ElevateBio, a privately held biotech with hefty financial backing, has formed a five-year alliance with Boston Children's Hospital that could lead to the creation of several new gene and cell therapy startups.
The agreement gives Boston Children's researchers access to a suite of scientific tools and ElevateBio's 140,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Waltham, Massachusetts. That assistance should help Boston Children's speed development of gene therapy research that the institution has struggled to progress into clinical testing.
"We're not a drug company," said David Williams, chief of Boston Children's hematology and oncology division, in an interview. "We've looked for ways to partner that would take advantage of the expertise, facilities and capital of partnerships outside of the institution to further our science."
The deal is the latest partnership for Elevate, a fast-rising company with plans to help others develop gene and cell therapies, as well as advance its own. Though Elevate was formed only two years ago, the company has already raised nearly $1 billion from private investors and partnered with multiple biotechs. It also signed a 10-year partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital that, like its deal with Boston Children's, could lead to new biotech startups.
The string of alliances is meant to supercharge gene and cell therapy programs by offering use of a centralized manufacturing and research hub — a key resource given how complex and expensive the treatments can be to produce.
"At the end of the day, what we're looking to do is accelerate the development of innovation better, faster, cheaper with this kind of a collaboration," said Elevate CEO David Hallal, a former Alexion Pharmaceuticals executive, in an interview.
Williams, for instance, said the hospital has either run or completed 19 human trials of gene therapies developed within its labs, a track record he said attracted Elevate. That level of production puts Boston Children's in conversation with other leading gene therapy hubs, such as the University of Pennsylvania and Nationwide Children's Hospital.
Those institutions have their own large-scale manufacturing facilities and developed gene therapies that progressed within other companies. Zolgensma, a spinal muscular atrophy treatment that came from research at Nationwide, is one of the few marketed gene therapies in the world. UPenn's gene therapy research, meanwhile, has led to the formation of companies like RegenXBio, Passage Bio and others.
By comparison, production of the viral vectors used to deliver gene therapies remains a key "bottleneck" for academic institutions like Boston Children's, and one that has prevented the hospital from moving promising projects forward, Williams said.
Teaming up with Elevate should help. The manufacturing assistance will boost Boston Children's ability to make viral vectors for its own research, Williams said. But the two also aim to launch a company as frequently as every other year and have already identified one they intend to form first. Details regarding that startup could be announced later this year.
"We want a partner that can be flexible with respect to how our science gets translated," Williams said.
Neither Elevate nor Boston Children's disclosed specifics about the startups they expect could come from their work, or the therapeutic areas they might pursue. But each company formed would be an independent entity set up to attract outside investment, said Irene Abrams, the Vice President of Technology Development and New Ventures at Boston Children's.
"They [Elevate] have expertise in startup companies and capital to do that," Williams said. "I think this partnership will allow us to take advantage of those areas of expertise and allow them to take advantage of our science. That's a very nice dovetail type of relationship.