5 Questions with Nur A. Hasan, Ph.D., MBA, CEO of EzBiome Inc.

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome 5 Questions with Nur A. Hasan, Ph.D., MBA, CEO of EzBiome Inc.

Dr. Hasan is a molecular microbiologist specialized in genomics, microbiome R&D, and strategic development of technology innovation in the biotech and life science industries. His work has resulted in multiple patents and hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, abstracts, and conference proceedings in the field of microbial genomics, microbiome, molecular ecology, and infectious diseases. Dr. Hasan has professionally served at various prestigious scientific panels, including WHO, ASM, NCBI, and ISO, and the editorial board of multiple peer-reviewed scientific journals. Dr. Hasan is experienced in the biotech translation, commercialization, strategic positioning of novel technology-driven products.

Before joining EzBiome Inc, he served as the Chief Scientific Officer at CosmosID Inc. and an Adjust Professor at the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, University of Maryland.  Currently, Dr. Hasan directs the strategic leadership and scientific functions of EzBiome Inc. This microbiome company applies precision taxonomy to achieve definitive microbial identification and expedite the discovery and development of microbiota-based therapeutics and companion diagnostics for microbiome-related diseases.

1. Please introduce yourself to our audience with a look back at your education, training, and career.

After my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Microbiology from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, I started my career as a technology solution provider, which allowed me to work with scientists and researchers on new technologies available in the market. As I had to work with the marketing team a lot, I enrolled myself in an MBA program and earned an MBA in Marketing. In between, my former research advisor received a large multicenter research grant with legendary microbiologists Prof. Rita R. Colwell at the University of Maryland and asked me to join him. So, I joined his research team at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B).

A year later, I received UNESCO ASM Travel Fellowship Award to visit the laboratory of Prof. J. Glenn Morris at the University of Maryland School of Medicine to be trained in molecular epidemiology. Later on, I moved to the USA to conduct my doctoral research on genomics and metagenomics at the University of Maryland. That was the early days of next-gen sequencing (NGS). I was fortunate to receive extensive training on NGS and bioinformatics from JGI’s Genome Sequencing Center at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and successfully sequenced a large number of finished bacterial genomes.

This work resulted in several publications, and I received my Ph.D. degree. To translate the utility of this amazing technology, Prof. Colwell started a biotech company to fast-track the development of sequencing-based infectious disease diagnosis and rapid bio-agent detection for bio-forensics. She invited me to join the team. As I had an inherent thrust on technology innovation and their biotech translation, I was delighted to join the team. Together, we developed a few great solutions and platforms that resulted in multiple patents and revenue

After a successful decade of work, I felt the thirst to focus on microbiome therapeutic areas and modalities. Therefore, in 2020, we started EzBiome, as a subsidiary of ChunLab, a public company in Korea, founded by Prof. Jongsik Chun, with whom I had the pleasure to work with in the past. As of today, EzBiome has built out a cGMP compliant laboratory, developed microbiome best practices, and discovery solutions and platforms to efficiently harness the hidden treasure of the microbiome. Additionally, EzBiome is also leveraging its most extensively curated reference databases comprising the largest collections of taxonomy-validated species and sub-species to enable the most accurate regulatory-grade sequence-based microbial identification to revolutionize microbiology.

In search of a home for EzBiome, multiple places, including Boston, San Deigo, and San Fransico, came to our mind. Still, we selected the 270 Biotech Corridor in the BioHealth Capital Region, primarily because of the county’s warmth. In addition, it’s adjacency to several federal and state agencies (NIH/NCI, FDA, USDA, EPA, NIST, MDPH, etc.), and local universities (UMD, JHU, GMU, GWU) to help establish collaborations, attract talents and execute advanced research programs.

2. For people who don’t know EzBiome, tell us about your history and the science of a microbiome company.

There are trillions of tiny little creature (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) that lives on and in our human body. We called them “microbiome.” They are mostly beneficial for us except for a few, like SARS-CoV-2, which makes us sick. They help digest our food, regulate our immune system, protect us from pathogens, and produce vitamins for us. However, an imbalance to this microbiome, known as dysbiosis, is associated with a wide variety of diseases (350+), including obesity, asthma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, autism, etc. Such a  wealth of associations often makes the microbiome seem like science fiction or yet another quasi-science. However, thousands of published papers proved that the interplay between microbiota and human beings is undoubtedly real.

Additionally, the tremendous success of fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), a method of transferring feces from a healthy donor to a sick patient in alleviating recurrent Clostridium difficile infection, showed the microbiome as a potentially modifiable factor amenable to targeting by therapeutics. Therefore, the microbiome is now at the center of attention to understanding disease dynamics and developing next-generation diagnostic and therapeutic solutions. However, the microbiome is a vast and complex ecosystem.

Therefore, new technologies and platforms are needed to effectively map the microbiome and understand its structure and function with high accuracy and precision. This is where EzBiome comes to play. EzBiome has developed advanced platforms and innovative solutions using proprietary reference databases and cutting-edge genomic intelligence to gain unique insights into the microbiome and decode the underlying mechanism of how the microbiome interacts with host at health and curing diseases. This enables the accelerated discovery and development of novel therapeutics and diagnostics for microbiome-related diseases.

Some of our regional focus areas include workplace strategies, new product launches, and data platforms for artificial EzBiome started its operation in 2020, and however, our scientific foundation is rooted in a decade of research and development by our parent company, ChunLab, which is a publicly-traded company in Seoul, Korea. At Gaithersburg, Maryland, EzBiome built a state-of-the-art laboratory facility with the latest fleets of traditional and next-generation sequencing technology and platforms to produce high-quality regulatory-grade sequencing and solutions.

We attained the unique capability to ensure the accuracy and quality required by regulatory standards by implementing cGMP-compliance and hiring experienced in regulatory service delivery. We leverage this unique capability to conduct our own research and development and offer regulatory-grade microbial identification, microbiome sequencing, and biomarker discovery services worldwide. We strongly believe that access to the EzBiome platforms and cGMP-compliant solutions will help manufacturing facilities to solve their unmet identification need and empower academia and industries to shorten the time for the discovery of new biology and transformative therapeutics and companion diagnostics for microbiome-related diseases.

3. What does the biohealth in our region need to do to get the front foot on these emerging technologies to gain a strategic advantage?

It is now well established that the microbiome will have a wide-reaching impact on human health and the environment. It can truly revolutionize microbiology and medicine. It is already at the forefront of innovation in many sectors with lucrative opportunities for next-generation solutions to solve emerging health and environmental crises. There is a growing thrust for the rapid translation of this fantastic science into transformative solutions for the benefit of humankind. However, the process is long and cumbersome. Still, this region is the home of so many leading universities, research hospitals, clinics, critical federal agencies, and many pharma and innovative biotech companies. Therefore, I think biohealth is uniquely positioned to bring forward a multi-disciplinary effort to expedite materializing the promise effectively.

Biohealth can develop microbiome initiatives to bring all relevant stakeholders under an umbrella and mobilize collaborations across industry, academia, hospitals, and regulatory agencies. EzBiome is willing to join any such effort and is happy to offer unique collaboration opportunities, custom services, and access to EzBiome’s Precision Taxonomy Discovery Platform to all companies in this region.

4. What are the ‘too hard to solve’ problems in bio right now that you think emerging computational sciences (such as quantum) could help us solve?

There are quite a few “too hard to solve” problems we are facing today. A technology like quantum could help us solve one of them: storing and securing fast-growing multi-omics (metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, metaproteomics, epigenomics, metabolomics, etc.) big-data. With the increasing association of the microbiome with a few hundred diseases and the rapid development of high-throughput sequencing technologies, scientists worldwide are studying the microbiome in greater detail using multi-omics technologies

Pharma and Biotech industries are also viewing this as an opportunity to develop next-generation diagnostic and therapeutic solutions. Therefore, large-scale research and clinical studies are underway, generating massive amounts of data that can often reach petabyte to even exabyte scale in some cases. So, a low-cost solution for short-term and long-term big-data storage with proper security would help boost progress in the field.

5. If You Could Learn Any One Skill In The World Without Trying, Which Would You Pick and why?

Very interesting question. I would probably pick either music or comedy. We live a life full of stress and anxiety; with music or comedy I could probably take a moment away from someone, make them laugh, or fill their hearts with joy, which I believe we all need the most at this time of the devastating pandemic.

Thank you to Nur A. Hasan, Ph.D., MBA, CEO of EzBiome Inc. for participating in the 5 Questions with BioBuzz series, and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region and beyond.