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Meet Leslie Williams of ImmusanT in Kendall Square

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leslie Williams.

Leslie Williams’ educational roots are firmly in science and business. Her love of learning, desire to make a difference, and strong entrepreneurial spirit led her to the world of biotechnology. She discovered and sold her first start-up company (a health care informatics company) while in graduate school.

After earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Iowa, she broadened her science education at Virginia Commonwealth University and then earned an MBA from Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis. While working at the cardiac ICU at Duke University she became involved in research and was subsequently recruited to work for GSK and then Merck. This sparked her passion for industry and delivering technologies to advance medicine.

Williams has been in direct patient care, researched and developed treatments for patients and has led efforts in large pharmaceutical companies. She has visited Capitol Hill to educate congressional leaders on new technology and the need for reimbursement. Williams has broad experience on both the investor side in biotechnology, and development and executive management of biotechnology companies introducing new treatments where there is significant unmet medical need.

With over 25 years of experience, Williams is currently using her passion to revolutionize the diagnosis and pharmacological treatment of celiac disease, a genetic, autoimmune-like disease triggered when afflicted individuals eat foods containing gluten. Williams is President and CEO of ImmusanT, Inc., which she founded more than seven years ago. By harnessing new discoveries in immunology, the company is developing a treatment designed to protect against gluten exposure while on a gluten-free diet. The hope is that the treatment can ultimately allow those with celiac disease to live with an unrestricted diet.

When she met Dr. Bob Anderson early in 2010, inventor of ImmusanT’s technology, she knew that “this technology was special and had the potential to change the lives of millions of people around the world”. She was so enthralled with the technology she devoted 2 years of uncompensated time and made numerous trips to Australia and Europe to bring the technology to an investor ready stage. To date over $40M in capital has been raised.

The potential for ImmusanT is reminiscent of her experience with the technology at INO Therapeutics (sold to Ikaria and now at Mallinckrodt) where she was one of the original team members bringing a treatment for pulmonary hypertension to market. This went on to impact lives in a significant way and won its scientific inventors a Noble prize.

Williams has a keen sense of “the imperative to address human needs”. She is passionate about what she does and has an insatiable curiosity.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
In biotechnology nothing is smooth sailing and there are many struggles along the way. What remains constant and true is the love and support of family and having a great team!

With struggle and set back there is opportunity! A true entrepreneur thrives on the struggles since you learn and grow the most when times are tough! Adversity is the mother of invention.

In my first CEO role, I reorganized a company and had to downsize the company to stay solvent. That was tough, but critical to its survival. Managing and advancing an early stage company requires regular adjustments, rethinking, an ability to be flexible and an ability to make unpopular and difficult decisions. One must constantly assess what is working and what needs to be modified. In the end, this company was sold. From there I went to the other side, venture capital. I learned a lot about how decisions were made and the dynamics from an investor perspective. That experience was enriching, changing my thinking and attitude towards advancing technologies. I realized I wanted to have a more direct role in building a new company. My venture capital experienced enriched my perspective on value creation and building companies.

With ImmusanT, we appreciate the small wins along the way. It is not easy doing what no one else has done and blazing the path for a new class of therapeutics. There will always be nonbelievers. But you must be fearless and willing to take risks!

“Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the ImmusanT story. Tell us more about the business.
Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune-like disease that develops in genetically susceptible individuals when they mount an inappropriate immune response that targets specific peptides fragments in innocuous dietary gluten proteins.

We are focused on giving those with Celiac Disease hope.

ImmusanT is focused on protecting patients with celiac disease against the effects of gluten. By harnessing new discoveries in immunology, ImmusanT aims to improve diagnosis and medical management of celiac disease by protecting against the effects of gluten exposure and may ultimately give patients the ability to have an unrestricted diet without fear or suffering the debilitating and serious symptoms of celiac disease. The company’s lead product, Nexvax2® promises to be the first therapy ever to demonstrate restoration of antigen-specific tolerance in a human autoimmune disease. Nexvax2 will be entering phase 2 trials this year. In addition, the company is taking a precision medicine approach with development of Nexvax2® monitoring and standalone diagnostics, which provide precise and informative results for the diagnosis and monitoring of celiac disease. ImmusanT’s proprietary discovery platform for targeted epitope specific (ESIT) immunotherapy is being expanded to other autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 Diabetes.

We are most proud of developing a new class of therapeutics for autoimmune disease beginning with celiac disease.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Luck is winning the lottery. Success is about seeing and taking advantage of opportunities presented. You can make your own luck/success by daring to take chances, working hard, being open minded and fearless.

The convergence of a series of events led me to the technology we are developing at ImmusanT. One could call this luck or simply seizing the opportunity. I had just run the 2010 Boston Marathon and had not scheduled anything major the following day.

Through the Boston ecosystem, Dr. Anderson, who was visiting from Australia, and I connected and planned a lunch meeting. The one-hour meeting lasted until late in the afternoon. I was impressed by the technology and its potential to change treatment in autoimmune disease. I saw this technology as revolutionary technology not evolutionary.

Contact Info:

  • Address: ImmusanT
    One Kendall Square, Suite B2004
    Cambridge, MA 02139
  • Website: www.immusant.com
  • Phone: 617-299-8399
  • Email: info@immusant.com


Image Credit:
The Atlantic Pulse Healthcare Conference – Atlantic/Stat Panel Photo
Grant Terzakis (The speaking photo)

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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