A transformative year for Astrea Bioseparations has culminated in a second acquisition in a month. Philip Vanek, CTO of parent company Gamma Biosciences, talks to us about the deal, the company, and the changing bioprocess landscape.
In November 2019, investment firm KKR announced its intentions to buy Prometic Bioseparations from Liminal BioSciences. In January, the deal closed with renamed Astrea Bioseparations becoming the first company in KKR’s $200 million Gamma Biosciences portfolio of life sciences tools subsidiaries.
Since then, the firm has acted on its stated intentions to “establish and grow in the bioprocess space” by buying chromatography column firm Essential Life Solutions (ELS) last month. And this week, Gamma Biosciences has announced South Dakota-based Nanopareil has been acquired for an undisclosed fee.
Nanopareil is developing next-generation nanofiber membrane products for chromatographic separation in bioproduction using a durable nanofiber structure and non-resin-based separation technologies. This will be integrated into Astrea’s affinity ligand technologies offering, according to Philip Vanek, CTO of Gamma.
“The ‘media’ part of Astrea include a wide variety of conjugatable materials that would be useful for packed-bed chromatography applications with a variety of conventional bead materials. While the packed bed approach has been used for 30+ years in the bioprocess industry, it is limited by the size of molecules that can easily be processed without damaging them, and the physical footprint needed to get the appropriate surface area to effect a quality separation of biomaterials,” he told us.
“The Nanopareil technology brings a novel high-surface-area electrospun nanofiber membrane with adaptable pore sizes to the Astrea repertoire of derivatizable materials. We expect this will bring new separation capabilities to the industry where larger molecules benefit from very high Dynamic Binding Capacity (DBC) in extremely small footprints.”
We asked Vanek about the current state of the life science tools space with regards to M&A.
“The life sciences space is challenged by the fast pace of therapeutic evolution, the need for increased efficiency to materialize cost savings, and the cost of overhead necessary to transform a promising new therapeutic to commercial reality,” he said.
“We see a lot of early stage innovative technologies being funded by the ventures community that are being developed to meet future manufacturing demands, plus a lot of consolidation of the large incumbent life sciences tools companies.”
Gamma’s mission is to help companies in the so-called ‘middle-space’ that have compelling and partly de-risked technologies find a path to market
“This ‘middle-space’ needs talented operational leadership, commercial reach, and capital to accelerate adoption of next generation tools and technologies. This is compounded by the wide variety of advanced therapies moving the clinic, where the life sciences industry has to be somewhat more creative in addressing the multitude of technologies.
“Like the bioprocessing industry was figuring out 30 years ago what technologies would be promising to allow industrial scale manufacturing, so too is the advanced therapies industry trying to figure out what tools will be around in 5 to 10 years that give a strong competitive advantage in the manufacturing of those therapies.”
With that said, we asked Vanek where the next acquisition by Gamma – with KKR’s backing – is likely to be.
“Gamma is focusing on four areas within the life sciences tools category, including cell culture intensification (see, for example our investment in Univercells Technologies), bioseparations (by adding and extending the Astrea portfolio), cell line development and engineering platforms especially in the cell and gene therapy space, and both discovery and process analytical technologies.
“We look for companies that have achieved some level of market adoption or validation but require capital to grow quickly to keep up with this fast-paced industry.”