In January of this year, NextCure, Inc., a newly formed biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of new immuno-oncology products, announced that it had raised $67 million Series A financing from major investors including Canaan Partners, Lilly Asia Ventures, OrbiMed Advisors, Pfizer Inc., Sofinnova Ventures and Alexandria Ventures. NextCure’s mission is to give Dr. Lieping Chen, a professor of immunobiology, dermatology, and medicine and United Technologies Endowed Professor of Cancer Research at the Yale School of Medicine, a mandate to build on his past body of work to discover treatments.
For Dr. Solomon Langermann, Ph.D., NextCure’s senior vice president of research, the experience of hitting the road to pitch the startup company’s vision to potential investors required extra planning and preparation. Langermann, who is 56, has used a wheelchair for ten years, due to many years of deteriorating muscle strength because of inclusion body myositis (IBM). IBM is an inflammatory muscle disease characterized by slowly progressive weakness and wasting of both distal and proximal muscles, most apparent in the muscles of the arms and legs. While research is being done to understand the causes of IBM, there is currently no treatment to slow the course of the disease, which affects men in higher numbers than women. IBM is considered to be a rare condition, with between three and four people out of every 100,000 people over age 50 having the condition.
For Dr. Langermann, the progressive nature of IBM has lead him from wearing leg braces and using a cane to walk to using a wheelchair. However, wheelchair use and coping with IBM has not slowed down his impressive scientific career leading up to his work with NextCure. Dr. Langermann, who received his Ph.D. from Tufts University and completed his postdoctoral fellowship as well as a master’s degree at Harvard University, has worked as an adjunct professor in the Department of Medical and Research Technology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Prior to his position with NextCure, he worked in research in other immunology and molecular genetics companies, including serving as vice president of research and development at Amplimmune and in various capacities at MedImmune, Inc.
Coming to NextCure meant not only work in an office settling, but the need to take the start-up’s mission out on the road to pitch to potential investors.
“Not only did my colleagues make many accommodations during ‘road show’ travel to raise funds,” Dr. Langermann recalls, “but they also did so in setting up my new office and accommodating a home office for me as well.”
Dr. Langermann understands the treatment that he’s received from his colleagues to be in keeping with NextCure’s philosophy of putting together the most qualified research team — and that making accommodations for his mobility issues was never a question. “NextCure hires people based on their abilities, knowledge in the field, and ability to contribute regardless of physical limitations and all accommodations are made to work with talented and qualified individuals to be successful,” he explains.
During a recent board meeting in New York, where the NextCure research team presented to investors in a beautiful Manhattan skyscraper, NextCure colleagues helped Langermann get settled comfortably before the meeting started. The original founder of the Venture group, whom they were presenting to, was present and came over to personally greet Langermann and congratulate him on the successful launch of the company and the formation of NextCure’s management team. The founder was also a wheelchair user—he is paraplegic due to a wrestling injury in his youth. “He truly appreciated that perseverance and recognition by others of the abilities (not disabilities) of those with special needs that are essential components of success and integrity in any new venture,” Dr. Langermann explains. “NextCure should be lauded for setting important precedents in this area.”