Ki Young Sohn, Chairman and CEO of Enzychem Lifesciences has been selected by the Judges of World Biz Magazine's Annual Awards to be a recipient of the Top 100 CEOs in Innovation Award 2022. This selection follows a stringent process that evaluated over 40,000 nominees to select the exclusive list of 100 winners.
Ki Young Sohn is Chairman and CEO of Enzychem Lifesciences, a late-stage biotechnology company. With more than 30 years of experience in the life sciences and finance industry, Ki Young has previously led teams in various pharmaceutical settings to success. Most recently, he has led positive Phase 2 US results for Enzychem Lifesciences' lead candidate, EC-18 in Chemoradiation-induced Oral Mucositis (CRIOM) and execution of the partnership with Zydus Cadila to manufacture and distribute the world’s first COVID-19 pDNA vaccine.
Founded in 1999, Enzychem Lifesciences is developing novel small molecule therapeutics to target fundamental pathways in inflammation, for patients with unmet needs. Based on more than two decades of research, Enzychem developed its leading candidate EC-18, an oral small molecule derived from Sika deer antler, which has shown to be active across a number of different indications.
"It is our mission to develop the safest and most economical form of EC-18 to treat various inflammatory diseases. For me, realizing how much our studies could potentially have a huge impact on patients' lives is the key driver of my work."
Tell us about your mission. What drives you and what excites you most about your work?
KYS - It is our mission to develop the safest and most economical form of EC-18 to treat various inflammatory diseases. For me, realizing how much our studies could potentially have a huge impact on patients' lives is the key driver of my work. It is always exciting to see our progressive study results slowly come to life and foster hope of one day being able to share them with the patients who are still suffering from diseases.
Please share some insight into EC-18 and what it means for patients with unmet needs in oncology, inflammatory, and severe respiratory diseases.
KYS - Enzychem’s leading candidate, EC-18, is a proprietary compound originally derived from Sika deer antlers. It is an immunomodulator with a unique mechanism of action called PETA (Pattern Recognition Receptor Endocytic Trafficking Accelerator). PETA is known to facilitate the patient’s intrinsic defense mechanism to holistically remove danger signals and pathogens and dampen the pro-inflammatory signaling cascades for early return to homeostasis.
Based on our findings from preclinical and clinical studies, we are developing EC-18 for multiple indications in oncology, inflammatory and severe respiratory diseases. We are especially focusing on areas of Chemoradiation-induced Oral Mucositis (CRIOM), Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS), and NASH.
"This pDNA vaccine is a huge breakthrough as it resolves some of the issues we have seen with the current mRNA vaccines."
One of Enzychem Lifesciences’ major milestones in 2021 was securing manufacturing, licensing, and distribution partnerships for the world’s first COVID-19 pDNA vaccine. Talk to us about ZyCoV-D and why it’s a major step in the global fight against COVID-19.
KYS - ZyCoV-D is a plasmid DNA vaccine that uses a non-replicating version of a plasmid that contains the information corresponding to the spike protein of the SARS-COV-2 virus. Upon injection into skin cells, this information is converted into a protein that stimulates immune responses.
This pDNA vaccine is a huge breakthrough as it resolves some of the issues we have seen with the current mRNA vaccines. ZyCoV-D has shown good stability at the temperature of 25°C for at least three months. The thermostability of the vaccine will facilitate shipment and storage of the vaccine and reduce any cold chain breakdown challenges. It is the world’s first DNA plasmid vaccine and at the same time the third vaccine granted emergency approval for use in children above the age of 12. The DNA-plasmid platform is robust and relatively easy to operate by applying “Plug-and-play” technology. The vaccine can rapidly (within days) be redesigned and adapted to match vaccine-escape variants.
Share with us some insight into Enzychem Lifesciences’ work for NASA.
KYS - In 2021, Enzychem has been selected for NASA’s Human Research Program to conduct research on EC-18 and how it impacts astronaut health and performance during future long-duration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. With our collaborator, Dr. Cheryl Nickerson, professor at Arizona State University, our primary study objective is to evaluate the cumulative effect of both low-dose radiation and microgravity on the foodborne pathogen, Salmonella Typhimurium on astronaut health using a 3-D biomimetic human intestine model. We look forward to advancing the study with the support of NASA.
"My belief is that the leader should not only provide far-sighted vision and goals, but also pay close attention to detail. Through such processes, Enzychem built an infrastructure and a set of comprehensive procedures for the global new drug development."
How would you describe your approach to leadership?
KYS - Leadership entails the ability to gather and usher various talents into a project with a clear objective. Successful entrepreneurs are able to do this by fostering teamwork, team efforts, and team spirit. Before seeking collaboration with companies outside ours, it’s essential to maintain a harmony amongst the members of Enzychem. This way, both internal and external roles in the development of EC-18 can be interfaced and combined.
My belief is that the leader should not only provide far-sighted vision and goals, but also pay close attention to detail. Through such processes, Enzychem built an infrastructure and a set of comprehensive procedures for the global new drug development.
You have been a biopharmaceutical leader and executive for over 30 years, what are some of the biggest changes in the industry you have seen during your career?
KYS - I would say a greater focus on R&D, innovation and cross border collaboration. The focus on the value of medications has increased because pharmaceutical companies strive for greater effectiveness and efficiency to better meet patient needs. Therefore, the companies are more concerned than ever about ensuring research and development hit the intended target.
In addition, cross border collaboration and research have become more robust. As every company shares the ultimate goal of making the world a better, illness-free place, so, more and more companies from different regions engage in collaborative programs. This not only boosts productivity but also resolves existing medication limits, minimizes adverse events through combination therapy, and ultimately increases the value of already commercialized medicines.
"One distinguishing quality of the healthcare industry is that changes and innovations require a great amount of time unlike other industry areas. Therefore, to start tackling these challenges, more engagement and collaboration with many pharmaceutical companies, service providers, and government agencies are needed."
What are the top challenges your industry is facing right now and what is needed to navigate them?
KYS - The first collective challenge would be related to clinical trials. Owning to the pandemic, every process of clinical trials has slowed down which limited accessibility to clinical sites and increased regulatory risk. There are still countless diseases for which there is no cure, and the cost of innovation and fast evolution are the second and last challenges. In general, the demand for innovation peaked in 2020 creating a huge financial impact across the entire industry. A number of healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies still felt the financial strain of innovation well into 2021 and beyond.
One distinguishing quality of the healthcare industry is that, to an extent far greater than in many other industries, changes and innovations require a great deal of time. To start tackling these challenges, more engagement and collaboration with many pharmaceutical companies, service providers, and government agencies are needed. By working together for a mutual goal, I believe we could create a positive outcome.
Enzychem Lifesciences has many partnerships with outstanding academic and government institutions across the globe. Talk to us about the importance of these partnerships.
KYS - These partnerships have helped to establish strong networks and resources that function as an extended workforce to support our studies. By participating in many government grants and support programs, we have been able to utilize the advice of outside experts and professionals and collaborate with world-class laboratories and scientists. Chances to work closely with top experts in each field around the world are very hard to come by, and sharing ideas with them is invaluable. To expedite studies, not only receiving support on the professional side but also financial support such as government funding is crucial for any pharmaceutical company.
"Just as in other years, we plan to have a productive 2022. Our main goals include the conclusion of strategic partnerships with U.S., Europe and Japan based biopharma companies in developing EC-18 for CRIOM, followed by initiation of our global, multi-center Phase 3 trial and continued advancement of our clinical pipelines."
What can we expect in the near future from Enzychem Lifesciences?
KYS - Just as in other years, we plan to have a productive 2022. Our main goals include the conclusion of strategic partnerships with U.S., Europe and Japan based biopharma companies in developing EC-18 for CRIOM, followed by initiation of our global, multi-center Phase 3 trial and continued advancement of our clinical pipelines.
With academic institutions and with government agencies such as NASA, we will also explore more opportunities to advance EC-18 as a protective agent against space radiation for astronauts.
Lastly, we plan to manufacture 80 million or more doses of the vaccine in Korea and commercialize the vaccine in a number of countries, including low-medium income countries in Latin America and Asia.
"To bring the most good to the greatest number of people, I would like to inspire a hope movement. Hope is the most liberating gift that people can give one another."
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?
KYS - To bring the most good to the greatest number of people, I would like to inspire a hope movement. Hope is the most liberating gift that people can give one another. The light shines and exists because of the darkness. I hope that people suffering, whether from financial problems, illness, or even personal issues all get better as there is always hope for improvement. Hope is a freeing gift that could help to change so many lives.
For more information about Enzychem Lifesciences, please visit enzychem.com
This article appeared in World Biz Magazine's Q2, 2022 Issue