BioPharma, Pharma

Ajinomoto Adds Gene Therapy to CDMO Scope via $554M Forge Bio Buyout

Ajinomoto’s Forge Biologics acquisition brings contract development and manufacturing organization capabilities in gene therapy. Forge specializes in manufacturing AAV vectors used to deliver these therapies.

Ajinomoto’s presence in contract pharmaceutical manufacturing spans small molecules, antibody drug conjugates, and nucleic acid-based therapies. The Japanese company is adding gene therapy to the list with the acquisition of Forge Biologics, a company specializing in the manufacturing of the engineered viruses key to gene therapies.

Under deal terms announced Monday, Ajinomoto, through a U.S. subsidiary, will pay $554 million cash to acquire Columbus, Ohio-based Forge. The companies expect to complete the transaction by the end of this year.

Ajinomoto specializes in manufacturing amino acids for various applications, such as food products. But the Tokyo-based company also has contract development manufacturing organization (CDMO) offerings for the biopharmaceutical industry. For fiscal 2022, Ajinomoto reported revenue topping 1.35 trillion Japanese yen (about $10 billion). Earlier this year, Ajinomoto announced a growth roadmap toward its 2030 fiscal year. Healthcare is one of the key parts of that plan. In addition to expanding its CDMO offerings for oligonucleotide drugs, regenerative medicine, and antibody culture media, the company has identified gene therapy as integral to its growth strategy.

Forge brings to Ajinomoto specialization in the manufacturing of adeno associated viral (AAV) vectors used to deliver a gene therapy to its cellular destination in the body. The company manufactures those viral vectors in a 200,000 square-foot facility called “the Hearth. This site supports biopharma industry customers from preclinical development up through clinical-stage research and commercialization of their novel therapies. The site also has room for future expansion.

“Forge brings to Ajinomoto an entirely new capability that will vitally enhance our Bio-Pharma Services business and help create new value through innovative solutions for communities and society,” Yasuyuki Otake, corporate executive, general manager of Ajinomoto’s Bio-Pharma Services Department, said in a prepared statement.

In addition to its CDMO services, Forge also has its own pipeline of gene therapy candidates for rare diseases. Its lead program, FBX-101, is a potential treatment for Krabbe disease, a rare disorder affecting the nervous system. Krabbe stems from an inherited deficiency of an enzyme key to breaking down certain lipids. Without sufficient amounts of that enzyme, the protective myelin sheath covering nerve cells degenerate. There is currently no treatment for the disorder. FBX-101 is currently in Phase 1/2 clinical development.

When Forge launched in 2020, the company said revenue from its CDMO offerings would financially support its own gene therapy R&D. The pipeline includes one other gene therapy for an undisclosed rare disease. Forge closed a $90 million Series C financing last year to support expansion of the Hearth. At that time, it said it had raised $330 million in capital since its founding. Forge employs more than 300 workers. When the transaction is complete, Forge will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Ajinomoto North America Holdings.

Companies offering viral vector manufacturing capabilities have drawn investor interest. At the start of this year, Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Vector BioMed launched with $15 million in financing to support its offerings of lentiviral manufacturing services. Philadelphia-based VintaBio launched with $64 million in April. The capital supports its CDMO services in both AAV and lentiviral vector manufacturing.

Image: Dr_Microbe, via Getty Images