Trailblazing Women Creating Bioscience Startup Companies in St. Louis

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology

    Trailblazers in the world of science are not commonly women, so biochemist Hungjie Guo, PhD, is always thinking about what she can do to make a difference.

    “Women in bioscience field are underrepresented,” said Guo.

    Guo is hoping to change that, so she’s leading by example. Guo immigrated to the U.S. from China 19 years ago. She became a postdoctoral fellow at The Ohio State University before moving to St. Louis. She was working as a research scientist in a microbiology lab at Washington University before joining bioscience companies in St. Louis.

    “My specialty is membrane protein which is probably the most difficult protein to produce,” she said.

    Guo said membrane proteins account for up to 60% of drug targets for the treatment of various diseases. But membrane proteins are challenging for drug companies to produce.

    Having worked for a startup company supported by BioGenerator, the investment arm of BioSTL, Gou’s experience gave her ideas of her own. So, she’s launching her own companies. Guo became an entrepreneur in 2020 as the founder of Tiger Biologics.

    “We focus on the recombinant protein, or antibody production,” she said.

    Tiger Biologics produces high-quality proteins and antibodies for pharmaceutical companies and institutions, contributing to the production and development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. The work is done in BioGenerator Labs, as Tiger Biologics receives support from BioGenerator Ventures.

    Being in the startup space led to another development. Guo is now co-founder of Antiger Therapeutics. The startup company is developing novel immunotherapies for transplant recipients to improve long-term outcomes and minimize adverse effects. The biotechnology has wide applications.

    “For people who have autoimmune disease, it can also be applied in the cancer field and in the vaccine field. So, the application of this protein will be huge,” Guo said.

    Women scientists leading groundbreaking companies may not be common, but Guo is certainly in good company. Microbiologist Mary Fernandes, PhD, is co-founder and president of Solis Agrosciences. Fernandes is a veteran in the agtech world who took the lead developing a novel idea supporting agriculture companies globally.

    “What we really do is provide a one-stop shop for all of their research and development,” said Fernandes. “We can design plants, the new varieties of plants. We can develop plants and characterize those plants and provide the output as a product to these innovators.”

    With the support of BioGenerator and Solis Agrosciences’ co-founders, Fernandes has positioned this one-of-a-kind company for tremendous growth and success with far-reaching benefits.

    “All of the companies that we’re helping, we hope will solve problems,” Fernandes said. “Whether it’s food insecurity, whether it’s access to medicines from plants or fuel from plants or fiber from plants.”

    For the innovative women, leading by example is important for the generations to come.

    “If you have a dream, just go and pursue it, said Guo. “You can do it too.”