The cell and gene therapy field has a manufacturing problem.
In recent years, research involving the complex medicines has accelerated. Multiple gene therapies are now approved in the U.S. to treat inherited diseases, while six cell-based treatments for blood cancers are on the market there. Dozens of startups and biotechnology companies aim to follow in their footsteps.
But cell and gene therapies rely on an important tool that’s in short supply. Known as “viral vectors,” these engineered viruses are crucial to the development and production of genetic medicines, acting as vehicles to deliver genetic material efficiently into cells in a laboratory or inside patients’ bodies.
While large contract manufacturers like Thermo Fisher and Lonza have invested heavily in viral vector manufacturing, they too are feeling the crunch. New companies can have one- to two-year waits for manufacturers to make the vectors they need to advance their work. Even major pharmaceutical companies have had difficulties straightening out their production processes and meeting demand for the therapies they’ve pushed through to approval.
Vector BioMed, a new biotechnology company based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, hopes to help. The company officially launched Tuesday, pitching itself as a solution for gene and cell therapy makers needing to more quickly make their drugs. The company has its own manufacturing capabilities that it claims to be scalable, as well as vectors it’s making in-house and can offer to partners.
“We’re hoping that the efficiencies we’ll create will then flow through not only increased profitability, but also increased accessibility and affordability,” company CEO Boro Dropulić said in an interview with BioPharma Dive.
Dropulić, who previously operated a gene delivery specialist called Lentigen out of Vector BioMed’s current space in Gaithersburg, said the company has raised $15 million in funding. He added that his company is ready to start designing vectors and could begin manufacturing in the next couple of months.
Vector BioMed will focus on lentiviral vectors, which are typically used in "ex vivo" treatments. These therapies are created from patient or donor cells genetically modified outside of the body and then infused back into the patient.
They are vectors that Dropulić knows well. Dropulić helped conduct experiments on lentiviral vectors with scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and, with Lentigen, produced engineered viruses used for Novartis’ cancer cell therapy Kymriah. That experience sets the company apart from larger firms, he said.
“You don't necessarily need a large amount of vectors for a Phase 1 clinical trial,” Dropulić said. “So we help partners and create value by providing the right scale for the right batch needed for the particular usage that is required, whether for Phase 1 or commercial scale.”
Vector BioMed is set up as a public benefit corporation, meaning it’s a for-profit company that also focuses on social good. Roughly 10% of its manufacturing capacity will go to serve low-income countries in line with the mission of Caring Cross, a nonprofit co-founded by Dropulić that helps to bring drugs to underserved communities around the world.
The company’s Series A round was led by Viking Global Investors and Casdin Capital.