My journey — developing therapies to extend healthspan

6 mins to read

May 9, 2023


Georg C. Terstappen, PhD

I work in the biopharmaceutical industry because I am passionate about research and the development of new therapies for patients. For over 30 years, my commitment to that pursuit has been a common thread — from my earliest leadership roles in R&D at big pharma and biotech companies including Bayer, GSK, and AbbVie, to my current role as EVP of Drug Discovery at Cambrian Bio.

There is an extraordinary need when it comes to treating age-related, chronic diseases — neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease (AD), arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, and heart disease. And these are just a handful of illnesses that can plague us as we grow older, but invariably, they infuse our later years with pain, suffering, and declining health.

What if it were possible to ward off these diseases prophylactically, perhaps by taking a pill once or twice a day starting in middle age? Today, that’s still a futuristic concept, yet one I find very compelling. And here at Cambrian, we’re working to make this bold idea a reality.

Why Cambrian?

I’ve been working on age-related diseases for many years, with a focus on neurodegenerative diseases such as AD. In fact, age is the biggest risk factor for AD. In addition to working on AD in big pharma and biotech companies, I have also led a large European-wide, public-private partnership funded by the 6th European Union Framework Programme with $8.2 million. These experiences make the mission of Cambrian especially attractive to me because it is closely aligned with my own interests in age-related diseases and strategies for extending healthspan. I can also harness my detailed, extensive know-how in drug discovery and development.

In addition, the unique structure of the company allows me to participate in new activities, including guiding Cambrian’s venture investments. The ability to evaluate “pitches” for new ventures — instead of being the one to deliver them as I previously did in other biotech companies — is an opportunity I find very exciting. Learning the business of venture capital on-the-job is another clear upside.

At this point in my career, I could probably go anywhere — big pharma, biotech, or maybe somewhere in between. But the idea of creating something ambitious and new from scratch — a diversified portfolio of pipeline companies each pursuing a different hypothesis and target with the ultimate aim of extending healthspan — was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when I joined Cambrian at its very beginning back in 2020. And I am honored to be a member of the Cambrian leadership team ever since.

Isterian and the path forward

As President and Chairman of the Board of Isterian Biotech, one of Cambrian’s pipeline companies, I believe we have a very promising preclinical program in place, focused on halting and perhaps even reversing the damaging effects of fibrosis through small molecule inhibitors of transglutaminase 2 (TG2).

TG2 crosslinks proteins in the extracellular matrix (ECM), stiffening fragile and important tissues — like the lungs, heart, kidneys, and liver — and, over time, permanently scarring them. We believe that targeting TG2 holds great promise as a strategy to reduce fibrosis in critical organs and increase healthy lifespan.

Recently, we successfully demonstrated the efficacy of one of our TG2 inhibitors in a proof-of-concept study employing a mouse model of lung fibrosis. These results have not yet been published, but a manuscript is in progress. Idiopathic lung fibrosis (IPF) is a rare yet devastating lung disease in humans. In this condition, the lungs become progressively scarred, making it increasingly difficult to breathe. The standard of care for IPF involves a limited repertoire of therapies, which unfortunately do not alter the course of the disease and can have significant side effects. Hence, there is an urgent need for therapeutic innovation.

I am confident that our lead-stage TG2 inhibitor offers a compelling path forward for IPF. And we have other chemically distinct compounds in the Isterian pipeline as well. Clearly, this program is at an early stage of preclinical development, but we are making very good progress and our results look promising. I’m excited to see where this road leads us.