Basilard Biotech is a Southern-California-based company poised to lead a revolution in the engineering of cell based therapies in Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT). In 2019, the company launched a disruptive gene delivery technology platform called SoloPore™. This novel approach to nanomechanical gene delivery has the potential to disrupt the current limitations of current viral and non-viral gene delivery—a breakthrough that could facilitate better scalability and more cost-effective production of cell and gene therapies.
In this interview with Brynley Lee, CEO of Basilard, we learn about the formation of Basilard Biotech, explore the company’s novel SoloPore™ technology, dive into the company’s funding strategy, and explore its future goals. Enjoy!
Interview with Brynley Lee, CEO of Basilard
Cade Hildreth: When was Basilard BioTech founded and by whom?
Brynley Lee: Hi Cade. I’m very happy to have this opportunity to share the Basilard BioTech story. Our company was formed on July 1, 2019 as a spin out from the University of California Riverside (UCR). My name is Brynley Lee, and I am the CEO of Basilard. I’m a serial entrepreneur and experienced Transactional CEO.
I founded the company with my colleague, Masa Rao, who is an Associate Professor at UCR. We worked together from late 2018 while I was the CEO-In-Residence at UCR’s technology incubator to prepare for the commercial launch of Basilard. The company’s foundational technology, SoloPore, is covered by IP the company has exclusively licensed from the UC Regents relative to all fields of use.
It was invented by Dr. Rao and developed over the course of a decade of NIH-funded research in his lab at UCR.
Cade Hildreth: What is the SoloPore™ technology and what makes it disruptive?
Brynley Lee: SoloPore is a new, mechanical approach for delivering virtually any gene (or other payload) to the nucleus of cells, en masse, while achieving high transfection efficiency and high cell viability. In doing so, it addresses longstanding limitations inherent to prevailing viral and non-viral delivery techniques, and thus, opens new opportunity for transforming the engineering of ex vivo cell and gene therapies (CGTs).
We have recently put together an HD animation video (on our website or YouTube) that illustrates how SoloPore works. In a nutshell, it’s a microfluidic device that uses fluid flow to drag each cell in suspension onto its own dedicated needle, causing poration of both the plasma and nuclear membrane in the process. The cells are then pushed off the needles by reversing flow, after which gene delivery occurs by diffusion of the payload through the single transient pore produced in each cell.
Poration of every cell in the same manner across the site capture array ensures high uniformity, while limiting poration to a single, precision incision in each cell minimizes damage to the cell and provides a path for delivery to the nucleus, which as we know is crucial. The absence of moving parts in our tool minimizes its complexity and enables massive parallelization, thus ensuring the opportunity for scaling to the throughputs required for CGT applications.
From our perspective, we think that SoloPore provides an exceedingly simple, elegant and better solution to a critical need in the industry.
Cade Hildreth: In what ways is the SoloPore™ technology superior to other gene delivery technologies?
Brynley Lee: SoloPore’s superiority lies in its unique ability to precisely produce a singular pore in both the plasma and nuclear membranes in each and every cell in a large population, and to do that for virtually any cell type. This is key because it allows us to achieve:
- High delivery efficiency AND high cellular viability
- Direct intranuclear delivery
- Uniform treatment of all cells in the population.
This stands in contrast to other non-viral techniques (e.g., electroporation, shear poration, chemical poration, etc.), which typically suffer from poor uniformity, and often force users to choose between efficiency or viability due to their reliance upon inherently random poration mechanisms, and their inability to breach the nuclear envelope.
Long-story-short, if you want to reliably deliver genes to the nucleus of your cells with superior transfection efficacy while preserving their viability, and do so with the ability to scale, SoloPore is going to be your best option.
Cade Hildreth: What bottlenecks do you see in the cell and gene therapy industry and how does the SoloPore™ technology resolve them?
Brynley Lee: Gene delivery is becoming an increasingly critical bottleneck in the engineering of many CGTs because everyone knows that the high cost, lag time, and supply chain limitations associated with viral vectors will prevent them from being a viable long term solution. But this is also where the opportunity lies as awareness of this bottleneck is driving the focus on and need for new, better non-viral delivery technologies.
It is well understood that the currently available techniques (primarily electroporation) have their own inherent limitations that make it difficult to believe that they will be able to adequately meet the growing need.
Basilard is now poised to step into this vacuum, and we are looking forward to doing our part to help enable go-to-market plans for the current, and accelerate the discovery, development, and manufacture of the next generation of revolutionary CGTs.
Cade Hildreth: What types of cells have been used with SoloPore™ technology to date and what ones will be used in the future?
Brynley Lee: We’ve recently published data showing that when transfecting primary human T cells with a standard GFP plasmid, SoloPore provides yields that exceed a state-of-the-art electroporation system by more than 4-fold (i.e., 82% of population is viable and expresses GFP, vs. 20% for EP when using the manufacturer’s recommended protocol).
In the same paper written by Dr. Rao, we also showed high performance transfection of selected human cell lines (i.e., Jurkat and K-562). Since SoloPore’s mechanical delivery mechanism is cell type agnostic, there’s ample opportunity for extending its use to any cell type (and different cell sizes), thus making it a fundamentally enabling platform for a broad range of ex vivo CGT applications across different therapies.
Cade Hildreth: What type of industry partners are best suited to integrate this platform into their research programs?
Brynley Lee: In theory, many of the 900+ cell therapy companies in existence at the end of 2018 (and of course that number is growing) would be potential partners for Basilard BioTech – both to enable their go-to-market strategies externally and to buttress their R&D efforts internally.
More specifically though, we are currently working to engage a selected set of initial therapeutics partners in technology evaluation agreements, with the ultimate goal of extending these into longer-term strategic co-development partnerships where SoloPore will enable unique prospects for engineering innovative new therapies, with freedom to operate around existing techniques.
Cade Hildreth: Basilard BioTech completed an initial pre-seed round with a strong base of support from investors. What additional funding is the company seeking at this time?
Brynley Lee: The majority of our pre-seed investment was used to secure a full development cycle for our commercially viable MVP (Minimum Viable Product) prototype with our MEMS foundry manufacturing partner. We will be taking delivery of these first systems later this year, representing a critical milestone in our young company’s growth since having these commercially viable prototype chips in hand will allow us to expand engagements with leading CGT companies who have already expressed interest in SoloPore.
It will also facilitate our efforts to engage additional companies – and even a few research institution partners – who would benefit from our unique value proposition, and it will continue supporting our own internal scientific validation and advanced engineering and design efforts.
We are currently seeking to fill out our $3M seed round raise to accelerate these efforts, including another development cycle to further scale and enhance SoloPre’s capabilities in a next gen version, as well as hire the key engineering and scientific talent that will form our foundational team for the future, grow our IP portfolio, and ultimately gain a market foothold by securing at least one co-development agreement by the end of 2021.
In doing so, we expect to significantly increase our per share valuation ahead of a Series A raise in early 2022.
Cade Hildreth: What are your 5 year goals for Basilard BioTech?
Brynley Lee: We will continue to execute to our plan, which is to continue advancement of the SoloPore platform over the next few years to the point where it becomes the most attractive and proven viable option for prospective cell therapy companies (and also research institutions), who will engage us first in technology evaluation agreements, and then ultimately, in long term co-development and/or R&D agreements.
We expect to grow the number of these agreements, with companies focused on different cell therapy types, into double digits over the next few years, which will in turn lead to different, customized versions of our technology for our partners. This will lead to a significant income stream and raise our valuation considerably.
This anticipated rapid, organic growth could conceivably continue for many more years after that, unless in the meantime, we are locked into an exclusive, high value contract with one or more of these partners, or we are acquired.