Univercells buys plant, launches CDMO to service booming cell & gene sector

Belgium-based bioprocess tech firm Univercells has launched Exothera, a process development and viral vector manufacturer set to serve the robust cell and gene therapy sector.

Fresh from a €50 million ($54 million) investment from global investment firm KKR, Univercells launched cell and gene therapy contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) Exothera today.

While the KKR investment supports Univercells’ manufacturing technologies and plays a role in developing and commercializing its bioprocessing equipment, it did not directly drive the creation of the CDMO, Hugues Bultot, CEO of Univercells and the new entity Exothera told Bioprocess Insider.

Image: iStock/macky_ch

Instead, the continuing shortage of viral vectors via both suspension and adherent cell lines due to huge demand from cell and gene therapy developers was at the forefront of the business decision.

“The cell and gene therapy sectors are booming, and we want to be a catalyst in taking this industry forward,” said Bultot. “We see a strong market need for bioproduction that is currently crippled by a capacity shortage and lack of bioprocessing know-how and feel that we have something to offer to alleviate these barriers.”

He added: “We have focused on identifying the most suited single-use technologies and developing cost-effective processes that can benefit companies of any size at any stage of their process.”

The firm is banking on its bioprocess tech expertise to support the new business. This includes its NevoLine biomanufacturing platform and scale-X fixed-bed bioreactor technology, which the firm claims offer integrated and cost-effective production of viral products within a much smaller manufacturing footprint.

From furniture to viral vectors

But Exothera will also be boosted by capacity at its Belgian facilities in Gosselies and Nivelles and a new facility in Jumet (also in Belgium) acquired by Univercells this week.

“The acquisition was signed on Monday, 16 March. The building originally belonged to Softimat, part of the group Systemat, and was purchased for €6.85 million (approximately $7.5 million),” Bultot said, adding Sambrinvest and CATCH Charleroi played an instrumental role in searching for and securing this new site.

Logo for new CDMO Exothera

“The site is part of the long-range growth strategy for Univercells, which has included the goal of opening a CDMO for quite some time. We feel we can do more to positively impact the industry by providing solutions to the challenges the industry is facing, and capacity has been a critical one. The site at Jumet allows us to offer immediate capacity (once online) and provides potential for expansion in the future, as well.”

Softimat is a Belgian furniture company, and so the plant will be restructured to accommodate laboratories, cleanrooms, and GMP qualified manufacturing areas for clinical and commercial production.

“Current capacity in the Nivelles and Gosselies locations is enough for now, but limited, and will be largely transitioned to the Jumet site,” said Bultot. “Once the site remodel is complete, we will have 15,000m2 of usable space where we will implement flexible, modular cleanrooms to meet capacity demands as they evolve, and have plans to further optimize the existing land and potential of the site in the future.”

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