CasTag Biosciences specializes in cell biology and regenerative medicine, focusing on revolutionizing the speed of endogenously protein analysis. The company aims to accelerate scientific discovery by offering tools that allow scientists to study novel genes in any experimental model. In this interview Co-Founder and VP of Business Operations, Alan Ma shares insights into their journey of becoming a trusted partner for scientists to minimize time spent on tool development and focus on experiments.
Could you give us the elevator pitch of what is CasTag BioSciences?
CasTag Biosciences is launching the next generation of protein characterization tools at genome-scale using our novel CRISPR knock-in technology to provide options for researchers to do studies they currently lack the tools to perform. In essence, our goal is to do what antibody companies in the 90s did for the biological research market.
What was the inspiration behind founding the company?
Our founder, Scott Soderling, faced a problem many researchers face in their research: the availability of critical reagents to perform follow-up studies. As an expert in neurodevelopmental disorders, Scott’s research lab identified 140 novel proteins of interest in the synaptic junction but lacked the tools to determine their localization and function. After exhausting the limited available options from the antibody market, Scott determined that current CRISPR knock-in methods were also insufficient for his research. This realization led to the development of the homology-independent universal genome engineering (HiUGE) technology that addressed his major pain points of reagent availability, editing in non-dividing cells, and efficiency. He quickly realized this could benefit more researchers than just his lab in the form of pre-validated reagents.
What advancements in technology does CasTag BioSciences bring to the industry?
Our focus is expediting medical discovery by commercializing high-throughput CRISPR knock-in reagents with a breadth of research applications for scientists to study the endogenous expression of their genes of interest. While our initial development is on immunofluorescent imaging, our platform enables us to rapidly partner and expand into new applications with ease with our universal donor vectors. Given our technology is cell-cycle independent, species agnostic, and highly scalable, we have the potential to enable scientists to answer more research questions in a variety of pre-clinical experimental models with pre-validated reagents.
What have been your biggest accomplishments since launching CasTag BioSciences?
We’ve entered some great partnerships to bring our HiUGE technology into new research areas through the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and National Science Foundation’s support. Through these non-dilutive funding sources, we’ve successfully brought the technology out of Duke University and are starting to scale our impact on the biological research market. We’re excited to work with new scientists to fulfill our role as partners in their discoveries.
I am sure it hasn’t been an easy journey, were there any major frustrations faced in building the company?
COVID has been incredibly disruptive globally, which certainly tested our team in the early days of building CasTag. We’ve all adapted well to the virtual nature of the world today, but certainly miss the way things worked in person and especially with serendipitous networking at conferences to find new opportunities to grow.
You are one of the companies selected to attend this year Venture Connect 2021, representing the future and scope of Tech and Life Science industries. Could you tell us a little about what you will be presenting at the summit?
Advances in genomics research have dramatically enhanced scientists’ capabilities to identify gene-disease associations at an unprecedented rate. Despite this, techniques to follow-up on the analysis of potential candidates for therapeutic development have remained a significant bottleneck in the discovery process. The ability to research the endogenous expression of protein targets at scale is limited by substantial cost and lead-times for both academic and pharma research laboratories. Our CRISPR knock-in arrayed libraries will provide validated reagents for the research community at unprecedented scale and throughput, enabling researchers to match the scale of genomics research for the first time.
What trends and technologies do you expect to see more of in the coming years?
The CRISPR revolution is well underway both clinically and for research applications. We are already observing the disruption of historical research methods (i.e., Antibodies, overexpression studies, traditional gene knockouts). Further adoption of CRISPR methods like HiUGE that revolutionize protein analysis are continually being developed, and we expect to see more functional modifications of proteins for a variety of research applications.