What You Need to Know About Apostle
Apostle, headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., is taking a bioinformatics approach to developing clinical diagnostic testing for cancer.
David Ge, the company’s co-founder, chief executive officer and president, told BioSpace that the company got its start earlier this year over lunch.
“Bo Zhang, Xin Guo and I are all good friends, having known each other for over five years in the Silicon Valley. Bo Zhang was from Stanford. We started to know each other from a Stanford student union’s gathering at which I was invited to give a talk. Xin was one of my group members at Gilead, a graduate from Duke where I used to be an Assistant Professor, and also a good friend. After a couple of beers, we started to ask, cancer is such a devastating problem globally and even affecting our own family members, with our backgrounds of chemistry, bioinformatics, medicine and previous successful experience of developing genetic diagnostics and therapeutic agents, we just needed to start as of now to do something really fundamentally life-changing,” Ge said.
They focused on early detection. “Just like the human race has been able to detect and control cervical cancer in its early phase through a Pap Test, mankind will be able to control all kinds of solids tumors in general,” Ge said.
The company’s approach to developing a bioinformatics diagnostics liquid biopsy has three layers, according to Ge. The first is nanochemistry. “The amount of circulating free DNA (cfDNA) or RNA (cfRNA) in early cancer detection is so low. We’d like to invent something (later called Apostle MiniMax) to enable the capture and separation of circulating genetic material at a revolutionary sensitivity over the conventional technologies.”
The second is bioinformatics, developing ways for computers to learn from cancer databases to guide the clinical application of nanochemistry. This would eventually be called Apostle Triton.
And third, hybrid. Ge told BioSpace, “We’d like to combine the strengths of the two spaces. Our goal is to revolutionize the accuracy and efficiency of liquid biopsy—the testing of circulating free DNA (cfDNA) or RNA (cfRNA)—in early cancer detection or other clinical applications and to deliver the message of health to everyone on the earth and improve human lives, completely reshaping the global landscape of healthcare.”
David Ge - Chief Executive Officer and President. Before leading Apostle, Ge was president of BioSciKin Co and Simcere Diagnostics, two global biotech companies headquartered in Nanjing, China. From 2011 to 2016, he was director of Bioinformatics at Gilead Sciences where he founded the bioinformatics group. Before Gilead, he was an Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics and Assistant Professor in Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine.
Bo Zhang - Vice President of Chemistry. Zhang received his PhD in Chemistry from Stanford University in 2015. He has 10 years of experience in nanotechnology and biotechnology research. Forbes China named him one of the most brilliant young entrepreneurs under 30 in its annual “30 under 30” list of 2017.
Xin Guo - Vice President of Bioinformatics. Prior to joining Apostle, Guo was a research scientist and research group lead at Gilead Sciences, heading the clinical phylogenomic program for the development of hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi.
Wenqi Zeng - Chief Medical Advisor. Zeng is also the chief medical officer of Simcere Diagnostics. Before joining Apostle and Simcere, he was senior director of Molecular Genetics at Quest Diagnostics and was director of Clinical Genomics at Ambry Genetics. Before Ambry, he was co-director of Clinical Molecular Genetics at City of Hope National Medical Center.
Shuting Zhao is a scientist and Joshua Robinson is the principal business development consultant.
The company was launched with a $2.3 million venture capital round from Amino Capital, ShangBay Capital, Westlake Ventures and individual investors. The founders originally planned to raise $2 million, but investor interest pushed it to $2.3 million.
Rather than a “pipeline,” the company is focused on a systemic platform technology. Ge said it is designed “to efficiently and accurately isolate, study, and screen the diseases with the circulating cell-free genetic materials. Our tier 1 focus is cfDNA, followed by the tier 2 focus of cfRNA. By definition, this platform technology eventually could be applied in a spectrum of solid tumors, but we started with a number of tumors types first, such as liver cancer. This platform technology would also be utilized in other clinical areas where highly sensitive and accurate detection technology is needed, such as non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) or infectious diseases especially during the ‘silent stages’ when the concentration of the genetic materials of the pathogens is low.”
The clinical laboratory industry in the U.S. is dominated by hospital laboratories and several national and regional, commercial clinical laboratory companies, including Quest Diagnostics, Laboratory Corporation of America, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, and others. There are also a number of tech companies looking at this area. Ge said, “There have been existing technology providers to isolate and study circulating genetic materials, mostly based on a technology called paramagnetic (nanoparticle) technology, such as Thermo Fisher Scientific, QIAGEN, Roche Diagnostics, and so on. However, because we aim to develop a technology fundamentally different from the paramagnetic one, I really believe we are the one of our own type and wouldn’t view them as our competitors, but potential collaborators or peers, instead.”
Dollars and Deals
Apostle has several ongoing collaborations, but can’t discuss them because of non-disclosure agreements.
What to Look For
At this time, the company has invested in a technology that increases the efficiency and sensitivity of cfDNA and cfRNA detection, and demonstrated it within the company and by independent experts.
“I hope to increase the awareness of this technology globally, so that more groups can explore the application of this technology to help more people sooner. I also hope our other scientific development plans will meet their designed goals. Businesswise, I hope our company will have a group of strong business collaborators in five years and I hope to file an IPO or establish other strong business collaborative routes in five years,” Ge said.