TCR² plants its flag in former Autolus manufacturing site, planning to add 175 jobs as it advances lead T cell therapy
Just months after London-based Autolus Therapeutics announced it would let go of 20% of its staffers as it looked for a partner for a lead CAR-T program, the company revealed it’s abandoning its Rockville, MD manufacturing operations.
Autolus’ loss is TCR²’s gain.
The Cambridge, MA-based biotech specializing in T cell therapies for oncology announced Monday it will lease Autolus’ 85,000-square-foot building in anticipation of clinical and commercial production of gavo-cel. The facility is set to go online in 2023, TCR² said.
“Every cell therapy company needs to control their manufacturing destiny,” CFO Ian Somaiya told Endpoints News. “If you continue to rely on CDMOs, that lack of control has seen obvious, serious setbacks.”
TCR² made waves in July when it announced that none of the five patients in its Phase I/II trials for its lead T cell therapy experienced neurotoxicity or on-target, off-tumor toxicities — the trial’s primary endpoint. Though the sample size is small, researchers were encouraged by the results. One patient with ovarian cancer had previously tried and failed six other lines of therapy “in a consistent manner,” Somaiya said.
In Rockville, TCR² inherits a ready-to-go cGMP facility it says will allow it to bump up production by an entire year.
“Timeline is one thing, but the control of your manufacturing process … The more you control the process, the less you rely on a third party, the better it is, the better it’s cranking out product for patients in the future,” CSO Robert Hofmeister said.
To aid in the transition, the biotech also inherits Autolus’ Aaron Vernon to head technical operations. Vernon spent three years with Autolus in Rockville, first overseeing the engineering and supply chain, then the global technical operations, both as a vice president. Before that, he had stops at Sucampo, AstraZeneca, MedImmune and J&J.
“It’s invaluable to have someone like Aaron with that pedigree,” Hofmeister said. “Someone with his background and knowledge, it gives us a jump start, gaining approximately a year.”
When Somaiya joined the team about three years ago, he brought 20 years of experience, largely in research, with him. Goal No.1 was taking the company public. TCR² pocketed $67 million from its IPO in 2019. TCR² “cast a wide net” when looking for a potential manufacturing home. It wanted to be on the East Coast to ensure close proximity to the Cambridge headquarters, and it checked out Boston and Philadelphia before the deal in Rockville came to fruition.
The facility will add 175 jobs to the county to support the production of gavo-cel, with a capacity to treat several thousand cancer patients annually, according to a statement from the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation. The Maryland Department of Commerce approved an $875,000 conditional loan contingent on job creation and capital investment, and Montgomery County approved a $100,000 economic development fund conditional grant contingent on the same.
“We are very pleased to welcome TCR² Therapeutics and all of the new life sciences jobs the company will bring to our state,” Governor Larry Hogan said in a statement. “The company’s effort in pioneering the T-cell receptor complex has the potential to impact many cancer patients around the world and we are excited that they have chosen to do that important work right here in Maryland.”