Birgit Girshick, Charles River

Q&A: Amid an M&A flur­ry at Charles Riv­er, long­time ex­ec Bir­git Gir­shick dis­cuss­es how Covid-19 has changed the game

Con­tract re­search and man­u­fac­tur­ing has been run­ning at a rapid clip amid the pan­dem­ic, and big play­ers in the space have looked to lever­age run­away cash flow to tur­bocharge their busi­ness. For CRO Charles Riv­er Lab­o­ra­to­ries, that means more of every­thing — in­clud­ing a big in­fu­sion in­to its man­u­fac­tur­ing arm.

In mid-May, the com­pa­ny paid $292.5 mil­lion for Vi­gene Bio­sciences and its 52,000 square feet of man­u­fac­tur­ing space in Rockville, MD. In Feb­ru­ary, the com­pa­ny bought Cog­nate and pledged to dou­ble ca­pac­i­ty in Mem­phis and Eu­rope. In ear­ly April, it teamed up with Va­lence Dis­cov­ery to ex­pand its AI plat­form for mol­e­c­u­lar prop­er­ty pre­dic­tion.

Bir­git Gir­shick has been with Charles Riv­er for more than 32 years, and is now the EVP of dis­cov­ery and safe­ty as­sess­ment. She joined the com­pa­ny’s Ger­many of­fice in 1989, where she held a num­ber of roles, in­clud­ing some ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties. She an­swered ques­tions about the com­pa­ny’s growth and the game plan it’s laid out.

Charles Riv­er Lab­o­ra­to­ries has made a flur­ry of moves in 2021. What are some of the things the com­pa­ny is look­ing for when scout­ing pos­si­ble ac­qui­si­tions? 

Our guid­ing prin­ci­ple for ac­qui­si­tions is to ac­quire com­pa­nies with the best sci­ence and the best peo­ple. This is how we en­hance the breadth and qual­i­ty of our ser­vices as we grow.

Our M&A strat­e­gy is built with the client and pa­tient at the fore­front. We reg­u­lar­ly con­fer with our clients to un­der­stand what is of the ut­most im­por­tance to the suc­cess of their pro­grams. We al­so con­tin­ue to work with them to en­sure that an ac­qui­si­tion not on­ly bol­sters our com­pre­hen­sive port­fo­lio, but is high qual­i­ty and that the tech­nol­o­gy is rel­e­vant.

The cell and gene ther­a­py land­scape is chang­ing fast. How does a com­pa­ny nav­i­gate a sec­tor that is chang­ing so rapid­ly?

We are in­vest­ing or­gan­i­cal­ly, through M&A and part­ner­ships, to ob­tain ac­cess to new tech­nolo­gies and ex­per­tise to fur­ther ac­cel­er­ate path­ways to “go” or “no go” de­ci­sions for our clients. Just re­cent­ly, for ex­am­ple, we ac­quired Ret­ro­genix.

Ret­ro­genix is an ear­ly-stage CRO pro­vid­ing spe­cial­ized bio­an­a­lyt­i­cal ser­vices uti­liz­ing its pro­pri­etary cell mi­croar­ray tech­nol­o­gy. This tech­nol­o­gy is used for tar­get re­cep­tor iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, off-tar­get pro­fil­ing, and tar­get de­con­vo­lu­tion on a wide range of nov­el ther­a­peu­tics in­clud­ing bi­o­log­ics, cell ther­a­pies, and small mol­e­cules. It is al­so a pre­mier plat­form for off-tar­get screen­ing for pre­clin­i­cal safe­ty as­sur­ance in CAR-T ther­a­pies, pro­vid­ing our clients an­oth­er ser­vice in their com­plex C&GT de­vel­op­ment ef­forts.

Our strat­e­gy is an in­te­gral part of en­sur­ing we are the pre­ferred part­ner for C&GT in­no­va­tors world­wide. For ex­am­ple, we had a long­stand­ing part­ner­ship with Dis­trib­uted Bio, which led to our ac­qui­si­tion of them ear­li­er this year. Dis­trib­uted Bio is a next-gen­er­a­tion an­ti­body dis­cov­ery com­pa­ny … By com­bin­ing Dis­trib­uted Bio’s an­ti­body li­braries and im­muno-en­gi­neer­ing plat­form with Charles Riv­er’s ex­ten­sive drug dis­cov­ery and non-clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment ex­per­tise to cre­ate an in­te­grat­ed, end-to-end plat­form for ther­a­peu­tic an­ti­body and cell and gene ther­a­py dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment.

Ob­vi­ous­ly, cell and gene ther­a­py have been the fo­cus of many of the lat­est deals Charles Riv­er has been a part of. Can you talk about what goes in­to the con­ver­sa­tion, when mem­bers of your team sit down and say “we’re go­ing to put mon­ey to­ward this?” What is that con­ver­sa­tion like? Is it all at once, or grad­ual?

Our process is well thought out and ex­ten­sive — our an­nu­al strate­gic plan­ning process takes a deep dive in­to all ex­ist­ing and new modal­i­ties, tech­nolo­gies, and mar­kets.

Cell and gene ther­a­pies now make up around 11% of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal pipeline with about 2/3 of the R&D pro­grams cur­rent­ly in the pre­clin­i­cal phase. In 2020 alone, we have con­duct­ed over 900 stud­ies, dri­ving and deep­en­ing our ex­per­tise in this field. Due to this rapid growth and ad­vance­ment, we rec­og­nized our clients’ need for ex­per­tise and ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

As a part of our client jour­ney, we reg­u­lar­ly con­sult with our clients about their needs and tech­nolo­gies that would help them to be suc­cess­ful. We al­so use part­ner­ships to find and test dri­ve new tech­nolo­gies to en­sure we’re al­ways be­com­ing eas­i­er to work with and build­ing up­on our best-in-class sci­ence.

How has the pan­dem­ic af­fect­ed op­er­a­tions? 

Charles Riv­er has been able to re­main ful­ly op­er­a­tional across all sites by ad­her­ing to the on­go­ing safe­ty mea­sures en­act­ed at the start of the pan­dem­ic, in­clud­ing, but not lim­it­ed to: hav­ing em­ploy­ees work from home when pos­si­ble; en­hanced clean­ing pro­ce­dures; re­stric­tions on all non-es­sen­tial busi­ness trav­el; test­ing, track­ing, and con­tact trac­ing of COVID-19 cas­es; mod­i­fied em­ploy­ee work sched­ules to cre­ate “time and dis­tance” and sep­a­ra­tion of staff; as well as strict vis­i­tor poli­cies. We have al­so launched re­mote au­dits and vir­tu­al fa­cil­i­ty tours, and we are ac­tive­ly uti­liz­ing re­mote study mon­i­tor­ing to sup­port clients who are un­able to trav­el.

Our glob­al and site busi­ness con­ti­nu­ity plans are ac­tive, up to date, and help­ing our site-based op­er­a­tions, as well as as­so­ci­at­ed lo­gis­tics and sup­port, to con­tin­ue to meet our clients’ needs for planned and new projects, in­clud­ing work sup­port­ing COVID-19 re­search ef­forts.

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

All about Omi­cron; We need more Covid an­tivi­rals; GSK snags Pfiz­er’s vac­cine ex­ec; Janet Wood­cock’s fu­ture at FDA; 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.

The slate of products we’re offering here at Endpoints is continuing to grow, and it’s not just limited to editorial. If you haven’t, do visit your reader profile to see if there are any other weekly newsletters you’re interested in — as each comes with its own exclusive content. And don’t miss the publisher’s note from Arsalan Arif on Endpoints Studio, our latest avenue for advertising on Endpoints.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Merck's new antiviral molnupiravir (Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock)

As Omi­cron spread looms, oral an­tivi­rals ap­pear to be one of the best de­fens­es — now we just need more

After South African scientists reported a new Covid-19 variant — dubbed Omicron by the WHO — scientists became concerned about how effective vaccines and monoclonal antibodies might be against it, which has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein.

“I think it is super worrisome,” Dartmouth professor and Adagio co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross told Endpoints News this weekend. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel echoed similar concerns, telling the Financial Times that experts warned him, “This is not going to be good.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

One work­er at a Lat­vian man­u­fac­tur­er is dead af­ter a fire breaks out at fa­cil­i­ty

A press release referred to it as simply, “the incident.” But a fire at an Olainfarm site in Latvia last week has left one person dead, and injured another, the company announced Monday.

Just before midnight Nov. 26, a fire broke out in the production building of JSC Olainfarm,  as the result of an “accident,” a company spokesperson said in an email to Endpoints News. The two victims were both company employees, and the causes of the accident are still being determined.

Fu­ji­film Diosynth dumps an­oth­er $454M in­to its sup­ply chain, this time at a fa­cil­i­ty in the UK

Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies is in the middle of a monumental point in the company’s 10-year history, and the CDMO is about to grow even more, as it sets out to be the “beating heart” of the UK’s North East Life Sciences ecosystem.

A site in Billingham, Teeside, UK will receive a $453.72 million investment package from the manufacturer to double the existing footprint and create the largest multi-modal biopharmaceutical manufacturing site in the UK, bringing another 350 jobs to the region by late 2023.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Lisa Deschamps, AviadoBio CEO

Ex-No­var­tis busi­ness head hops over to a gene ther­a­py start­up — and she's reeled in $80M for a dash to the clin­ic

Neurologist and King’s College London professor Christopher Shaw has been researching neurodegenerative diseases like ALS and collaborating with drugmakers for the last 25 years in the hopes of pushing new therapies forward. But unfortunately, none of those efforts have come anywhere close to fruition.

“So, you know, after 20 years in the game, I said, ‘Let’s try and do it ourselves,’” he told Endpoints News. 

In­cor­po­rat­ing Ex­ter­nal Da­ta in­to Clin­i­cal Tri­als: Com­par­ing Dig­i­tal Twins to Ex­ter­nal Con­trol Arms

Most drug development professionals are familiar with the nerve-racking wait for the read-out of a large trial. If it’s negative, is the investigational therapy ineffective? Or could the failure result from an unforeseen flaw in the design or execution of the protocol, rather than a lack of efficacy? The team could spend weeks analyzing data, but a definitive answer may be elusive due to insufficient power for such analyses in the already completed trial. These problems are only made worse if the trial had lower enrollment, or higher dropout than expected due to an unanticipated event like COVID-19. And if a trial is negative, the next one is likely to be larger and more costly — if it happens at all.

Ab­b­Vie tacks on a new warn­ing to Rin­voq la­bel as safe­ty frets crimp JAK class

The safety problems that continue to plague the JAK class as new data highlight some severe side effects are casting a large shadow over AbbVie’s Rinvoq.

As a result of a recent readout highlighting major adverse cardiac events (MACE), malignancy, mortality and thrombosis with Xeljanz a couple of months ago, AbbVie put out a notice late Friday afternoon that it is adding the new class risks to its label for their rival drug.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Biospec­i­men M&A: Dis­cov­ery ac­quires Al­bert Li's he­pa­to­cyte project; PhI­II tri­al on Bay­er's Nube­qa reached pri­ma­ry end­point

Discovery Life Sciences has acquired what claims to be the Maryland-based host of the world’s largest hepatocyte inventory, known as IVAL, to help researchers select more effective and safer drug candidates in the future.

The combined companies will now serve a wider range of drug research and development scientists, according to Albert Li, who founded IVAL in 2004 and is set to join the Discovery leadership team as the CSO of pharmacology and toxicology.