Cell and gene therapies rely on engineered viruses to deliver them to their cellular destinations. Although the progress of these types of drugs is evident in a a growing number of the FDA product approvalsone limiting factor to these therapies is the availability of viral vectors.
Most cell and gene therapy developers turn to a contract manufacturer for viral vectors rather than making them in-house. Demand has outstripped the ability of contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) to supply them. Vector BioMed, a new CDMO with a focus on lentiviral vector manufacturing, is stepping up to fill the gap.
Based in Gaithersburg, Maryland Vector BioMed launched Tuesday along with $15 million to support the commercialization of its offerings.
The CDMO sector is dominated by large global companies such as Lonza and WuXi AppTec. Various industry estimates put the wait time for lentiviral production at 18 to 24 months. Vector BioMed is entering the mix with a technology platform that it says provides algorithm-optimized lentiviral vectors with superior function and vector titers, the number of vector particles that can deliver the therapeutic payload by infecting a cell. The company also claims that its platform can be used for rapid clinical development of cell and gene therapies and can be scaled to commercialize these products.
Vector BioMed is co-founded by Boro Dropulic, who was appointed CEO in connection with the funding and launch of the company. Dropulic knows lentiviral vectors well, having led the team that demonstrated the safety of these engineered viruses in humans while at the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to found Lentigen, a company that developed the lentiviral vector used in Kymriah, which originated at Penn and under Novartis became the first FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy. Lentigen’s assets for lentiviral gene therapy were acquired from the German company Miltenyi Biotec in 2014.
“Now is the perfect time to launch our business,” Dropulić said in a prepared statement. “With the FDA approval of several gene therapy products, there is now tremendous demand for the production of lentiviral vectors that are critical for clinical trials and commercialization.”
There are other companies racing to offer lentiviral alternatives. In 2018, based in Toulouse, France Flash Therapeutics was created from the merger of Vectalys and FlashCell. In connection with this transaction, the private investment company Auriga Partners invested 3.3 million euros.
Vector BioMed is the first company created by Caring Cross, a non-profit organization whose mission is to accelerate the development of advanced medicines and improve their availability and affordability in low- and middle-income countries. Dropulic is the co-founder and executive director of Caring Cross. Vector BioMed’s financing was led by Viking Global Investors and Casdin Capital.
Spaceport with Expedition 48-49 crew members Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on board, Thursday, July 7, 2016, Kazakhstan time (July 6 EST) , Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Rubins, Ivanishin and Onishi will spend about four months in the orbital complex, returning to Earth in October.
photo: Bill Ingalls/NASAvia Getty Images