Dr. Eric Leire, MD, MBA, is the CEO and Founder of GenFlow Biosciences. He has an impressive background in the biotechnology and gene therapy sector. Furthermore, Eric has a plethora of remarkable experience in the pharmaceutical industry, having held Pfizer, Schering Plough, and Pharmacia posts. His success has also translated into academic research, where he has held a research position at Harvard University.
In addition, his career has soared throughout the biotechnology industry, being the CEO of several private and public biotech companies. He is also the inventor of several patents and serves on the board of several biotechnology companies, such as Pherecydes (ALPHE.PA), Immunethep (developing a Covid vaccine), Inhatarget, and BSIM.
With the Biotech sector forecast to grow close to $2.5 trillion by 2028 – the financial benefits are straightforward and the moral importance to serve societal needs. In addition, research into longevity and healthy aging have progressed rapidly in recent years. We chatted with Eric, who explains how developments in the biotechnology sector can aid the longevity research process.
“Many US biotech companies shifted their research focus to improving longevity. However, only a few European biotech companies are working on a science-based development of therapeutic interventions that could delay the aging process.”
He continues, “Our company is interested in identifying the genetic and molecular pathways underpinning the aging process.” Specifically, Genflow Biosciences’ work is based on the fact that DNA repair plays a crucial role in determining an organism’s lifespan. As humans and other mammals grow older, our DNA is more and more prone to breaks. GenFlow intends to provide extra copies of a gene involved in DNA repair called SIRT6 and, more specifically, a variant of the SIRT6 found in centenarians. The additional copies of centenarian SIRT6 will improve the ability to repair DNA damage.
The feasibility of gene transfer to patients was demonstrated around 30 years ago and these methods have improved substantially. As a result, many commercial gene therapy candidates are now focussing on gene therapy for multiple diseases.
Scientists now can inject more efficient AAVs that can express a transgene such as SIRT6 into specific cells. Like other viruses, the tropism of an AAV for particular cells is controlled by the particular interaction between the proteins of its capsid (the protein shell enclosing the AAV genetic material) and the receptors of the targeted cells. In the last decade, there has been a tremendous advance in the ability to design novel, highly efficient AAVs that can target specific cells or organs.
Having a toolbox of enhanced AAVs is an important step; however, to develop an effective SIRT6 gene delivery, we also needed an understanding of the potential immunity to AAVs. A pre-existing barrier to AAV gene delivery stems from our natural exposure to AAV, resulting in a possible pre-existing humoral and cellular immunity to AAVs. Even a highly efficient and specific AAV delivering an ideal transgene (such as SIRT6) means nothing if an immune response prevents the AAV from reaching the appropriate cells. Therefore, it is critical when translating AAV gene delivery for clinical applications first to determine whether the patient has pre-existing immunity to AAV and then mitigate the development of potentially damaging immune responses when the gene is delivered intravenously. Fortunately, several studies have assessed the immune response to AAV-mediated gene therapy in both pre-clinical models and human patients. Overcoming pre-existing immunity is not trivial, but we now have strategies to enable AAV treatment without triggering immunity.
Eric believes that GenFlow’s contribution to advancing the understanding of anti-AAV immunity in our pre-clinical program. During clinical trials will help not only the development of our product but will also participate in the development of other safe and highly efficacious AAV therapies for other diseases such as neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.