Meet the Researcher: Stefano Gullà, Kling Biotherapeutics

DDW’s Megan Thomas speaks to Stefano Gullà, Chief Scientific Officer at Kling Biotherapeutics.  

MT: Where do you work, and can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment? 

SG: I am the Chief Scientific Officer at Kling Biotherapeutics. Together with my colleagues, I am tackling what is one of the most pressing problems in biotech, the discovery of targets to serve as the basis for new therapies for cancer and infectious diseases. Beyond infectious diseases, we are expanding our efforts to include anti-cancer therapeutics. We have noted that cancer patients can develop powerful anti-tumour immune responses that can result in complete cure of the disease and we call these patients ‘elite responders’. By understanding what triggers the adaptive immune response in “elite responders” we have identified new targets and therapeutic antibodies. Our lead programme, anti-CD9 (KBA1412) targeting solid tumours is advancing in a Phase I clinical study and we have developed a rich preclinical pipeline of first-in-class biotherapeutics. 

MT: What’s been the highlight of your career so far? 

SG: Without a doubt the highlight of my career was the day that I learned that an antibody I had discovered and advanced into the clinic demonstrated a positive response in patients. Anyone involved in developing medicines from an early stage, knows that the road from idea to patients is full of unexpected trials and tribulations. As scientists we fully expect to spend long hours poring over data and puzzling over inconsistent results, but we are less ready to deal with the shifting sands of corporate priorities. The day I received a positive response in patients allowed me to feel proud that my work in the laboratory had directly contributed to the wellbeing of patients. I also recognised how easily a potential medicine can be overlooked without passionate leadership and I learned to trust my instincts and work with urgency to bring as many medicines to patients as possible. 

MT: What drug discovery breakthrough has been most impactful to your research? 

SG: We are in a new stage in biotherapeutic development which allows us to build on the many advances in protein engineering, biology, manufacturing and pharmacology to advance more effective therapeutic modalities such as multi-specific antibodies or antibodies with tunable effector function, extended half-life, and improved manufacturability. Many advancements over the past 30 years have made this possible, however the work of Dr Paul Carter and colleagues at Genentech in my opinion is central to laying the foundation of what is possible to achieve with therapeutic antibodies. I believe that the golden age of biotherapeutic is just beginning as we now have a proven toolbox to apply to new targets. I am excited about our work at Kling as we continue to uncover new targets that can be leveraged in the context of multiple therapeutic modalities. 

MT: What has been the best piece of career advice you have received? 

SG: Ask for help early and often. In my first experience leading a high visibility programme I felt a great deal of pressure to be the person with all the answers and solutions. I learned from more experienced programme leaders to be comfortable with leading outside of my direct area of expertise by quickly identifying my personal blind spots and regularly asking for advice.  

MT: What advice would you offer someone looking to follow in your footsteps? 

SG: Consider that if we are going to be successful at creating new medicines, we should embrace early on, all the aspects that go into creating a successful product. It starts with solid science, but that is only one component. Questions of technology, intellectual property, competition and market fit need to be equally addressed. More importantly, we should consider the patient’s perspective to maximise safety and efficacy and minimise discomfort. My advice would be to take a holistic approach by staying curious about all the steps of development from early discovery to product launch. 

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