Dr. Ray Yin has just 30 full-time people and some additional part-timers developing and producing rapid diagnostic tests for COVID-19 and bio-warfare and bio-threat agents and cancer treatments in their Newark, Delaware lab, doing the same thing that many of his competitors need 100 to 200 people to do.
“Our team is very efficient because of the type of expertise we have, and the flexibility of our platform technology based on nano-intelligent biomaterials, which means we save a lot of development cost and staffing needs when we go into a different area,” says the founder and CEO of ANP Technologies.
ANP is a clinical stage biotechnology company that is also developing pharmaceuticals for treating different types of cancer, including head and neck cancer, bile duct cancer, pancreatic cancer, and non-small cell lung cancers.
The biotech company’s proprietary platform, Nano Intelligent Detection System (NIDS), is used primarily in the detection area, particularly in areas where various rapid tests are based. But what makes his NIDS platform different is that it can be used to detect different targets with high sensitivity along with multiplexing.
ANP has developed a broad-spectrum cancer drug using nano-delivery technology that has been found to be very effective according to clinical trials and attracting the attention of potential partners or investors, Yin said.
The company got its start as part of the Army Research Lab in Aberdeen, Maryland, where it was solely focused on the development of rapid biological agent tests for the military. But it was spun off in 2002 as a private company led by Yin and has continued to work on rapid diagnostic tests and in the pharmaceutical drug-development area. The pandemic offered the company a huge opportunity to build a variety of partnerships with organizations trying to develop rapid testing.
“We have a dream to eventually go into the medical diagnostic and therapeutics areas,” says Yin. “Originally, we were only doing environmental detection, which is where biological warfare agent is focused on, in the air, water and surface. And now, we’re actually doing human sample testing from nasal fluid and blood as well as developing therapeutics to treat cancer patients.”
“We’ve gradually become a powerhouse in certain nano-biotechnology area, and particularly for the application perspective,” Yin said. “But to this point, we have not used much financing from the outside world, which I think could be even more interesting in terms of faster development.”
“We’re trying to find areas that are not crowded and where our technology has a unique niche where other people can hardly compete. For example, when we launched our biological warfare agent tests 15 years ago, we were the only one on the market at that time for rapid multiplex tests. And we still don’t have any competitors.”
Yin says ANP is collaborating with both academics like universities and cancer research centers, as well as federal government labs and pharmaceutical or diagnostic companies on joint inventions, patents, or products that have either been licensed, are seeking licensing, or are undergoing clinical testing.
Yin says the biggest barrier to success is the possibility of getting distracted by all the opportunities.
“The platform can be applied to many areas; there are many different targets in the diagnostic area and our technology can also be applied to therapeutic areas,” he says. “There are different kinds of drugs we can develop — either an old drug reformulated to become a better drug or a new drug that will enable us to compete in unmet medical need areas. The problem is that while our platform enables us to do many things, you need a lot of resources and funding to do that. And that has been a barrier. We have had to put ideas on the shelf because we didn’t have the resources to enter those businesses.”
During a recent interview, Yin shared his enthusiasm about one of ANP’s current studies – a test that returns results within 15 minutes assessing the effectiveness of various COVID-19 vaccines over time by determining whether participants are developing “neutralizing antibodies.” The neutralizing antibody level has been used as a biomarker to correlate with vaccine effectiveness in various clinical trials and after approval monitoring. The benefits could include being able to determine who needs to get a booster shot if they’re in short supply, helping employers determine how extensively they need to test their workforces; and potentially saving someone from having to get a booster they don’t need.
Yin says ANP’s work on COVID rapid testing is the ideal example for the benefits of its platform technology.
“We wouldn’t have been able to develop a COVID test so quickly without the platform, and because we have a [flexible] platform, now we have not only the antigen test, but also the neutralizing antibody test available where it can be used for various purposes.”
That said, ANP has had to move deliberately because the regulations constantly change, with different guidance on whether fully vaccinated people can get infected or whether fully vaccinated people can still infect others.
Yin says the company chose to be in Delaware because being located only an hour or two away from its primary customer – the federal government — gave it a huge advantage of getting collaboration going or getting a new project initiated.
The second advantage was the talent pool in Delaware in nanotechnology or nano-biotechnology.
“We’re loaded with talent here in Delaware, particularly with former DuPonters and Dow Chemical people. Great people are not easy to find. It’s not like you can go into Boston or the San Francisco Bay Area in this unique niche area. We’re looking for more of a nanomaterials-driven scientist for central research and development and we have the people who have [historically] worked for DuPont/Dow and the Army Research Lab (ARL), many of whom I brought with me or hired shortly after when I left ARL in 2002.”
Yin also said the company’s proximity to the University of Delaware enables ANP to recruit from there. In addition, many of the pharmaceutical companies he’s working with – or hopes to work with – are located within two hours in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.
He’s also hoping that ANP’s location will help him get funding from Wall Street.
“If we were not getting the federal funding, we would not have been able to survive. So, it’s actually something we need to pay attention to, how to attract the investors to basically beef up the companies in late stage and helping them to commercialize and or to finish the clinical trials.”
By the end of 2021, Yin hopes the company’s diagnostic test will be fully launched and FDA-approved and that its drug has also moved into the next stage of clinical trials.
“There are many things on our plate we’re trying to finish,” he said. “And we also think we will diversify ourselves even more by bringing more drug candidates and or diagnostic tests either to the final stage of development or to the market or get FDA approval as well.”
ANP recently won a highly competitive award of $20 million from National Institute of Health/Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (NIH/RADx) for the development of its COVID-19 rapid test. With the Delta Variant spreading so quickly, Yin believes the company will see significant revenue and employment growth once the FDA approve its test.
Yin also said he’s hoping to get more help with funding for the final stage of post-development commercialization.
“It’s hard to say that COVID is going to last forever, but right now it looks like it’s not going to go away quickly because the variants continue to emerge,” he says. “Delta arrived just three months ago and now 97% of the cases in the United States are all Delta.”
“We’re learning as we go,” Yin said. “This virus is something completely new to humankind, and we just don’t know what we don’t know but we’re learning a lot from this process.”