With an extensive background in public health and epidemiology, School of Public Health Dean Sten Vermund recently joined the Innovation and Public Health Advisory Board at biotechnology company Tevogen Bio, where he will join Ryan Saadi SPH ’95.
Yale Daily News
Pharmaceutical company Tevogen Bio earlier this month announced the appointment of Sten Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health, as the inaugural chair of the company’s Innovation and Public Health Advisory Council.
Vermund will join the newly formed IPHAC at Tevogen Bio as first chairman. IPHAC’s role is to advise the company on public health priorities based on analysis of regional and national data and best practices to improve health outcomes. According to Tevogen Bio’s website, the company’s mission is to use its cell and gene therapy platforms to develop breakthrough and accessible immunotherapeutics for life-threatening cancers and viral infections that have limited treatment options. Vermund said Tevogen Bio would like its help in the company’s efforts to focus on affordability and access to therapeutics, particularly given Vermund’s extensive public health background.
“The CEO asked if I could help him with his dream of starting a public health pharmaceutical company,” Vermund told the News. “And what he means by that is he wants to lower costs so products are more available to low-income Americans and lower- and middle-income countries.”
Vermund said he heard about Tevogen Bio from CEO Ryan Saadi SPH ’95, who reached out to him a few years ago to share his vision for the company.
According to Saadi, Vermund was a standout in the field of candidates.
“We evaluated many candidates, but it became clear that Dr. Vermund’s rare expertise and dynamic leadership skills would be well suited to the work of IPHAC as we continue to face new SARS-CoV-2 variants and other life-threatening infectious diseases,” Saadi wrote to the News.
Vermund said Tevogen Bio is primarily focused on T-cell therapies. The company’s website specifically highlights its focus on CD8+ T lymphocyte therapeutics for common cancers as well as serious viral infections such as hepatitis B.
Lindee Goh, another IPHAC member and partner at Tapestry Networks, wrote to the News that Tevogen Bio’s focus on COVID-19, oncology and multiple sclerosis – all of which raise questions about health equity and accessibility, on which Vermund is well is positioned to help the address.
“DR. Vermund’s deep expertise on these issues, providing effective clinical and public health tools to assess efficacy and scale up surgeries for HIV care and cervical cancer screening, and most recently COVID-19 interventions, will be critical when the Council deliberates public programs and approaches,” Goh wrote to the News.
Vermund said Saadi would like him to “continually remind the board and senior management of the need for low-cost manufacturing and the opportunity for the company to monetize volume sales.” Currently, Vermund said that T-cell-based innovative products are “not cheap,” but that the model of selling at low cost and making money by volume would be similar to how generic drug makers make money in India.
While Vermund said Saadi can call on individual members of IPHAC for advice based on their individual expertise, generally the group will work together.
“Advice is a collective wisdom, and it’s universal in companies that they have advisors,” Vermund told the News View, saying I express it so others can agree, disagree, and change my advice.
Saadi noted that each member of IPHAC plays an important role in Tevogen Bio’s mission and IPHAC is currently “in ongoing discussions with leadership.”
“Each Council member brings expertise, passion, vision and dedication to improving health outcomes for everyone, which aligns with our mission to bring life-saving immunotherapies to large patient populations,” Saadi wrote to the news.
Vermund has been Dean of the School of Public Health since 2017. In October, the university announced his resignation from that post, although school members said the three-year contract Vermund was offered was non-standard and an attempt to sideline Vermund.
Vermund has a solid background studying epidemiology for over 40 years, and he said that background will help him advise on Tevogen Bio’s technologies as they are applicable to cancer and a variety of other infectious agents. He was a Principal Investigator of the Adolescent Medicine HIV/AIDS Research Network and the NIH Prevention Trials Network, as well as an elected Member of the National Academy of Medicine and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
In his early research, Vermund focused on the interaction of HIV and HPV to increase women’s risk of cervical cancer, so he hopes it can be of help in dealing with infectious diseases and cancer, he said.
Tevogen Bio also recently developed TVGN-489, a T-cell therapy for COVID-19. TVGN-489 has been shown to be effective in combating SARS-CoV-2 in pre-clinical studies and is currently in clinical trials for high-risk patients.
Vermund told the news he is currently researching more about TVGN-489 and Tevogen Bio’s other recent developments in preparation for his first meeting with the IPHAC. He’s been involved in COVID-19 research and prevention since the pandemic began, and has advised schools and organizations on mask-wearing, so he feels he “surely has a viewpoint” on TVGN-489 based on what he knows is needed in the COVID-19 treatment market.
Tevogen Bio was founded in 2020.