LakePharma CEO Hua Tu: 10 Best Inspiring CEOs of 2020

Category: News

Industry Era announced LakePharma's founder & CEO Hua Tu, Ph.D. as one of the 10 Best Inspiring CEOs of 2020.

A true visionary, Hua Tu, the founder and CEO of LakePharma spent 11 years in biotech company Amgen and accumulated knowledge and skills in the area of protein engineering and drug development. He also understood the issues and challenges facing the industry. The biotech and pharma industry lacks efficiency and scale, and things happen at a slow pace with high overhead costs. Armed with a can-do attitude and passion to serve people Hua incorporated LakePharma. With experience in start-up biotech and big companies, Hua realized the need for service companies to help these biotech companies to improve drug discovery efficiency and expand technology capabilities. The company developed and implemented a range of technology platforms so that programs can be run end-to-end. Hua equates this work to building train tracks.

It is important to note LakePharma did not get to success overnight and took almost 10 years to achieve today’s size and service capability. “We started by focusing on “low hanging fruits”, mostly doing relatively simple and small projects. Over time, we started adding critical missing pieces to expand our capability and capacity, from research service to development to manufacturing, from labor-intensive projects to highly sophisticated technology platforms,” explains Hua. “Along the way, we listen to our clients’ needs and pay close attention to service quality and client satisfaction. I will say a big part of our success is due to our happy client base.” It is pertinent to mention, LakePharma is 100% US-based, with a great majority of its clients are based in the US.

When LakePharma first started, they did a lot of recombinant transient antibody production. “We quickly added comprehensive antibody characterization assays and analytical tools. Then upstream of antibody production, we established a new antibody discovery group, to generate novel therapeutic antibody leads,” says Hua. “At the same time, we built stable CHO cell line development function downstream of production, which laid the foundation for our final push into the GMP manufacturing area.” Today, a start-up biotech entrepreneur can come to LakePharma with an idea, and they can help them take the idea from discovery all the way to producing GMP material for phase I clinical trial. According to Hua, it is really about integrated solutions and not just a segment of it. The company has broad experience in every aspect of the R&D, so the technical team is looking at the totality of the program. For example, the technical team already looks at CMC liability while at the stage of lead molecule engineering and selection. In many companies, these are done by different departments at different stages.

In an instance, a virtual biotech company licensed a novel antibody from an academic lab and IP. Since they did not have lab space, they came to LakePharma for service and advice. Hua and his team of experts started with engineering the antibody to remove non-relevant murine sequences to make it almost “human-like”. Along the way, they improved their antigen-binding affinity by 100 fold. This made the molecule a true clinical candidate. “We then developed a stable CHO cell line which expresses the antibody in high yield (~ 7 gram/liter), and performed full process development optimization,” explains Hua. “This biotech company maintains its small footprint by collaborating with LakePharma. They are ready to move into GMP production for animal toxicology study and eventually phase I clinical trial.”

LakePharma has always been at the forefront of implementing software and hardware automation in their work. For example, LakePharma has implemented a powerful enterprise software system from RENKOM. This system has strong security features and is customizable. “We use it as a ERP and just about everything else. It is great for internal team collaboration and data sharing,” says Hua. “We also grant access to our clients so that they can view their projects and interact with LakePharma team members in real-time.”

Today the company is using its enterprise system to build a new client interface that is more powerful than ever. With the new system, clients can have more and direct controls of their projects, for example, clients will be able to build their projects and enter all relevant info directly. Hua envisions 50% of projects can be done completely by their clients interacting with the LakePharma system, without needing intervention by project managers. In the time of the present COVID-19 pandemic, LakePharma started internal activities as soon as the epidemic reached the US. Leveraging their experience in recombinant protein production, they produced large amounts of SAR-CoV-2 spike proteins which is now in some of the popular serological test kits out there. “We have also endeavored to make protein vaccines with an early encouraging animal in vivo result. We are in collaboration with many leading institutions and companies,” says Hua.IE

Link to the Industry Era magazine: