MilliporeSigma goes acoustic with FloDesign Sonics buy

Merck KGaA unit MilliporeSigma has boosted its CAR-T autologous manufacturing services by buying FloDesign Sonics, adding an acoustic cell processing platform.

MilliporeSigma, the life sciences division of Germany’s Merck, says it intends to offer the tech platform of its new acquisition to cell therapy manufacturing customers.

Massachusetts-based FloDesign Sonics’ first commercial product, Ekko, allows the wash, concentration and formulation is based on its acoustic wave separation (AWS) system that uses a three-dimensional standing wave that traps and gathers cells in the flow channel.

Image: iStock/vchal

Within the autologous chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell manufacturing space, it “is a disruptive technology that is scalable, reduces costs and improves quality,” according to the company’s Life Science spokesperson Karen Tiano.

“Acoustic waves are used to immobilize and ultimately separate cells for other material in the input stream,” she told Bioprocess Insider. “This technology is highly tunable and remains gentle on the cells. Flexible control allows for a wide range of inputs and final concentrations, yields or processing times.”

The bioprocess space has been a hotbed of M&A activity. Merck itself has grown its presence through large deals such as the $17 billion Sigma-Aldrich buy in 2015, and smaller platform-oriented deals such as a recent analytical software acquisition. This latest acquisition was the result of continual assessment by Merck’s executive management team “to maximize value and ensure the achievement of our strategic plan,” said Tiano.

“As a result, this acquisition positions us as the first company to make acoustic technology available for cell therapy manufacturing.”

Rival bioprocess firm Pall bought the exclusive rights to the AWS technology for use in cell clarification and perfusion in 2015, and according to Tiano this – and any other license agreements – continue to stand despite the new owners.

Infographic c/o Merck KGaA

Dynamk Capital

Financial details have not been disclosed, but life sciences venture capital fund firm Dynamk Capital invested in FloDesign Sonics in 2018, citing the opportunity as “an exciting new investment in advancing the commercial production of CAR T and immunotherapies.”

“FloDesign Sonics is fundamentally changing cell selection, handling and separation through application of gentle acoustic processing,” said Daniella Kranjac, co-founder and managing director of Dynamk Capital, at the time.

“We are thrilled to see the commercialization of this technology in bioprocessing, and now FDS is set to innovate cell and gene therapy delivery, reducing cost and improving access to life-saving therapies, by enabling closed, automated, and gentle cell processing.”