Catalina Martinez, Marie Rippen
TCRCure Biopharma is one of the recent successful companies having graduated from Lab Launch, a biotech incubator facility in Monrovia, CA, which offers lab space and shared equipment to accelerate the start-up of life sciences companies. We recently met with the Director of TCRCure, Paul Bryson, PhD, who highlighted some of their recent accomplishments and the challenges his company has faced, in the Q&A below.
How did TCRCure get started?
As you know, in the T-cell immunotherapy field there’s been a revolution on how to treat cancer in the last decade or so. TCRCure was founded three years ago with the main goal of bringing these revolutionary advances to people who at the time could not benefit from the current standard treatment. [Our founder] had a relative who was affected by cancer and wasn’t eligible for other kinds of treatment, so he saw this opening in the marketplace, so to speak, and we have been building this company to fit into that space ever since. Our main products are targeted toward solid tumors, and we’ve built a number of different T-cell based therapies. And we hope that by bringing these into the market and into the clinic, we’re able to make a big impact on patients who up until now have had pretty rough diagnoses.
How did you become aware of Lab Launch’s existence?
I had been involved in a local entrepreneurship program at Cal State LA, and they highlighted some of the resources available in the LA area, so I learned about Lab Launch there. For the most part, it seemed like the most developed and well-established incubator in the area, and we were looking for something where we could get started quickly and not have to [set] things up on our own or spend a lot of our resources on logistical and administrative tasks, so Lab Launch worked really well for that.
What advice would you give someone who was thinking about starting their own biotech company?
I would say figure out the money situation as early as possible. I see my peers going into start-ups with great ideas and maybe even a product that can be put into the marketplace pretty soon, but they haven’t figured out how they’re going to pay for everything and that has really been an obstacle for them. At TCRCure, we started by figuring out how to fund the company and then let all the science come out of that, and that’s been a really smooth way to get us off the ground.
What has been the biggest challenge of being Director?
The biggest challenge for me in my position is trying to manage our human resources— to figure out what the right balance is between when we should spend money on tasks and when we should hire people for tasks, and when we can ignore tasks. That’s the biggest challenge— how to allocate resources essentially.
What was your favorite experience at Lab Launch?
I would say that it’s kind of the general excitement and enthusiasm around building your company from the ground up. I was the first employee in LA along with my two colleagues, and being able to decide on everything that was going to go into our lab, how we were going to run the experiments, and how we were going to design our support systems was really rewarding. It really felt like we were starting from the ground, and Lab Launch provided the foundation for us to get going.
What specific amenities did you use most and find the most helpful? I think having all of the equipment, SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures], and materials in place to do basic molecular biology was the main advantage of being at Lab Launch. Being able to make plasmids, grow bacteria and do basic cloning without having to purchase and plan and get all of those resources was the biggest advantage for us.
How did Lab Launch contribute to your current success?
[It] took a lot of time and effort to move TCR into [our current lab space], and if I had to spend the time doing that when we first [started], I’m not sure that we would have been so successful. Having Lab Launch available to us and allowing us to get moving quickly was one of the key ingredients to our success.
We hope you enjoyed the first segment of our success stories and please keep an eye out for more interviews with our graduates.