Alex Karnal (Deerfield)

Deer­field vaults to the top of cell and gene ther­a­py CD­MO game with $1.1B fa­cil­i­ty at Philadel­phi­a's newest bio­phar­ma hub

Back at the be­gin­ning of 2015, Deer­field Man­age­ment co-led a $10 mil­lion Se­ries C for a pri­vate gene ther­a­py start­up, re­shap­ing the com­pa­ny and bring­ing in new lead­ers to pave way for an IPO just a year lat­er.

Fast for­ward four more years and the start­up, AveX­is, is now a sub­sidiary of No­var­tis mar­ket­ing the sec­ond-ever gene ther­a­py to be ap­proved in the US.

For its part, Deer­field has al­so grown more com­fort­able and am­bi­tious about the nascent field. And the in­vest­ment firm is now putting down its biggest bet yet: a $1.1 bil­lion con­tract de­vel­op­ment and man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty to pro­duce every­thing one needs for cell and gene ther­a­py — faster and bet­ter than how it’s cur­rent­ly done.

“What we saw dif­fer­ent­ly here is not just the ob­vi­ous — that there’s such a out­sized lev­el of de­mand for the amount of sup­ply — but we al­so saw the need to cre­ate an en­tire ecosys­tem” for gene ther­a­py play­ers, Alex Kar­nal, part­ner and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Deer­field, told End­points News. “This is the first time they’re gonna have a place where they can call home.”

Just how big is the de­mand? Days ago John Chimin­s­ki, who’s lead­ing Catal­ent in bulk­ing up its own gene ther­a­py unit, told an End­points au­di­ence that the num­ber of projects in the pipeline is ex­pect­ed to surge from 300 to­day to 1,100 by 2026 — trans­lat­ing to a vol­ume of 2.5 mil­lion to 4 mil­lion liters of vi­ral vec­tors need­ed. That’s up from 300,000 liters now.

Tony Khoury

Deer­field is build­ing its new Cen­ter for Break­through Med­i­cines at a for­mer Glax­o­SmithK­line cam­pus at King of Prus­sia, PA, now run by The Dis­cov­ery Labs. Span­ning 680,000 square feet, the site will con­sist of some­where be­tween 75 to 100 suites spread around 26 in­ter­con­nect­ed build­ings.

Start­ing from an old lab space with much of the equip­ment still in­tact means the cen­ter can hit the ground run­ning, with the site ex­pect­ed to be par­tial­ly func­tion­al by the end of this year and ful­ly up and run­ning in 2021. And do­ing so on the out­skirts of Philadel­phia — where some of the ear­li­est work in cell and gene ther­a­py were done by pi­o­neers such as Carl June and Jim Wil­son — on a sprawl­ing 1.6 mil­lion square feet com­plex de­signed to oth­er biotech star­tups should make it ap­peal­ing to the 2,000 sci­en­tists, man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­perts, tech­ni­cians and sup­port staff Deer­field plans to re­cruit.

With Tony Khoury, a key con­sul­tant for AveX­is, on board as a di­rec­tor and Paragon Bio founder Mar­co Chacón as chair at the Dis­cov­ery Labs, Kar­nal feels con­fi­dent about cast­ing a wide net and train­ing a whole co­hort of cell and gene ther­a­py spe­cial­ists on site. In fact, Deer­field has seen con­sid­er­able in­ter­est in the 24 hours they’ve an­nounced the project.

Which is good, be­cause the King of Prus­sia site is on­ly step 1. Deer­field is plot­ting three more across the US.

Mar­co Chacón

It’s not just about ex­pand­ing ca­pac­i­ty or even hav­ing the first end-to-end pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ty. Ac­cord­ing to Kar­nal, they will in­vest in op­ti­miz­ing the process of pro­duc­ing vi­ral vec­tors — from the most com­mon AAV to lentivirus — to both ad­dress the po­ten­cy and yield.

“The tragedy in the mar­ket­place is that the pu­rifi­ca­tion process­es are still in their in­fan­cy; we’re on­ly get­ting yields that are 10 to 20% on av­er­age from a good run,” he said. “You start with 10 to the X virus­es but then af­ter you pu­ri­fy it you lose 70 to 80% of that batch, that’s just — that’s like liq­uid gold be­ing wast­ed.”

The hope is to dou­ble the cur­rent num­bers.

Most of the ini­tial set­up will be geared to­wards gene ther­a­py — one out of 26 build­ings will be re­served for cell ther­a­py — but Kar­nal said they can keep it flex­i­ble for cus­tomers’ needs, re­gard­less of com­pa­ny lo­ca­tion, tar­get tis­sues, or de­liv­ery meth­ods. Each suite can pro­duce around 8 to 12 batch­es every year, and com­pa­nies will have the op­tion to take one whole build­ing for them­selves. The to­tal num­ber of cus­tomers will de­pend on all those vari­ables.

“Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing a batch is pret­ty con­sis­tent­ly priced, what’s not con­sis­tent is how many pa­tients you can serve,” he said.

A num­ber of oth­er com­pa­nies, both drug­mak­ers and con­trac­tors, are rush­ing to serve the same, ever-ex­pand­ing pa­tient pool. No­var­tis and Pfiz­er have com­mit­ted $500 mil­lion and $600 mil­lion on their own pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties, re­spec­tive­ly, and then there’s the CD­MOs like Catal­ent and Ther­mo Fish­er, which have grown their gene ther­a­py teams through bil­lion-dol­lar ac­qui­si­tions of Paragon and Bram­mer Bio. Biotechs big and small are jump­ing in­to the game; Pitts­burgh-based Krys­tal Biotech has just bro­ken ground on a sec­ond com­mer­cial fa­cil­i­ty in Find­ley Town­ship near Ohio.

“We want all the play­ers in the mar­ket­place to make it and be wild­ly suc­cess­ful be­cause the re­al­i­ty of it is even with us and every­body that ex­ists to­day, the de­mand far ex­ceeds the sup­ply still,” Kar­nal said.

Aduhelm OK 'bit­ter­sweet' for ALS ad­vo­cates; Con­trast­ing Covid-19 vac­cine read­outs; GSK joins TIG­IT bat­tle; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

With the busiest days of June now behind us, we’re starting to think seriously about the second half of the year. In August, we have scheduled a special report where Endpoints will compile a list of the 20 most influential R&D executives in biopharma. Know a luminary who should definitely be included? Nominate them now.

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In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Who are the lu­mi­nar­ies dri­ving the biggest ad­vances in bio­phar­ma R&D? End­points News is ask­ing for your nom­i­na­tions for a spe­cial re­port

In biopharma, driving a drug to market is the ultimate goal — but none of that happens without a strong research and development program. At the most successful companies, those R&D efforts are spearheaded by true innovators in the field who are always looking for that next novel mechanism of action or breakthrough safety profile.

Now, Endpoints News is asking you to tell us who those guiding lights are.

Bris­tol My­ers breaks the bank on Ei­sai's fo­late re­cep­tor ADC drug, lay­ing out more than $3B+ for rights

For years, innovation in oncology has been a crapshoot with Big Pharma — the whales at the table — dropping the big bucks for the key to the next generation of tumor fighters. Bristol Myers Squibb hasn’t exactly made a name for being an innovator in the space, but that doesn’t mean it won’t splash in when it sees a potential winner.

Now, with a massive check in hand, the drugmaker is willing to put its intuition to the test.

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Michael Chambers (L) and John Ballantyne

Dana­her strikes deal to buy boom­ing next-gen man­u­fac­tur­er Alde­vron for $9.6B

Life sciences conglomerate Danaher Corp. $DHR has struck a deal to buy the fast-growing Aldevron, one of the world’s top manufacturers of hotly sought-after plasmid DNA, mRNA and recombinant proteins for the burgeoning world of vaccine and drugmakers pushing some game-changing technologies.

Buyout talks set the stage for Danaher to settle on a $9.6 billion cash pact to acquire the private Fargo, ND-based company — a key supplier for a disruptive new Covid vaccine as well as a host of gene and cell therapy and CRISPR gene editing players — founded by Michael Chambers and CSO John Ballantyne as a crew of 2 back in 1998.

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FDA's con­tro­ver­sial Aduhelm de­ci­sion leaves ALS pa­tients feel­ing spurned

The FDA’s controversial approval of Biogen’s Aduhelm drug for Alzheimer’s disease has been met with fierce resistance from all corners of the biopharma industry, but few seem to be as upset with the decision as ALS patients and advocacy groups.

For all that’s already been written and discussed about the agency’s announcement, from the drug’s exorbitantly high price of $56,000 per year to criticism over lowered standards, ALS patients see something more. ALS patients and associations say they largely regarded Aduhelm’s approval as a bittersweet double standard: happy that those with Alzheimer’s have a new drug available, but questioning how the FDA evaluated Biogen’s drug compared to the experimental programs being studied for their own disease.

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Spring reg­u­la­to­ry agen­da: What’s com­ing soon-ish from the FDA

The FDA’s lack of a permanent commissioner does not seem to be halting its progress to propose and finalize dozens of new regulations, with the latest batch covering everything from adverse event reporting to supplemental application submissions to annual reports for INDs.

Overall, FDA expects to release more than 40 new proposed regulations and finalize another 24 in the coming months and years.

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Christian Hogg, Hutchmed CEO

Hutchmed files for $600M+ IPO in Hong Kong as lead on­col­o­gy drug su­r­u­fa­tinib awaits FDA's good graces

In oncology, a flush of Chinese-developed drugs has the biopharma industry rethinking the poles of power in R&D as the blossoming nation continues to make a name for itself and pick up bundles of cash in the process. Now, as its lead drug faces a pivotal FDA review, the company formerly known as Chi-Med is planting its flag on home soil with a massive public offering.

Hutchmed — recently renamed from Chi-Med, or Hutchison China MediTech — will look to raise $603 million as part of a Hong Kong IPO that serves as a homecoming of sorts for the Chinese-based oncology player, which has listed on Nasdaq since 2016.

As drug­mak­ers spend $6B an­nu­al­ly on DTC ads, sen­a­tors re­vive bill to in­clude list prices in ads

A new GAO report on biopharma companies’ $6 billion annual spending on direct-to-consumer advertising is pushing US Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to reintroduce legislation that would require price disclosures in the ads.

The GAO found that drugmakers spent almost half—$8.2 billion of the $17.8 billion from 2016 to 2018—on DTC ads for drugs in three therapeutic categories, including inflammatory conditions (e.g., arthritis, gout), endocrine and metabolic disorders (e.g., type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism), and conditions affecting the central nervous system (e.g., depression, multiple sclerosis), according to the new report.