Two gene therapy companies in France are merging to create one venture called Flash Therapeutics, combining manufacturing know-how with a pipeline of RNA drug prospects.
The merger is between Vectalys, a Toulouse-based maker of lentiviral vectors, and its spinout startup FlashCell, which launched out of Vectalys just last year to tackle RNA carriers for drug applications.
The CEO of the combined company, Pascale Bouillé, tells me the merger partly came down to biomanufacturing industrial logic.
“Manufacturing capability is critical to the success of this new field, so it makes sense to integrate manufacturing with the therapeutics business and to leverage our lentiviral development and manufacturing expertise with other industry players,” Bouillé said.
Flash will be tasked with advancing novel RNA drugs based on the company’s LentiFlash technology, a proprietary lentiviral delivery method. Lentiviruses, a subclass of retroviruses, are used as vectors for gene therapy thanks to their ability to integrate into the genome of non-dividing cells. That’s a unique feature, as other retroviruses can infect only dividing cells.
Bouillé tells me current lentiviral vectors are a leading delivery method for CAR-T and other genetic diseases that require stable, long-term expression. But some next-gen immunotherapy (for example, those involving cell types beyond T cells) may need transient expression rather than integrative, long-term expression. Enter LentiFlash, which is “non-integrative,” allowing transient and short-term RNA expression.
Flash Therapeutics will take on the discovery and development of “standalone programs in the areas of liver and blood disease” that were based on LentiFlash and cultivated at FlashCell over the past year.
The company’s lentiviral development and production business, which will continue to operate under the Vectalys manufacturing platform name, will expand as part of Flash Therapeutics to include GMP manufacturing capabilities. The GMP facility, which is expected to become fully operational in 2019, is being established through a recently signed, three-year partnership with Hospital Saint-Louis, Lariboisière, Fernand Vidal to develop and produce gene and cell therapy drugs.
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