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Tidal Therapeutics: the benefits and leverage of the LabCentral model

Disclaimer: the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the individual author, and not to LabCentral or the author’s employer, organization or committee.

As part of our series to profile resident and alumni companies, I spoke with Ulrik Nielsen, the founder and CEO of Tidal Therapeutics, a resident company focused on developing next generation mRNA immunotherapies that was recently acquired by Sanofi. Ulrik has a unique perspective since he’s been a LabCentral resident with multiple companies.

What does Tidal do?

Like all biotech start-ups, Tidal Therapeutics was started with an ambitious idea: reprogramming the human immune system and developing next-generation mRNA immunotherapies.

Tidal utilizes a novel mRNA-based approach to in vivo reprogramming of immune cells. The technology is based on proprietary nanoparticles that deliver mRNA (messages) to reprogram immune cells inside the body. The technology delivers mRNA cargos selectively to designated types of cells in the body, with initial applications targeting specific types of immune cells.

The in vivo approach is designed to provide similar efficacy to current ex vivo (outside the body) approaches where immune cells are genetically modified to enhance their therapeutic properties (such as chimeric antigen receptor CAR-expressing T-cells), with the potential for improved safety, outpatient dosing, and repeat dosing. Currently, Tidal has ongoing pre-clinical programs including in vivo re-programming of T cells for cancer indications.

Why was this so attractive to Sanofi and why was this the right time to sell the company?

Sanofi recognized that Tidal’s next-generation, off-the-shelf approach has the potential to bring CAR-T cell therapy to a much broader patient population and that the underlying mRNA targeting platform will create disruptive therapeutic approaches across a variety of oncology and autoimmune conditions. In addition, Tidal’s technology platform will expand Sanofi’s research capabilities in both immuno-oncology and inflammatory diseases, while likely having broad applicability to other disease areas as well.

In terms of timing, teaming up with Sanofi now will enable us to accelerate development of our unique platform and rapidly apply it across a range of diseases at a much faster pace than if we were on our own. In the end, this will help many more patients, which is why we started the company.

Since you’ve been a LabCentral resident a few times, can you explain your various experiences here?

My previous company – Torque Therapeutics, they are now called Repertoire – was in LabCentral 700 back in 2015. At that time, LabCentral was relatively new and was just on the first floor of the building so we were lucky to get lab space. We eventually grew that to two benches there but then got to the point that we needed our own space – staying close by to LabCentral in Kendall Square.

We eventually outgrew that new space but luckily it was around that time that LabCentral 610 launched as a space for larger companies looking to scale so we moved in there for a year as one of the first residents.

In the spring of 2019, we started Tidal and knew there was only one place we wanted to be to start and grow the company: LabCentral 700. This has been our home ever since.

How did your time at LabCentral help you grow as a young company?

Initially, the benefits are pretty obvious – “we have lab space in Kendall Square” gives a young company a lot of credibility-for employees, investors and potential partners. But it’s really much more than that.

In terms of co-working labs, LabCentral is pretty unique in how much shared equipment and infrastructure it has. When we started Tidal, we had a lab suite at LabCentral 700 and literally were doing experiments in our second week there. The LabCentral model removes all the business and operational complexity of real estate, purchasing and other headaches and simply lets residents focus on what is most important: breakthrough science.

But even beyond that, it’s hard to quantify the impact of the community LabCentral has built. Through social events, scientific discussions, sessions with LabCentral sponsors and more, it creates a very collaborative environment that is critical for the personal and professional growth of individuals and companies, as well as providing a space for “collisions,” as LabCentral calls them, between potential partners, investors and more.

And with so many other start-up CEOs on-site, I found it an open place for entrepreneurs and scientists to exchange ideas, confide in each other and learn in daily, informal interactions in the office – which is a nice complement to more formal quarterly board updates or similar structured meetings.

Between your two companies you’ve been at LabCentral 700 twice and LabCentral 610 – what can you say about the value of LabCentral’s “pipeline” of facilities?

It’s not just that you have built a pipeline, but also put so much thought into building facilities so that a company has a chance to grow from initial idea to scale-up bio manufacturing without leaving LabCentral. Most people don’t realize how much of a challenge it is for a biotech start-up company to get off the ground if they are trying to lease – or more likely sub-lease – lab space, purchase equipment, set up IT and more. The cost and complexity of that in Kendall Square can force companies out to lower cost locations along route 128, I-495 or even central or western Massachusetts by universities.

Those are certainly viable options, but it’s not Kendall Square, which is more than a location, it’s a brand. Being in Kendall Square makes a huge difference with investors, has more proximity to potential industry partners and has a vibrant community to help interconnect employees versus being isolated in some suburban office park. The LabCentral pipeline of facilities provide a growth track to make all the benefits of Kendall Square available to high-potential start-ups that otherwise may not be able to be here – with the results clearly outlined in LabCentral’s annual Impact Reports.

Essentially, the story of Tidal – our start, our growth, our success in such a short period of time – clearly illustrates the benefits of LabCentral and proof that its model accelerates new ideas, therapies and discoveries to market faster.