UK CAR-T plant could open doors for Autolus to reenter US

Having ditched a manufacturing plant in Maryland, Autolus Therapeutics has broken ground on a facility in the UK, which – alongside $250 million in investment from Blackstone – aims to support CAR-T candidate obe-cel.

The 70,000 square-foot building in Stevenage, UK close to the UK’s CGT Catapult with whom Autolus has an ongoing collaboration is being built by construction specialist Merit and is set to support Autolus’s lead candidate obe-cel (obecabtagene autoleucel). The chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell candidate is undergoing Phase I trials in two indications; adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“The way we’re building the capacity around the facility in the UK gives us a very nice level of capacity in the ramp-up as we’re launching the obe-cel program,” CEO Christian Itin said on his firm’s third quarter financial call earlier this month.

Image c/o Stevenage Borough Council

“It puts us in a very good space. It gives us a level of capacity that we believe actually will put us in a very good spot. And I think when you look at the trajectory we’ve seen in some of the other CAR-T programs, I think the 2,000 mark, we believe, is actually a good mark to work with, and it gives us an ability to react in time.”

The facility, which will be capable of producing approximately 2,000 batches a year initially, will not be the first run by Autolus. After leasing an 85,000 square-foot facility in Rockville, Maryland in January 2019, Autolus terminated the contract earlier this year as part of a manufacturing reconfiguration away from the US and towards its native UK.

Itin hinted to shareholders, however, that Autolus is aiming to reenter the US space in the future.

“[The UK plant] will give us ample time to get a feel for the trajectory and then also a feel for the timing for additional indications to come online, to then actually time the build-out, not only of the facility in the UK but also consider establishing additional manufacturing capacity in the US.”

The ground-breaking took place the same week Autolus announced a collaboration and financing agreement with private equity firm Blackstone Life Sciences.

The deal will see Blackstone invest $250 million in the firm comprising of $150 million to support obe-cel development and commercialization and $100 million to purchase Autolus’ American Depositary Shares (ADS) in a private placement.

“Our investment in these next generation cell therapies exemplify our conviction in the quality and promise of the life sciences sector in the UK,” said Nicholas Galakatos, global head of Blackstone Life Sciences. “We look forward to building on this investment in the years to come.”

At this stage, the investment is broadly being used to support ob-cel development and commercialisation and the firms when contacted could not disclosed how the funds will be used in further detail nor whether they will be used directly for manufacturing.

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