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Biopharma focuses on streamlining biomanufacturing and supply chain issues to drive uptake of cell and gene therapies.
Cell and gene therapies (CGTs) offer significant advances in patient care by helping to treat or potentially cure a range of conditions that have been untouched by small molecule and biologic agents. Over the past two decades, more than 20 CGTs have been approved by FDA in the United States and many of these one-time treatments cost between US$375,00 and US$2 million a shot (1). Given the high financial outlay and patient expectations of these life-saving therapies, it is essential that manufacturers provide integrated services across the whole of the supply chain to ensure efficient biomanufacturing processes and seamless logistics to reduce barriers to uptake.
The following looks at the who, what, when, and why of biomanufacturing and logistics in CGTs in the bio/pharmaceutical industry in more detail.
According to market research, the global gene therapy market will reach US$9.0 billion by 2027 due to favorable reimbursement policies and guidelines, product approvals and fast-track designations, growing demand for chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell-based gene therapies, and improvements in RNA, DNA, and oncolytic viral vectors (1).
In 2020, CGT manufacturers attracted approximately US$2.3 billion in investment funding (1). Key players in the CGT market include Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Dendreon, Gilead Sciences, Novartis, Organogenesis, Roche (Spark Therapeutics), Smith Nephew, and Vericel. In recent years, growth in the CGT market has fueled some high-profile mergers and acquisitions including bluebird bio/BioMarin, Celgene/Juno Therapeutics, Gilead Sciences/Kite, Novartis/AveXis and the CDMO CELLforCURE, Roche/Spark Therapeutics, and Smith & Nephew/Osiris Therapeutics.
Many bio/pharma companies are re-considering their commercialization strategies and have re-invested in R&D to standardize vector productions and purification, implement forward engineering techniques in cell therapies, and improve cryopreservation of cellular samples as well as exploring the development of off-the-shelf allogeneic cell solutions (2).
The successful development of CGTs has highlighted major bottlenecks in the manufacturing facilities, and at times, a shortage of raw materials (3). Pharma companies are now taking a close look at their internal capabilities and either investing in their own manufacturing facilities or outsourcing to contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) or contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) to expand their manufacturing abilities (4). Recently, several CDMOs—Samsung Biologics, Fujifilm Diosynth, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Lonza—have all expanded their biomanufacturing facilities to meet demand (5).
A major challenge for CGT manufacturers is the seamless delivery of advanced therapies. There is no room for error. If manufacturers cannot deliver the CGT therapy to the patient with ease, the efficacy of the product becomes obsolete. Many of these therapies are not ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions and therefore require timely delivery and must be maintained at precise temperatures to remain viable. Thus, manufacturers must not only conform to regulations, but they must also put in place logistical processes and contingency plans to optimize tracking, packaging, cold storage, and transportation through the product’s journey. Time is of the essence, and several manufacturers have failed to meet patient demands, which have significant impacts on the applicability of these agents.
Several CAR T-cell therapies have now been approved; however, research indicates that a fifth of cancer patients who are eligible for CAR-T therapies pass away while waiting for a manufacturing slot (6). Initially, the manufacture of many of these autologous products took around a month, but certain agents can now be produced in fewer than two weeks (7). Companies are exploring new ways to reduce vein-to-vein time (collection and reinfusion) through the development of more advanced gene-transfer tools with CARs (such as transposon, CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) among others, and the use of centralized organization with standardized apheresis centers (5). Others are exploring the use of the of allogeneic stem cells including Regen Biopharma, Escape Therapeutics, Lonza, Pluristem Therapeutics, and ViaCord (7).
Several gene therapies have also been approved, mainly in the treatment of rare disease (8). Many companies are evaluating novel gene therapy vectors to increase levels of gene expression/protein productions, reduce immunogenicity and improve durability including Astellas Gene Therapies, Bayer, ArrowHead Pharmaceuticals, Bayer, Bluebird Bio, Intellia Therapeutics, Kystal Biotech, MeiraGTx, Regenxbio, Roche, Rocket Pharmaceuticals, Sangamo Therapeutics, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Verve Therapeutics, and Voyager Therapeutics (8).
While many biopharma companies have established their own in-house CGT good manufacturing practice (GMP) operation capabilities, others are looking to decentralize manufacturing and improve distribution by relying on external contracts with CDMOs and CMOs such as CELLforCURE, CCRM, Cell Therapies Pty Ltd (CTPL), Cellular Therapeutics Ltd (CTL), Eufets GmbH, Gravitas Biomanufacturing, Hitachi Chemical Advances Therapeutic Solutions, Lonza, MasTHerCell, MEDINET Co., Takara Bio, and XuXi PharmaTech (6, 9, 10).
The top 50 gene therapy start-up companies have attracted more than $11.6 billion in funds in recent years, with the top 10 companies generating US$5.3 billion in series A to D funding rounds (10). US-based Sana Biotechnology leads the field garnering US$700 million to develop scalable manufacturing for genetically engineered cells and its pipeline program, which include CAR-T cell-based therapies in oncology and CNS (Central Nervous System) disorders (11). In second place, Editas Medicine attracted $656.6 million to develop CRISPR nuclease gene editing technologies to develop gene therapies for rare disorders (12).
Overall, CGTs have attracted the pharma industry’s attention as they provide an alternative route to target diseases that are poorly served by pharmaceutical and/or medical interventions, such as rare and orphan diseases. Private investors continue to pour money into this sector because a single shot has the potential to bring long-lasting clinical benefits to patients (13). In addition, regulators have approved several products and put in place fast track designation to speed up patient access to these life-saving medicines. Furthermore, healthcare providers have established reimbursement policies and manufacturers have negotiated value- and outcome-based contracts to reduce barriers to access to these premium priced products
On the downside, the manufacture of CGTs is labor intensive and expensive with manufacturing accounting for approximately 25% of operating expenses, plus there is still significant variation in the amount of product produced. On the medical side, many patients may not be suitable candidates for CGTs or not produce durable response due to pre-exposure to the viral vector, poor gene expression, and/or the development of immunogenicity due to pre-exposure to viral vectors. Those that can receive these therapies may suffer infusion site reactions, and unique adverse events such as cytokine release syndrome and neurological problems both of which can be fatal if not treated promptly (14).
Despite the considerable advances that have been made in the CGT field to date, there is still much work needed to enhance the durability of responses, increase biomanufacturing efficiencies and consistency and to implement a seamless supply chain that can ensure these agents are accessible, cost-effective, and a sustainable option to those in need.
Cleo Bern Hartley is a pharma consultant, former pharma analyst, and research scientist.
Vol. 35, No. 10
When referring to this article, please cite it as C.B. Hartley, "Growth in Cell and Gene Therapy Market," BioPharm International 35 (10) 49–51 (2022).