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.

Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos (via Getty Images)

With ad­u­canum­ab caught on a cliff, Bio­gen’s Michel Vounatsos bets bil­lions on an­oth­er high-risk neu­ro play

With its FDA pitch on the Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab hanging perilously close to disaster, Biogen is rolling the dice on a $3.1 billion deal that brings in commercial rights to one of the other spotlight neuro drugs in late-stage development — after it already failed its first Phase III.

The big biotech has turned to Sage Therapeutics for its latest deal, close to a year after the crushing failure of Sage-217, now dubbed zuranolone, in the MOUNTAIN study.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Covid-19 roundup: Eu­rope pur­chas­es 80M dos­es of Mod­er­na's vac­cine; CO­V­AXX se­cures $2.8B in emerg­ing mar­ket pre-or­ders

With the announcement of its vaccine efficacy data last week, Moderna is starting to line up customers for its Covid-19 mRNA jabs.

The Massachusetts-based biotech announced Wednesday it has agreed to sell an initial round of 80 million doses to the European Commission, with the option to double the amount to 160 million. Once the member states rubber stamp the approval, the deal will be finalized.

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Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter Ko­dak de­ba­cle, US lends $1.1B to a syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy com­pa­ny and their big Covid-19, mR­NA plans

In mid-August, as Kodak’s $765 million government-backed push into drug manufacturing slowly fell apart in national headlines, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly got a message from his company’s government liaison: HHS wanted to know if they, too, might want a loan.

The government’s decision to lend Kodak three quarters of a billion dollars raised eyebrows because Kodak had never made drugs before. But Ginkgo, while not a manufacturing company, had spent the last decade refining new ways to produce materials inside cells and building automated facilities across Boston.

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The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

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Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO (University of British Columbia)

From a pair of Air Jor­dans to a $200M-plus IPO, Carl Hansen is craft­ing an overnight R&D for­tune fu­eled by Covid-19

Back in the summer of 2019, Carl Hansen left his post as a professor at the University of British Columbia to go full time as the CEO at a low-profile antibody shop he had founded called AbCellera.

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In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

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