Kanvas Bio Annual Science Day Recap
Recapping Kanvas Bio’s 2023 Science Day: A Q&A with our CTO and CSO
Every December, the Kanvas Bio team hosts an in-depth review of our research and development accomplishments from the past year. We also present our goals for the coming year. We call it Science Day, and it’s an important time for our team, partners and investors to collectively reflect on Kanvas Bio’s progress and future.
This year’s Science Day was filled with exciting updates that bring us closer to achieving some of our biggest goals. Nine Kanvas Bio team members presented, and we were especially proud to share the latest news on our lead drug candidate in our Immuno-oncology Program, KAN-001. We spoke with two of the presenters – Dr. Hao Shi, our Chief Technology Officer, and Dr. Philip Burnham, our Chief Science Officer – to get their perspective on the event, including what the major highlights were and why they matter more broadly. Read on for our conversation:
Q: What Kanvas Bio platform updates are you most proud of?
A, Hao: We’ve already built the tools to understand how microbial cells interact with each other and host cells. But now we’re able to leverage this understanding to engineer complex, microbial therapies. Being able to visualize hundreds of microbial species in a single imaging round is a unique capability, as is being able to engineer a diverse ecosystem that resembles a healthy, human gut microbiome in a single manufacturing run. Because of these unique capabilities, our platform is positioned to provide a better mechanistic understanding of microbiome-related diseases, and improve efficacy for microbiome-directed therapies.
Q: What are Kanvas Bio’s biggest scientific achievements this year?
A, Phil: Our R&D team has been working diligently to extend the Kanvas Bio platform to accelerate the pace of biological discovery for therapeutic applications. This includes the ability to rapidly screen candidate live biotherapeutics products (LBPs) and measure gene expression. Up until now, no one in spatial biology has been able to commercially pair the microbial ecology aspect with host gene expression, so we’re really excited to debut this capability.
Host-microbe biology is essentially a black box. Sequencing allows us to understand associations between microbes and their environment, but there hasn’t been a way to easily probe mechanisms. Kanvas Bio is solving this problem by being able to determine the place and function of each microbe. By unlocking an understanding of the function and position of microbes relative to host cells and each other, we can offer new therapeutic modalities to alter disease course in numerous indications. For example, if we can determine that certain bacteria are physically associated with particular immune cells relevant to a disease, we can use those bacteria as a therapeutic target or vehicle.
Q: How is Kanvas Bio leveraging machine learning and AI?
A, Hao: We use AI extensively in image processing and spectral analysis. We have the largest spatial and functional host-microbiome dataset in the world, so we’re eager to continue learning from this data, and use the knowledge to inform our approach to designing microbial therapies. Right now, we’re adapting existing AI frameworks for our use cases – one of which is segmenting bacteria. Machine learning models are only as good as the data they’re trained on, so we have to do a fair amount of tweaking upfront as the data we work with (complex microbial communities) is very unique. In 2024, we plan to spend more time with large language models (LLMs) to see how they can benefit the microbiome field.
Q: Looking ahead to 2024, what R&D is Kanvas Bio prioritizing?
A, Phil: We’re going to further develop the Kanvas Bio platform to measure microbial gene expression, in addition to host gene expression and microbial taxonomic identity. This will allow us to understand how different microbes change in response to different diseases and in the proximity to different cell types. We’ll also begin manufacturing KAN-001, our lead drug candidate in our Immuno-oncology Program.
Additionally, in the coming year we’re extremely excited to leverage the Kanvas Bio platform to optimize LBP design and manufacturing. With our East and West coast team members working synergistically, we’ve already come up with several ways our imaging technology can be extended to improve isolation and manufacturing.
Q: How did the Federation Bio acquisition benefit Kanvas Bio’s technology?
A, Hao: Acquiring key Federation Bio assets moved our timeline for therapeutic development ahead by several years. We gained access to a strong IP portfolio, a star team for complex microbiome design and manufacturing, and a diverse microbial strain isolate library. The strain library, in particular, has really boosted our existing tech, because it’s highly diverse AND we know exactly what each strain is. This allows us to test drive and stress test key components of our platform technology in a well-controlled manner.
Q: What biotech trends are top of mind for Kanvas Bio right now?
A, Phil: Generating, storing, processing and analyzing large amounts of biological data excites us. Recursion Pharmaceuticals set a great precedent for leveraging low dimensional data to generate novel insights (and using those insights to create wonderful drugs from their imaging platform). Kanvas Bio is generating hundreds of gigabytes of high dimensional data every day, and we’re using these data to answer specific questions. We also have an abundance of “hidden” data that we’re not yet generating insights from, so we’ll be continuing to expand our database of high-dimensional images and integrating LLMs to query it.
Q: This is Kanvas Bio’s third Science Day, how does it compare to the inaugural event?
A, Phil: We’ve come SO far in just three years. 2023 Science Day was a lot more polished, and we had so many more technology and manufacturing updates to share! It’s thrilling to grow so rapidly, but it’s even more special to be a part of the Kanvas Bio team. We’re deeply passionate scientists and that passion is driving our science forward in substantial ways. Every day, we think about the measurable impact our work will have on human health and it motivates us to no end.