COVID-19 Stories: Michigan Ross MBA Alum’s Biotech Startup Joins Race in Developing COVID-19 Vaccine

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Choon-Peng Ng, MBA ‘04, is the co-founder and CEO of ImmunoScape, a Singapore-based biotech company that is partnering with vaccine firms and research groups to join in the global effort to find a vaccine against COVID-19.

ImmunoScape is using its high-dimensional immune profiling technology to analyze the body’s immune responses to the coronavirus which causes COVID-19.

Prior to COVID-19, 90 percent of ImmunoScape’s work was on cancer. The company soon realized that their technology, which is used in immune profiling for the discovery and development of immunotherapy for cancer, could also be applied to help develop solutions in fighting infectious diseases.

Ng has been able to leverage lessons from his Ross MBA to start ImmunoScape and tackle incredible health challenges. 

“My MBA has provided me with a broad range of skills that are needed in growing ImmunoScape,” said Ng. “The entrepreneurship journey starts from identifying the product-market fit, building a team, raising the funds, and leading the charge towards realizing the vision of the company to impact immunotherapy.”  

Recognizing the severity of COVID-19, Ng said ImmunoScape took swift action to apply their technology to understanding how people’s immune systems respond to the virus.  

“There is an urgent need to understand the body's immune response to the COVID-19 virus in the development of vaccines,” Ng explained. “We study the T cell, a type of white blood cell that makes up part of an immune response. Most ongoing vaccine development efforts use the spike protein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 to induce neutralizing antibodies to block the virus from infecting healthy cells. Using our unique high dimensional immune profiling platform, we can go beyond the spike protein and pinpoint the other immuno-dominant targets of the T cells, paving the way for the design of the next wave of more targeted vaccines.”  

Additionally, Ng said the company knew that they still needed to work with clinical collaborators. 

“Through our global network, we reached out to MGH Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston), Duke-NUS (Singapore), and University of Parma (Italy) to start working on samples from convalescent patients and acute disease patients,” said Ng. 

From that outreach, Ng said that the company was able to successfully partner a vaccine developer - San Diego-based Arcturus Therapeutics - to help them develop their vaccine candidate, called LUNAR-COV19.

ImmunoScape became the immune profiling partner of Arcturus for their trials and will provide insights about the immune responses of patients who have received LUNAR-COV19. The vaccine trial project with Arcturus will begin in early 2021. 

In the coming weeks, ImmunoScape will be announcing critical findings of their academic research efforts, including into the role of T cells, a type of immune cell, that kills the cells infected by the virus. 

Ng said that ImmunoScape is able to prioritize the virus proteins that T cells recognize and this information could impact the design of vaccines against COVID-19. 

“We will offer up our platform technology to more vaccine developers to accelerate their clinical trials with better immunological insights,” shared Ng.

Gratitude for the Michigan Ross alumni network

“I am so proud that the University of Michigan, particularly the Ross School of Business, continues to reach out to the alumni across the globe so that we can continue to learn from the professors and from one another,” Ng said.

Learn more about ImmunoScape