Julie Rubinstein, C’93, W’93, came to Penn with a plan to enter medical school. At the time, Wharton was pioneering in studies of healthcare systems, and she discovered an interest in this field. Julie also attended the Annenberg School for Communication, founded by Walter Annenberg, W’31, HON’66, which she credits with shaping her ability to communicate as a leader in the business world.
Julie worked in investment banking in the healthcare group at Morgan Stanley, and then at various healthcare companies, such as Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. Her focus was largely in oncology and big data.
At Pfizer, she worked for many years in the oncology group, focusing specifically on drugs that leverage the immune system to cure cancer, and this is where she became passionate about how the immune system can be used to cure disease. In 2009, when her third daughter was born prematurely, she decided to take time off and stay home with her kids.
How did you join Adaptive Biotechnologies?
When my youngest daughter turned 3 and was in good health, I visited a friend in Seattle. She was helping her friend Chad Robins, WG’02, raise money for his new company, which was centered on a new technology that could read and translate the genetics of the adaptive immune system, generating a treasure trove of data.
Because of my healthcare investment background and specific experience in cancer immunotherapy, she asked me to review his prospectus. All of our kids played at Chad’s house, while he and I discussed the prospectus. We ended up staying six hours! It was clear right away how this data could drive a new level of understanding of the immune system. At the end of our discussions, he asked me if I wanted a job! I declined, but said I’d be happy to help.
Back in New York, I introduced his plans to people I knew in various pharmaceutical companies and research institutions that were developing ways to use the immune system to fight cancer — and received positive feedback. I joined the firm.
Now, in my 10th year with the company, we’ve created a technology that allows us to characterize important cells of the adaptive immune system. We collate massive amounts of data to inform clinical products and, ultimately, to diagnose and treat disease, using the natural language of the adaptive immune system.
Can you explain your company’s proprietary immune medicine platform?
We built a system that can generate massive amounts of data that tells us how the immune system detects and treats disease. We use that data to create our own clinical products that mimic how the immune system naturally works. We currently have one diagnostic on the market, clonoSEQ, that is used by hematologists to monitor relapses in patients with blood cancers. And we have a rich pipeline of immunodiagnostics resulting from our partnership with Microsoft to detect many diseases, including COVID-19.
We also have a drug discovery pipeline. We are partnered with two companies: Genentech to develop T cell-based cellular therapies for cancer, and Amgen to discover antibodies to prevent and treat COVID-19.
The significance of the immune system seems paramount with COVID-19 and other diseases!
Not long ago, immunology was a single chapter in a medical school textbook. Today, immunology is often interwoven in many chapters of a medical school textbook because it has a role to play in most biological systems and diseases.
Your firm posits, “The immune system is astonishingly brilliant in its ability to precisely detect and attack disease and to record its activity throughout our lives.”
There are trillions of immune cell receptors, which are like little antenna sitting on your cells that find the infecting antigens. Every once in a while, an antigen gets through, or tricks the immune system into hiding it.
Our bodies have protected us from disease for millions of years. Key cells of the immune system have the receptors that rearrange in response to any foreign pathogen that the body is seeing. They know how to do that with scale and precision. So, yes, the immune system is brilliant.
Our platform allows us to look at the immune system through a Hubble Telescope instead of a microscope so we can see the whole system in action. We zoom out first to understand the enormous context of the genetic language — and then dive in deep to learn about the host response, disease by disease.
What is Adaptive Biotechnologies doing specifically with COVID-19?
We partnered with Microsoft to map the immune system response to signals of diseases, called “antigens.” We map immune cells to antigens for many diseases in parallel.
When this crisis began, we launched the ImmuneRACE study to collect over 1,000 patient blood samples to map the immune response to COVID-19. We make this data publicly available so researchers around the world can learn from and use it to develop other solutions to the disease.
What questions do researchers have that your firm’s innovation will help answer?
Most research is focused on the virus itself or the B cell, which is the part of our immune system that produces antibodies. At Adaptive, we take a different approach by looking at the T cells to map the immune response to COVID-19. By looking at the T cell response to COVID-19, we may be able to:
- Diagnose patients who are asymptomatic
- Determine which patients could have a greater immune
If you have COVID-19 or had it, your immune system has a critical story to tell about how to beat the virus. Has Adaptive figured out how to read that story?
By the end of this summer, we aim to have much clearer resolution on the immune response to the COVID-19 virus at the population level. The more samples we analyze, the clearer that resolution becomes.
What’s happening in Adaptive’s partnership with pharmaceutical giant, Amgen?
We work closely with Amgen to develop potential antibody therapies for COVID-19. Patients who have recovered from COVID-19 have built up disease-fighting antibodies in their blood. Using their plasma as a therapy for critically ill patients is showing some promise, but is not sustainable in mass quantities.
Adaptive is screening the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients to identify antibodies that can be made into a therapeutic to potentially prevent and treat the disease to help provide a longer- term solution.
How did your time at Wharton help you in this exciting career?
My time at Wharton gave me a strong background in finance, statistics, management and marketing. To run a company, you really need to incorporate and balance inputs across all of those disciplines to make decisions and lead people.
Additionally, the specific classes I took about global healthcare systems helped me begin to understand how new clinical products are used and paid for in the U.S. and other markets. Finally, the network that you gain from attending Wharton is world-class. At the end of the day, the people you form relationships with can be influential for years to come.