BioPharma, Pharma

CDMO Startup Vector BioMed Launches to Fill Lentiviral Gap for Cell & Gene Therapies

Vector BioMed has developed a technology platform for designing and manufacturing the lentiviruses used to deliver cell and gene therapies. The startup is launching as the field continues to experience shortages of these viral vectors.

Cell and gene therapies rely on engineered viruses to deliver them to their cellular destinations. While the progress of these types of medicines is evident in a growing number of FDA product approvals, one limiting factor facing these therapies is the availability of viral vectors.

Most cell and gene therapy developers turn to a contract manufacturer for viral vectors rather than make them internally. Demand has outpaced the ability of contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMO) to supply them. Vector BioMed, a new CDMO with a focus on producing lentiviral vectors, is stepping up to fill the void.

Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Vector BioMed launched Tuesday along with $15 million to support commercialization of its offerings.

The CDMO sector is dominated by large, global companies such as Lonza and WuXi AppTec. Various industry estimates place the wait time for lentiviral manufacturing serves 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 its platform can be used for rapid clinical development of cell and gene therapies and can be scaled for commercialization of these products.

Vector BioMed was co-founded by Boro Dropulić, who has been named CEO in conjunction with the financing and company launch. Dropulić 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 lentiviral gene therapy assets were acquired by German company Miltenyi Biotec in 2014.

“Now is the perfect time to launch our business,” Dropulić said in a prepared statement. “With the FDA granting approval of several gene therapy products, there is now a tremendous demand for the manufacture of lentiviral vectors, which are critical for clinical trials and commercialization.”

There are other companies vying to offering lentiviral alternatives. In 2018, Toulouse, France-based Flash Therapeutics formed from the merger of Vectalys and FlashCell. In conjunction with that transaction, private equity firm Auriga Partners invested €3.3 million.

Vector BioMed is the first company started by Caring Cross, a non-profit organization whose mission is to accelerate the development of advanced medicines and improve their accessibility and affordability in low- and middle-income countries. Dropulić is co-founder and executive director of Caring Cross. Vector BioMed’s financing was led by Viking Global Investors and Casdin Capital.


Photo: Bill Ingalls/NASA, via Getty Images