Launched by MIT grads, a small start­up gets $20M to back a ro­bot­ics rev­o­lu­tion in cell ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing

As co-di­rec­tor of an ex­per­i­men­tal cel­lu­lar ther­a­py process de­vel­op­ment and man­u­fac­tur­ing group at UCSF spe­cial­iz­ing in T cell ther­a­pies for au­toim­mune con­di­tions, Jonathan Es­en­sten has learned a lot about the chal­lenges in­volved when his group hand-fash­ions a cell ther­a­py. Es­en­sten — who was a post­doc in Wen­dell Lim’s lab and counts the leg­endary Jef­frey Blue­stone as a men­tor — gives them all high marks at be­ing great at what they do, but time and again there are vari­a­tions in the treat­ments they con­struct.

And that’s a prob­lem.

Jonathan Es­en­sten

Es­en­sten can’t of­fer any da­ta, and these are high­ly trained in­di­vid­u­als we’re talk­ing about, but “my in­tu­ition is that small dif­fer­ences in tech­nique can make a dif­fer­ence in the out­come of a cell ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing run,” he says.

As any­one in bio­phar­ma can tell you, vari­a­tions in ther­a­peu­tic out­put are not OK. You want to set a stan­dard and hit it every time.

So when Fred Pari­et­ti came in a cou­ple of years ago to take a first-hand look at what they were do­ing at UCSF and see for him­self what cell ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing was all about, they got to talk­ing.

It wasn’t just that there were vari­a­tions in the prod­uct, Es­en­sten says. It’s ex­pen­sive to get a trained group to­geth­er. Hard­er to pre­vent them from be­ing raid­ed by the grow­ing mul­ti­tude of biotechs in the area, who find it easy to beat a uni­ver­si­ty salary.

For Pari­et­ti, who joined a band of MIT grads and jour­neyed to the Bay Area to launch a ro­bot­ics up­start called Mul­ti­ply Labs, it was an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and one that led to a unique al­liance. Now Pari­et­ti’s start­up is fund­ing work in Es­en­sten’s group to de­vel­op a ro­bot­ic sys­tem to do that work — an ap­proach that he feels has near-term com­mer­cial po­ten­tial.

And af­ter rais­ing $5 mil­lion in seed cash to get them go­ing, he’s won over some key con­verts. The team at Mul­ti­ply can now boast of a $20 mil­lion fol­lowup round to get the prod­uct through test­ing and in­to the hands of an in­dus­try he feels is ripe for this kind of pre­ci­sion man­u­fac­tur­ing tech as cell ther­a­pies boom.

Cas­din Cap­i­tal led the round, with new in­vestors Lux Cap­i­tal and Pathfind­er, Founders Fund’s ear­ly stage in­vest­ment ve­hi­cle, al­so par­tic­i­pat­ing along with seed in­vestors Fifty Years and Garage Cap­i­tal.

Fred Pari­et­ti

Mul­ti­ply got start­ed man­u­fac­tur­ing a ro­bot­ics sys­tem that can make cus­tom de­signed pills, of­ten us­ing spe­cif­ic com­bos — a grow­ing fea­ture in the man­u­fac­tur­ing world. Once they get their new sys­tem set up for cell ther­a­pies, Pari­et­ti al­so be­lieves that there are a num­ber of play­ers in the cell ther­a­py field that can see the ad­van­tage of us­ing ro­bots in place of peo­ple, work­ing 24/7, with­out any vari­a­tions in tech­nique. With no pen­chant for mak­ing mis­takes. And no new salary de­mands.

“Es­sen­tial­ly the cell ther­a­py process­es are all lab process­es adapt­ed for GMP, but they were nev­er cre­at­ed to scale … ,” he says. “Peo­ple make mis­takes. That’s the de­f­i­n­i­tion of peo­ple.”

“The peo­ple are the biggest dan­ger for the drug,” Pari­et­ti adds. “In cell ther­a­py you want to pro­tect the drug from the peo­ple, not the peo­ple from the drug … Our job is to make stuff ef­fi­cient and au­to­mat­ed.”

It’s al­so a ques­tion of ef­fi­cien­cy, which re­volves around what Pari­et­ti calls par­al­lelism. With au­to­mat­ed sys­tems, you can con­tin­u­ous­ly use mul­ti­ple biore­ac­tors in par­al­lel. With peo­ple, or the al­ter­na­tive sys­tems on the mar­ket that Es­en­sten points to, biore­ac­tors have to be seg­re­gat­ed in in­di­vid­ual spaces to avoid cross con­t­a­m­i­na­tion.

That’s a big job, but Mul­ti­ply is still small, with 10 peo­ple plus an­oth­er 5 con­sul­tants. That should grow sig­nif­i­cant­ly with the cur­rent ven­ture round.

The in­spi­ra­tion for the team start­ed at MIT, where Pari­et­ti, who was work­ing on ex­oskele­tons in the ro­bot­ics group, met up with Al­ice Me­loc­chi, who was de­vot­ed to health­care sys­tems. To­geth­er, they built a team that tar­get­ed man­u­al drug man­u­fac­tur­ing, get­ting a foothold with their cap­sule tech. Now they feel equipped to go af­ter a much more am­bi­tious tar­get in cell ther­a­pies.

Mov­ing Out of the Clin­ic with Dig­i­tal Tools: Mo­bile Spirom­e­try Dur­ing COVID-19 & Be­yond

An important technology in assessing lung function, spirometry offers crucial data for the diagnosis and monitoring of pulmonary system diseases, as well as the ongoing measurement of treatment efficacy. But trends in the healthcare industry and new challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic are causing professionals in clinical practice and research to reevaluate spirometry’s deployment methods and best practices.

Paul Hudson (Getty Images)

Sanofi, Glax­o­SmithK­line jump back in­to the PhI­II race for a Covid vac­cine — as the win­ners con­gre­gate be­hind the fin­ish line

Sanofi got out early in the race to develop a vaccine using more of a traditional approach, then derailed late last year as their candidate failed to work in older people. Now, after likely missing the bus for the bulk of the world’s affluent nations, they’re back from that embarrassing collapse with a second attempt using GSK’s adjuvant that may get them back on track — with a potential Q4 launch that the rest of the world will be paying close attention to.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 105,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

SCO­TUS de­clines to re­view En­brel biosim­i­lar case, tee­ing up 30+ years of ex­clu­siv­i­ty and $20B more for Am­gen’s block­buster

As the House Oversight Committee is set to grill AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez on Tuesday over tactics to block competition for its best-selling drug of all time, another decision on Capitol Hill on Monday opened the door for billions more in Amgen profits over the next eight years.

The Supreme Court on Monday denied Novartis subsidiary Sandoz’s petition to review a Federal Circuit’s July 2020 decision concerning its biosimilar Erelzi (etanercept-szzs), which FDA approved in 2016 as a biosimilar to Amgen’s Enbrel (etanercept). Samsung’s Enbrel biosimilar Eticovo also won approval in 2019 and remains sidelined.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 105,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Charles Riv­er keeps adding on to its CD­MO arm, snatch­ing up a vi­ral vec­tor play­er for a tidy $350M

Contract researcher Charles River Laboratories has been on a roll recently to flesh out its manufacturing arm with a specific focus on its capabilities in gene therapy. Now, the firm is putting its name to a big check for a Maryland-based viral vector firm it thinks will add to its growing expertise in the field.

Charles River will dole out $292.5 million for gene therapy CDMO Vigene Biosciences with the possibility for an additional $57.5 million in performance-based payments, the companies said Monday. The deal will close at the start of Q3, a Charles River spokesman said.

How to man­u­fac­ture Covid-19 vac­cines with­out the help of J&J, Pfiz­er or Mod­er­na? Bi­ol­yse sees the dif­fi­cul­ties up close

When Biolyse, an Ontario-based manufacturer of sterile injectables, forged a deal with Bolivia last week to manufacture up to 50 million J&J Covid-19 vaccine doses, the agreement kicked off what will prove to be a test case for how difficult the system of compulsory licenses is to navigate.

The first problem: When Biolyse asked J&J, via a March letter, to license its Covid-19 vaccine, manufacture it in Canada and pay 5% royalties on shipments to needy, low-income countries, J&J rejected the offer, refusing to negotiate. J&J also did not respond to a request for comment.

Tim Mayleben (L) and Sheldon Koenig (Esperion)

On the heels of a sting­ing Q1 set­back, Es­pe­ri­on's long­time cham­pi­on is ex­it­ing the helm and turn­ing the wheel over to a mar­ket­ing pro

Just days after getting stung by criticism from a badly disappointed group of analysts, there’s a big change happening today at the helm of Esperion $ESPR.

Longtime CEO Tim Mayleben, who championed the company for 9 years from early clinical through a lengthy late-stage drive to successfully get their cholesterol drug approved for a significant niche of patients in the US, is out of the C suite, effective immediately. Sheldon Koenig — hired at the end of 2020 with a resume replete with Big Pharma CV sales experience —  is stepping into his place, promising to right a badly listing commercial ship that’s been battered by market forces.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 105,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

No­var­tis' En­tresto takes its 2nd fail­ure of the week­end at ACC, show­ing no ben­e­fit in most dire heart fail­ure pa­tients

Novartis’ Entresto started the ACC weekend off rough with a trial flop in heart attack patients, slowing the drug’s push into earlier patients. Now, an NIH-sponsored study is casting doubt on Entresto’s use in the most severe heart failure patients, another black mark on the increasingly controversial drug’s record.

Entresto, a combination of sacubitril and valsartan, could not beat out valsartan alone in an outcomes head-to-head for severe heart failure patients with a reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF), according to data presented Monday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

A T-cell play­er with back­ing from Roche takes next big step for BiTE drugs with 'on-of­f' switch to avoid tox­i­c­i­ty

The bispecific T cell engager field is absolutely packed with big-name players who have crowded in despite some high-profile failures in the class. Now, a Bay Area biotech thinks it may have the key to tackling BiTE toxicity, using an old “on-off switch” idea to give doctors more control of the drugs’ effect on patients.

San Francisco-based Soteria Biotherapeutics uncloaked Monday with a $42 million Series A co-led by Roche Venture Fund and 5AM Ventures with participation from the Novartis Venture Fund to advance its bispecific T cell engagers with an “on-off” switch the founders think can avoid some of the dire safety flags endemic to the class.

Matt Gline (L) and Vivek Ramaswamy

In­sid­er ac­count of Roivan­t's SPAC deal — and that $7.3B val­u­a­tion — re­veals a few se­crets as Matt Gline po­si­tions the com­pa­ny as the new ‘Big Phar­ma’

It was Oct. 7, 2020, and Matt Gline wasn’t wasting any time.

The CEO of Roivant had word that KKR vet Jim Momtazee’s SPAC had priced late the night before, triggering a green light for anyone interested in pursuing a big check for future operations and riding the financial instrument to Nasdaq. So he wrote a quick email congratulating Momtazee, whom he knew, for the launch.

Oh, and maybe Momtazee would like to schedule something with Gline and his executive chairman, Roivant founder Vivek Ramaswamy, to chat about Roivant and its business?

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.