Harry’s guest for this unusually frank and urgent episode is Jacob Glanville, the founding partner, CEO, and president of Distributed Bio. The company is using its skills in computational antibody analysis and optimization to help the drug industry develop new vaccines and antibody-based treatments for a range of diseases, potentially including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
If you’ve seen the recent Netflix docu-series “Pandemic,” about efforts to check previous viral outbreaks, you’ve seen former Pfizer scientist Jacob Glanville in action. The inventor, entrepreneur, and Ph.D. immunologist capitalized on the advent of cloud computing to provide vaccine and drug developers with high-throughput genomic sequencing of antibodies in humans and other species. He calls it “using the ability to look deep into these maelstroms of antibodies to try to understand why vaccines fail to hit conserved epitopes [where antibodies attach to antigens] on influenza or HIV, or how to better produce an antibody medicine.” Revenue from the service allowed the startup to grow without outside capital. Today the company is developing a universal flu vaccine for pigs and humans.
Glanville says we’ll know by April whether existing anti-malarial, anti-HIV or anti-Ebola antivirals work against the COVID-19 coronavirus. A vaccine will take far longer to develop, he says. Meanwhile, Distributed Bio is using its search platform to find new antibodies—derived from antibodies that neutralize the SARS virus—that could recognize the new coronavirus and provide instant (but relatively short-lived) protection. Glanville compares the search to “taking five billion spaghetti noodles and throwing them against the wall and seeing what sticks.”