Aragen focuses on securing biologics capacity within ‘competitive’ CDMO space

Longer-term funding in biotech has led to deeper partnerships with CDMOs says Aragen Bioscience, which is looking to establish its own biomanufacturing capabilities in the US.

Through investment from parent firm GVK Bio, contract research organization (CRO) Aragen has grown its business to include two sites in San Francisco offering efficacy studies, protein analytics, and cell line development services.

But for several years, the company has looked to enter the contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) space, firstly by adding master cell banking services “to get into the GMP mindset,” and secondly by partnering with CDMO stalwart Avid Bioservices last year to offer its customers an end-to-end service.

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With this in mind, we spoke with Ramesh Subramanian, chief commercial officer at Aragen ahead of next week’s CPhI Worldwide event in Milan, Italy, to discuss his firm’s strategy amid the wider CDMO sector.

BioProcess Insider (BI): Aragen told us in 2019 it was looking to obtain clinical and commercial manufacturing capabilities in the US. How far along are you with this?

Ramesh Subramanian (RS): Yes, Aragen is investing in expanding its manufacturing footprint in the US to meet the growing demand for outsourcing, especially in the large molecule space.

BI: Are you looking to buy or build?

Ramesh Subramanian, chief commercial officer at Aragen

RS: We are evaluating both options viz building a new facility for biologics as well as buying out an existing facility. Buying out or acquiring a facility will help us fast track our operations as we will get a ready-to-operate facility with talent, a track record and regulatory approvals. This will help us assist our customers in their development journey much faster. However, the acquisition should fit into our overall strategy and the asset should be a good fit from a culture and capability perspective.

BI: What difficulties are you finding in securing biomanufacturing facilities in the current climate?

RS: It’s a competitive space at present and valuations are always a challenge, but we are focusing on certain targets for deeper diligence.

BI: How convenient has the strategic alliance with Avid been in patching up the need to have your own manufacturing capabilities?

RS: It’s been a very good partnership and we have already completed a number of projects, including for a covid therapy in the last year – where we undertook the cell line development and Avid completed the manufacturing.  With both companies located in California, it has enabled seamless integration and we have been able to serve customers well. Our flexible business models are built to address the specific needs of biotechs, particularly the smaller and virtual ones, who also require personal attention that we can provide. We are seeing good traction for an integrated offering as we can assist our young biotech customers to achieve their key milestones quickly. The partnership with Avid is about being able to address our customers’ current needs we are very happy with the collaboration.

BI: The robust CDMO space in the US is led by a handful of large players, who seem to be getting larger. How are you hoping to compete in this field?

RS: There is always room for good CDMOs – small or large. The large CDMOs focus on programs and customers that can give returns on their large investments. But there are several your biotech customers- and those numbers have only grown through the pandemic- that are looking for capable CDMO partners that can give these smaller customers the attention they need.

At Aragen, we believe that ‘In Every Molecule is the Possibility for Better Health’. So, irrespective of whether you are a big or a small customer, we will give your program the importance it deserves, because it that program may lie the solution for better health. This Purpose and our teams’ belief in that Purpose resonates well with our biotech customers- who are happy to place projects at our shop. They know that we will treat the program as if it was our own, and that the program is in the capable hands of a team that has over 27 years in the industry.

BI: How is increased demand changing the way you work with biotech?

RS: What is different is that biotechs today are much better funded than in the past and that means we are building much deeper partnerships, often with much longer runaways, maybe even three to five years in scope. This longer-term engagement gives us more opportunity to engage with our clients and drive their research programs across the drug discovery and development route.

In fact, our growth is a good mix of deepening our partnerships with existing customers and bringing in new biotechs. As projects become more complex, we have also enhanced our Cell Line Development offering with technology offerings that include the DG-44 line, the Asimov line, and a CHO-ZN platform. The goal is to offer the best solution possible agnostic of the technology.

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