Chang Hong views opportunity through a cultural lens, having moved with his family to the United States from South Korea when he was young. “I am an immigrant,” he proudly states. While growing up in America, he admits that there were some challenges with determining where he fit in—with his new community or his former community in South Korea—but Hong believes this shaped how he thinks about and sees opportunity. “People have implicit biases, but when people say there is an opportunity, I see multiple opportunities,” Hong explains.
This type of opportunistic thinking is what helped Hong capitalize on an area of law expressly as it was emerging and developing. When he graduated from college in 1999, the human genome was being sequenced and IP law was gaining traction. “I thought, ‘what is going to result from all of this sequencing and identification of genes?’ It seemed like an interesting area to get into in terms of law,” Hong recalls. So, to law school he went. Post-graduation, Hong made what he believes to be “the best decision” he’s ever made.
Hong joined a spin-off startup out of Dartmouth College to kickstart his law career. “This was an amazing opportunity. It was a forward-looking company with a stellar group of scientists. I was very fortunate to start there and be involved,” Hong says.
This startup, GlycoFi, concerned itself with developing drugs in a unique way and found itself in the developing field of antibody therapies. Because of the nature of the innovations within this business, Hong garnered a wealth of experience in patent law, a fundamental of his current position within IP law. “This experience was the benchmark,” he says, and though Hong had to make the difficult decision to leave GlycoFi, he believes this opportunity was the springboard for his legal career today.
Hong now serves as corporate counsel and head of intellectual property for Synlogic, a company based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, focused on the applications of synthetic biology to design new drug therapies and treat diseases.
“This is a unique and interesting company in that it marries multiple disciplines, synthetic biology and microbial engineering for example. What we’re doing is creating a new modality—we are making new, dynamic drugs. We’re currently in the clinic for two different programs: PKU (Phenylketonuria) and immuno-oncology,” Hong explains.
“There are huge advantages to the treatments for PKU that we are working on right now; for example, these drugs do not require injection. This would be pretty useful for patients, especially pediatric patients, who are not going to want to get near needles,” he says.
“This is a unique and interesting company in that it marries multiple disciplines, synthetic biology and microbial engineering for example. What we’re doing is creating a new modality—we are making new, dynamic drugs.”
“Not too many companies are looking at this particular modality, and if we can be successful, this is going to open a lot of doors for other companies and the industry altogether.”
As for the immuno-oncology side of Synlogic’s research, Hong has a rather personal connection to this work. “I think everyone either knows someone or has been affected by cancer,” he shares. Hong’s own mother was a cancer victim, so he takes a particularly keen interest in oncology. “We are developing something that could possibly be a treatment for people diagnosed with solid or blood lymphomas, and I am extremely excited about the opportunity of being involved in oncology,” he says.
At a high-level, it is his responsibility as counsel and head of IP to protect these clinical trials and the research they procure. Hong believes that to best protect these treatments, one must have a robust understanding of how they work. “From a legal perspective, I have to understand what these things are. I do have an understanding of microbial engineering and syn-bio, and that gives me a good advantage. I know just enough to be dangerous,” he says, laughing.
“You have to appreciate the nuances, especially from the IP side,” he says. This knowledge and appreciation are what drive Hong’s IP strategy. Fundamentally, Hong’s IP strategy is concerned with safeguarding Synlogic’s innovation and leveraging the technology that they are developing, which sometimes relies on external partnerships. Another extension of his responsibilities is determining the framework for these collaborations.
“Because I follow the development of the IP from inception to determining how to distribute it, I sort of run the gamut of the whole company,” Hong says of his role. “It’s a lot of juggling,” he admits, but he believes this keeps his skills sharp, which is important for his current role as well as the consulting work he does for companies like Just Egg. “When you’re in-house, you don’t particularly get to see how other companies operate,” he says. “I believe that my experiences allow me to share best practices.”
Since he has worked at companies ranging from startup to mature, private to public, Hong believes that he can apply that knowledge to share best practices in his consulting advice as well as his own work at Synlogic. To Hong, the best way for a biopharma company to operate is to act as if their very own lives depend on the work or therapies they are producing. “It gives that much more weight and urgency to what we’re doing.”