KKR pumps €50m into Univercells through Gamma funding platform

Over a quarter of Gamma Bioscience’s $200 million funding for next-generation bioprocessing technologies will be used to support Univercells’ biomanufacturing tech platforms.

In January, global investment firm KKR launched Gamma Bioscience, a portfolio of life sciences tools subsidiaries. The first company to fall under the umbrella was Astrea Bioseparations, a ligand discovery and adsorbent development services firm, previously known as Prometic Bioseparations, acquired by KKR for around $100 million (€93 million) in November 2019.

Now KKR and co-investors have committed $200 million in funding to Gamma, with up to €50 million ($54 million) set to be invested in Belgium-based biologics platform firm Univercells.

Univercells’s Hugues Bultot, CEO (L) and José Castillo, CTO (R)

“Gamma is focused on next generation processing technology, particularly for advanced therapies. The platform is very flexible as far as stage, size and structure of investment that we can do,” Matt Gunnison, who has joined Gamma having recently served as global head of BD for GE Healthcare, told Bioprocess Insider.

“In the case of Univercells, they have a compelling portfolio of technology both upstream and in full continuing processing that is well suited for – among other things – vaccine and viral production in large-scale or in a smaller footprint/format localized in-house for companies wanting a turn-key option to produce vectors themselves, rather than rely on third-party manufacturers.

“In addition, the Univercells team is highly innovative and very experienced in this space, which we believe will be key for continued innovation and growth at Univercells and across the Gamma portfolio as we expand.”

Univercells’ tech platforms

The funding will be used to support Univercells’ technology portfolio, with the intent to commercialize the firm’s NevoLine biomanufacturing platform and the scale-X bioreactor portfolio

“The NevoLine biomanufacturing platform is a proprietary technology based on process architecture that reinvents the traditional biomanufacturing facility approach to viral and cell-culture manufacturing,” Univercells CEO, Hugues Bultot, told us.

“Instead of a large process chain that takes up multiple rooms in a facility – up to 10,000 m2 – we have intensified each step of the process and chained them into a series of closed, self-contained biomanufacturing cabinets (such as upstream, downstream, and virus inactivation) using a continuous processing approach.”

This, he explained, “drastically decreases the footprint, taking up just 1,500 m2 of space,” and thus heavily reduces capital investment.

The scale-X bioreactors, meanwhile, support lab to commercial scale upstream processing for viral vector, viral vaccine, and oncolytic virus production, either as a standalone technology or within the NevoLine platform.

“Each bioreactor features a structured and intensified fixed-bed design, with the opportunity for linear scalability from the bench to the plant with the hydro (2.4 m2), carbo (10-30 m2 – equivalent to a 50 L bioreactor) and the nitro (200-600 m2 – equivalent to a 1,000 L bioreactor),” he continued. “The automated design offers reliable process control and integrated sensors and inline concentration simplify the process.”

The latest funding comes off the back of investment in Univercells from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Global Health Investment Fund, and European Investment Bank.

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