Innate Immunity is More Than Personal

Arndt Schottelius, Chief Scientific Officer of Affimed, shares how his personal experience fuels the company’s vision to improve therapeutics for cancer

by Arndt Schottelius, CSO

As a drug development executive and doctor who, like many of us, has had their life personally and powerfully affected by cancer, I am deeply motivated to find novel and effective approaches to attack and even possibly cure some of the more persistent cancers that our planet struggles with.

As the Chief Scientific Officer of Affimed, a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company committed to giving patients back their innate ability to fight cancer, I am excited by the technology that we are employing – technologies that can make a real difference in people’s lives. My personal experience fuels this vision, and my passion for science and research has never felt more timely or vital.

In September of 2018, my brother-in-law was diagnosed with melanoma. This is one of those life-changing moments when you stop everything so that you can be there. I left my job as the Executive VP of Research and Development at Kymab Ltd so that my wife and I could support him. It was stage four melanoma; his brain was full of metastases and, if this had been ten years ago, he would have died within weeks. Fortunately, because of the progress that has been made, we had more time with him – but still, not enough. He recently passed and I witnessed first-hand the shortfalls of cancer treatment. What I took away from this very intense and sad experience is that there is still much work to be done. We as physicians and scientists need to focus our efforts not only on developing therapies with improved duration of responses, but also to decrease the heavy burden of severe side effects which so negatively impact the quality of life of cancer patients and their families.

Sometimes pivotal moments in your life are clearly blessings. This was not one of them. Yet, I look back at the journey my life has taken, I know I’m exactly where I’m meant to be – from being a young student interested in biology, to becoming a doctor, to then falling in love with science and research and becoming the rare breed of scientist who has straddled both the pre-clinical and clinical sciences. This love of research and science and how it can positively impact our lives has followed me throughout my career. The road has led me to Affimed and I’m so grateful to now be in this unique position, working with the latest cancer innovations to make a difference.

Before joining Affimed, I worked at several biotechs where I was responsible for building growing pipelines of proprietary drug candidates, including antibody programs in oncology and immunology at MorphoSys and Kymab. My earlier experiences at Genentech tasked me with overseeing all pre-clinical development programs, including a number of IND submissions in immunology early development. All this to say, when you’re sitting next to a family member who is fighting for their life, the science becomes more than a job. The research is more than a passion. It becomes personal. I do this work for my family. I have a wife and two daughters. And I do this work for all the families courageously facing and fighting cancer. You are not alone.

I am more than hopeful for where we are today, and where we are headed. In fact, I am inspired. I am inspired by the potential to give patients back their innate ability to fight cancer. Affimed’s work in this arena was one of the key drivers in my decision to join this team.

Innate immunity represents the first line of defense to maintain the integrity of our body and to protect us against cancer, parasites, and viral infections (something on all our minds today). I am looking forward to expanding the network of world-class academic collaborations so we can better understand the basic question of innate immunity and what drives cancer. It takes the best science, the best research, and the best hearts, because, as we’re experiencing today, personal immunity is global immunity. My personal vision, which inspired me to join Affimed, is to further promote the innovation in innate immunity to ultimately deliver medicines that significantly improve the life of cancer patients and provide hope for them and those who care about them.