Q&A: Through robotics, Fred Parietti and team look to fix cell therapy's future
There’s a bottleneck in manufacturing right now, and perhaps the category that is the best representative of the issue is cell and gene therapy. Several companies are trying different things to address the issue, but Multiply Labs has enlisted some CDMO powerhouses on its path toward the automation of the process.
Cytiva and the University of California-San Francisco were already members of the robotic cell therapy manufacturing consortium Multiply, founded in 2021. Last week, it was announced that Thermo Fisher Scientific and Charles River Laboratories have joined the team to help develop a cGMP-compliant system that can make gene-modified cell therapies at an individual scale.
I sat down with Multiply’s CEO and co-founder Fred Parietti to talk more about this. Here’s our conversation.
Congratulations on this news!
We’re very excited, it’s very good to be able to announce these new partners, but also show a little bit more of the robots. When you see them in person, it’s always a little more impressive, but right now, it feels good to do an announcement.
Can you walk me through the early stages of Multiply and the consortium?
We are all robotics people … 95% of us. And when I say robotics people, I say mechanical engineers and computer scientists. Some of us were at self-driving companies. Other people were at robotic arm companies. And so we saw a trend toward specialized medicine … and as robotics people, we believe very strongly that the only way to do that efficiently is with cutting edge automation.
That’s how we got in the cell therapy space, and as robotics people with GMP experience … which is very very unique. Very few robotics people actually know whaat GMP manufacturing is … And as robotics people, we knew in cell therapy, the process is so important.
What does this mean in practical terms? Pharma companies and large CDMOs are used to using state-of-the-art equipment. These are the instruments they brought to GMP … and so if we started doing this from all scratch, it would be a gigantic amount of unknowns. First of all, nobody knows if the cells are going to work in your equipment. Second, you are back to square one from the point of view of regulatory standards. And that’s the reason we decided to go with a very modular approach, and why you’re seeing all these partners that are the manufacturers of the current state of the GMP instruments. Our robots talk to all of these modules.
Where in the process did you decide to meet manufacturing where it already was? Was that early on?
It was right from the start. Right from the start when we started working on cell therapy, it was very clear that using proven GMP instruments was going to be essential if we want to make it happen. It’s a very unique engineering approach in which we use what’s proven now, and we add a layer of information on top of it, but without subtraction. Without forcing the cells to work in a new condition, because you don’t know how they’re going to react.
I know the company started in 2021…
The consortium started then. The company has been around since 2016. In the first years, we focused mostly on small molecules. Now we do both small molecule manufacturing and robotic based cell therapy manufacturing.
With Covid-19 putting supply chain issues and bottlenecks on display for the layman to see on a global display, what is on your mind when you’re taking steps to solve this problem and then you see it thrust onto the global stage?
Covid was kind of like a turning point, evening though we don’t work with anything that’s strictly Covid-related. Covid was basically a change in mindset for the industry. First of all, it showed that pharmaceutical manufacturing is critical, and you better think about it. Right? And think about very good, scalable, critical solutions. We don’t even need to pitch people on this right now, they reach out to us and say we want to automate.
To be more resilient, now every major pharma and CDMO is making supply chain in at least three continents: Asia, North America and Europe. I think this is kind of like the baseline. Before, I think people were trying to address the global market with a single location, but right now, I think that’s not possible. It’s perfect for a robotics approach, because we can ship and install the robots anywhere on the planet, and they instantly make those facilities more efficient. From that point of view, I think robotics is a very good answer to our supply chain problems.