During the first lockdown in Amsterdam last May, biotech leader Koenraad Wiedhaup met safely outdoors with a small handful of concerned virologists and healthcare executives. "We asked ourselves one question," Koenraad recalls. "How can we ensure that this pandemic will never happen again?"
COVID-19 has dramatically altered how medical and scientific communities think about both preventing disease and pandemic preparedness and a new class of startups has emerged to take on the challenge. Today, Koenraad and his co-founders announce Leyden Labs with $47 million in funding, and I'm delighted to join their board of directors.
Leyden Labs is taking on pandemic preparedness with an unconventional approach. While other vaccines target specific virus variants, Leyden Labs is pursuing the commonalities in viral families. They are working on delivery of intranasal molecules, which can protect humanity from known and future viruses. Koenraad and the founding team have incredibly bold ambitions and are racing to develop a portfolio of products that address both influenza and coronavirus families.
As a hematologist and oncologist for over three decades, I've long observed that we need better access to healthcare. Part of what drew me to Leyden Labs is its ability to change how we think about access to potentially life-saving medicine. Intranasal delivery gives people the freedom to administer protection themselves, whether that's before a ballgame, an indoor dinner with friends, or boarding a crowded bus. This self-administered intranasal delivery works by blocking viral entry to the respiratory system, so it's especially important for high-risk events and interactions.
"The problem that we're solving is one of the most important of our time."
"Intranasal products add value in different stages of viral disease," Koenraad explains. "Unlike the traditional vaccine approach, with intranasal delivery people can decide when to take it. When a virus manifests itself as a seasonal disease, we see that these products can be used on top of vaccines for when and where people need additional protection, like risky events."
Leyden Labs was started by industry veterans who founded several virology-based companies that today have a cumulative value of $15 billion. And the founding team is already making critical contributions to combat the current pandemic: they have developed platforms acquired by Johnson & Johnson that play a role in the single-shot COVID-19 vaccine.
The pandemic's economic and social burden is enormous, and we need a proactive approach to protect against future viruses and the mutating viruses that already exist in nature. "It's unclear which strain of the 1.7 million viruses that are out there will hit us next," Koenraad warns. "We need to be ready for that, but also not have so many constraints on our lives."
Leyden Labs' approach to tackle entire virus families has never existed before, and I'm excited to work with them as they develop a portfolio of breakthrough intranasal products. "The problem that we're solving is one of the most important of our time," adds Koenraad. "We want to let people live their life to the fullest by developing products that protect humanity against existing disease, as well as new viruses."