Shakespeare wrote in Cymbeline:
But clay and clay differs in dignity, whose dust is both alike.
We imagine ourselves to be cut from the same cloth; most of our genetic DNA is shared, our cells make and use the same proteins, we all share similar aspirations and hope. But our separate journeys, experiences, and lived lives are what sculpt us as individuals. And from these unique demarcations, indentations, notations in the margins, arise our singular dignities.
It is hard to give an exact definition of dignity; but you know it when you see it and you feel it when you have it. Dignity is found in your walk on the beach, arm linked with your grandmother’s, when you gaze upon her and see her silent strength. Dignity is knowing that gimmickry and misfortune may weave through your life and yet still you urge forward with adventure, agency and control. Dignity straddles the duality of pleasure and weariness, fulfillment and risk, the satisfaction in the sweat of your own toil and the unabashed embrace of your family, community and yourself. Your dignity envelops your soul.
Your dignity respires, hidden from view, edifying you, quietly. But it takes only the few portentous words of a cancer diagnosis (‘I’m sorry to inform you, but you have cancer’) for your dignity to crumble. Decision making becomes algorithmic; your actions are constrained by a doctor’s command or tethered by a Christmas-tree like IV pole, ominously adorned with less ornamental red bags of chemotherapy. You suddenly have induced forgetfulness, “chemobrain,” and the interminable psychological angst of your mortality. Your senses are simultaneously dull though liminally acute as your body internally strains against the bizarre, pathological variant of yourself. It is the diffusion of your agency, the dissolution of your control, and the dissipation of your dignity.
We, like millions of patients and their loved ones, know how cancer can abscond with dignity. Ben’s wife succumbed to acute myeloid leukemia while Gus was rescued from myelodysplastic syndrome by his transplant donor. Both lay alone in their hospital rooms, dulled by the toxins flowing through them, isolated and accompanied by only the monotone hum of the fluorescent lights.
This is why we started Chimera; we want to build therapeutic treatments that can extend lives, save lives, and yes, maybe, cure cancer. But first and foremost we want to help bring dignity back to patients and their families. We believe that by building treatments to have safe, non-toxic tumor eradication along with lifelong immune surveillance and clearance, we can help patients and their families regain their lives, recoup their agency and reconstruct their dignity. We aspire to accomplish this by:
Making Potent, Durable, Curative Medicines
We begin with nature’s most potent cancer medicine, our own immune cells, and endow them with the ability to specifically target tumor cells. We then program additional capabilities so that these cells produce and deliver powerful anti-tumor compounds to clear the tumors and engage the patients’ own immune systems for long term tumor surveillance. We seek to eliminate the doom of a diagnosis, the tumult of treatment and the anxiety of relapse… let’s cancel cancer
Making Boring Medicines
When we think of the innovations required to enable you to read this post (computers, cell phones, WiFi, the Internet and much, much more), we don’t have a clue about how these things work. But yet here you are reading these words. You barely notice any of the technology at all; in fact, it’s as if staring at this screen, this technological wonder in your hand, were boring. We think advanced, complicated, technology laden medicines should be boring too. You shouldn’t notice it. Boring means destroying tumors, unnoticeably, without toxic side effects while patients live their lives, oblivious to the complex network of immune cells clearing out tumors. By piggybacking off of what our immune systems already do, we will make boring medicines, and in doing so, make cancer boring.
Your immune system is a bit like dignity, your body’s robust and silent protector. You might even note that your own immune system is what enables you to live a life with dignity, giving you the freedom to travel to strange lands, embrace strangers, sample new cuisines, all without a care or the worry of succumbing to a common illness. In this your immune system is like Shakespeare’s dust - they are all alike. And as you craft your own personal journey, differing from others’ in clay alone, we will be here, engineering new medicines, sintering the dust of our collective immunity, to bring patients: life, agency and dignity.