Genuv’s Sungho Han encourages his staff to challenge the status quo

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Founder and CEO of Genuv Sungho Han, Ph.D./ Courtesy of Genuv Inc.

Sungho Han, Ph.D., Founder and CEO of Genuv Inc. in Seoul, South Korea, has built his career and business thinking outside the box.

In Korea, “I am one of the few female CEOs to have research training for doctoral degrees in the United States,” she told BioSpace. His doctorate in neuroanatomy and neurobiology, normally, his career would be oriented towards research. But, “when I was doing my research at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, I realized I was good at thinking outside the box, finding paths and building a team.”

These skills have eclipsed those of the bench and put her on an entrepreneurial trajectory. It helps that it is easy with Han to talk about science and a wide range of topics. “I am a sociable person,” she said. “This is not necessarily a common characteristic among scientists, and it helped me when I designed and founded this company.”

Han’s affinity for discussion and debate clearly helps Genuv thrive, but instilling him into the corporate culture took a concerted effort. For example, to support Genuv’s mission to develop neuroprotective therapies and enable neurogenesis, Han wanted to stimulate the scientific imagination within his company. To do this, she has developed a non-hierarchical culture, in which anyone – even new hires straight from college – can talk to anyone about any problem in the company.

“Korea has only 20 years of history in biotechnology,” she explained, and a culture that respects elders. Difficult ideas, whether Han’s or those of other senior executives, were not comfortable for many employees. “It has taken years to convince our leaders and employees that anyone can question our plans and ideas, regardless of title or seniority,” Han said.

“We are working on very new concepts,” she said, so the willingness to debate and discuss even supposedly well-established ideas is vital. Earlier references that contradict the scientific hypothesis Genuv researchers are working on, or the lack of previous references, can stifle innovation. It therefore encourages researchers to find other ways to minimize the risks.

Han was involved in the design of the ATRIVIEW® drug discovery platform, one of two Genuv platform technologies to screen small molecule drug candidates for evidence of neuroprotection and neuroregenerative effects. It is currently being used for drug discovery against Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Her team’s willingness to question the original design, she said, “has reignited the debate and as a result ATRIVIEW® is getting better and better.

In 2016, when Han suggested a new concept of therapies that enable neurogenesis and neuroprotection, “the idea was seen as really innovative around the world, and especially in Korea. Major institutional investors in Korea did not believe it was possible. It took me three years to convince them. Now the world is convinced that neuroprotection is working. It takes longer to convince them that neurogenesis is working too, but we are on the right track to making significant progress.

Genuv works in the area of ​​autophagic lysosomal activation – “one of the hottest topics in the industry,” Han said. Basically, the process activates nerve cells such as neurons and microglia to act as white blood cells in the bloodstream and digest wastes inside the brain, targeting amyloid plaque in Alzheimer’s disease and malformed proteins in ALS. “Our researchers are teaming up with an expert from Johns Hopkins University to decipher the mechanism of action,” she said.

The company currently has a Phase I / IIa trial of SNR1611 in Korea for ALS, with a reading expected in late 2022. Afterwards, Genuv plans to launch a similar trial in the United States for neurodegenerative diseases.

Han is also considering opening a discovery center in the United States. “The United States is the most innovative market, and we would like to tap into this base of innovation and talent,” she explained. “My ‘Yoda'” – science and policy advisor Bob Langer, Sc.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology – “encouraged me to choose the Cambridge area for the site.”

Of course, scientific progress is only part of business success. Understanding and protecting intellectual property (IP) is another. “When I started my professional career in Korea, I worked as a patent attorney at the law firm Kim & Chang (one of the largest law firms in Asia). I have developed a very good understanding of patent strategy, ”Han said. The firm’s clients included Genentech and other large multinational companies.

His in-depth knowledge of the patent field led to an invitation to participate in a series of seminars to explore ways to improve the intellectual property environment in Korea. “I have successfully worked with the Korean parliament from 2009 to 2015 to help members understand the importance of intellectual property and improve their understanding of intangibles, and thus strengthen biotech intellectual property in Korea,” said Han.

“I also hired members of the Korean parliament and presidential advisers in 2014, in accordance with the amendment of Korea’s bioethics laws. Therefore, she said, “I have allowed individuals, rather than the medical establishment, to control their own genomic information.” “

Despite his many successes, Han’s ambition has not always been in biotechnology. “I love music,” she says. After working at Medipost Co. Ltd. as head of R&D strategy, she was admitted to a conservatory and specialized in pipe organ. At that time, she was one of the organists of the Gahoedong Catholic Church in Seoul, where the first Catholic mass was said in Korea, during the Joseon (Chosŏn) dynasty. Mendelson’s Opus 65 No.2 and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor are some of her favorite pieces, but an injury has since kept her from playing.


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