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Activity surges in cell and gene therapy services

Investments target an anticipated flurry of cutting-edge biologic therapies

by Rick Mullin
March 10, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 9


A photograph of two men signing off on a partnership.
Credit: Matica Biotechnology
Andrew Arrage, chief commercial officer of Matica Biotechnology (left), and Jon Mogford, vice chancellor for research at Texas A&M University, sign a product development partnership.

As biotech companies pursue new cell and gene therapies, pharmaceutical contract manufacturing firms are investing rapidly in facilities to help them scale up.

One such firm, Pharmaron, has agreed to acquire a biologics facility in Liverpool, England, from the drug maker AbbVie for $119 million. The multipurpose site features cell and gene therapy development and production using a suspension system for volumes up to commercial scale.

China-based Pharmaron recently acquired Absorption Systems, a US cell and gene therapy services firm offering preclinical research, product development, and commercial manufacturing.

AGC Biologics plans to expand its cell and gene therapy operation in Milan, Italy, adding two floors to the existing operation as well as viral vector suspension capabilities. The project comes less than a year after AGC bought the site, the former MolMed, which was the first plant approved in Europe for ex-vivo gene therapy manufacturing. The site now makes two cell and gene therapy products.

Another service firm, Celonic Group, announced it would be leasing a production site and office space at the new Life Science Park Rheintal, operated by Novartis in Stein, Switzerland. Celonic says it will provide development and production services for cell and gene therapies, vaccines, and other biopharmaceuticals.

The company plans to build 20 clean room suites at the facility starting in 2022. It says the venture could create up to 250 new jobs.

And Matica Biotechnology, the cell and gene therapy services division of South Korea’s CHA Biotech, has signed a research agreement with the Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing at Texas A&M University covering joint R&D on plasmid, protein, and viral vector products. Matica will open a facility near the center later this year.

Peter Bigelow, president of xCell Strategic Consulting, says growth in cell and gene therapies is huge, spurred by a large number of such therapies advancing in the drug development pipeline. There is currently a shortage of plasmid and viral vector manufacturing capacity, he adds.

“Companies can grow by 50 to 100% if they continue to scale their business,” Bigelow says in an e-mail, but technical capabilities may be a limiting factor as therapies move forward. “Can we develop a scientific and technical workforce at the necessary pace to serve these investments?”.



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