cell mimics solutions. Slingshot’s cell mimics provide a comprehensive solution to help address fundamental issues facing healthcare product development and diagnostic processes. This advancement is crucial, as a staggering number of blood and cell-related diseases currently lack available control options that meet modern healthcare standards. “By focusing on the specific requirements of each healthcare application, we create cell mimics (synthetic cell lines) that offer high precision, stability, and repeatability without the sourcing, stability, and cost issues associated with traditional cell-based reagents and controls,” adds Kim.

The company’s founding story began with a group of friends and colleagues from various sectors of healthcare and biotech who regularly met for dinner in the Bay Area. Through these conversations, Kim and his colleagues discovered a common problem: the industry’s need for more readily available and consistent cellular reference controls. The scope and impact of the problem are enormous when looking at captive markets. Specifically, the amount of operational inefficiency and labor dedicated to making cellular controls, with either cell lines or primary cells, is enormous. This ultimately impacts healthcare at its most foundational level, leading to poor patient outcomes and increased operational costs.

Utilizing Kim’s material science, MEMS, and bioorthogonal chemistry background, he realized this problem could be solved from a first principles perspective. As Kim says, “We began the business in the basement of my live-work condo in 2012 and spent several years perfecting the manufacturing techniques required for the large-scale production of synthetic cells. We self-financed the business in secrecy for eight years, ensuring that critical technical challenges were solved before seeking institutional capital. By doing so, we effectively de-risked the business and focused solely on the core needs of the platform before ramping up commercial efforts.”

Today, Slingshot Biosciences is a first-mover in identifying and developing a solution for a market that has long remained under-appreciated: the supply chain for cell-based controls. Analyzing the impact that cell-derived controls, specifically their drawbacks, have on healthcare is truly astounding. Cell-derived controls are a critical component of the healthcare system, but they are also unnecessarily complex for most applications. Specifically, tens of billions of dollars are wasted on operational overhead to solve the supply chain difficulties associated with cell-derived products. This includes healthy donor recruitment, bridging studies, cold chain logistics, cell line maintenance, clinical trial pauses, and increased manufacturing costs for key classes of therapeutics.

Realizing that manufacturing in the CGT space is complex, which drives costs and limits access to these groundbreaking therapies, Kim and his team are developing a product suite that dramatically improves the efficiency and quality of CGT manufacturing processes. The fact that they are improving patient lives today with these products is a guiding principle in the business and what drives Slingshot as leaders in the company. “Today, at our core, we strive to innovate and continually push the boundaries of what a synthetic cell can do. Specifically, our vision expands beyond controls for healthcare applications and toward active synthetic cells with pharmaceutical functions. We believe that, even in complex applications such as cell and gene therapy, we can recapitulate the function of cell-based therapies from first principles using our manufacturing platform and core technology. We have exciting progress along these lines and are eager to share our results with the broader community in the near future. In addition, we can see a world where our synthetic cells extend beyond traditional liquid-based cellular screening and toward more genomic and image-based applications, such as immunohistochemistry and spatial-genomics,” Kim concludes.

With an experienced team and Kim’s expertise in driving the company, Slingshot has multiplied in the market despite being a new entrant because most operational overhead for our clients is captive or self-generated material vs. third-party supply. With over a decade to hone its technology, scalable manufacturing process, and market insights, Slingshot has developed a competitive edge that unlocks significant value for drug research and commercialization while positively impacting human health today. “Success for us means paving the way for others to bring disruptive products to market that further revolutionize the healthcare industry, including cell and gene therapies for solid and liquid tumors. At a high level, inefficiencies in current cell-based reagent supply chain practices drive up healthcare costs and negatively impact patients. We welcome other companies to join us on this journey,” points out Kim.

Jeff Kim, Slingshot Biosciences

CEO of the Year 2023

“Today, at our core, we strive to innovate and continually push the boundaries of what a synthetic cell can do. Specifically, our vision expands beyond controls for healthcare applications and toward active synthetic cells with pharmaceutical functions”