Univercells on balancing its bioprocess tech and CDMO subsidiaries

Univercells has launched a bioprocess technology subsidiary it says can offer a new generation of biomanufacturing platforms that can solve industry’s manufacturing challenges.

It has been a busy few months for Belgium-based biologics platform firm Univercells. In February, global investment firm KKR – through its portfolio of life sciences tools companies Gamma Biosciences – committed €50 million ($54 million) into the firm Univercells.

Then last month, the firm launched Exothera, a process development and viral vector contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) based on its bioprocess technologies and facilities in Gosselies and Nivelles, along with a newly acquired plant in Jumet, all in Belgium.

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And now, the company has launched Univercells Technologies, a subsidiary focused on the development and commercialization of its intensified and automated biomanufacturing technologies.

We spoke to Mathias Garny, general manager of Univercells Technologies, to understand how the firm has evolved, how KKR has driven the changes, and what lies ahead.

Bioprocess Insider (BI): How has the KKR investment help drive this spin out of your technology wing, and what role does it have in Exothera? 

Mathias Garny (MG): The KKR investment will only support Univercells Technologies, focused on the industrialization and commercialization of novel bioprocessing technologies, i.e. the scale-X bioreactors range and the NevoLine platform.

Exothera is a free-standing subsidiary, fully owned by the Univercells group. There are no shareholding engagements to Univercells Technologies or other companies. Exothera will leverage the Univercells Technologies portfolio where possible for continuous improvement of customer projects but this will not be the only technology offered to the CDMO customers.

BI: Why the need to create this subsidiary?

MG: The subsidiary was created to reassemble the deployment of the manufacturing technologies under a dedicated brand name while preserving Univercells’ purpose of making biologics available and affordable to all. The name and entity of Univercells will continue in this same path by acting as the holding company for the different subsidiaries to comprehensively contribute to improving global health.

All Univercells’ companies will leverage the biomanufacturing solutions where possible for gene therapy, vaccine and biosimilar production.

BI: How separate will the two entities be both from a management and operational standpoint?

MG: The creation of specific entities allows for enhanced operational focus under the Univercells umbrella. Each subsidiary has dedicated management and operational teams that respond to the specific customer needs of that unit.

BI: The CDMO uses Univercells’ tech platform but will it now lose its advantage if the tech is being offered to other cell and gene, and vaccine manufacturers?

MG: Exothera engages with cell and gene therapy innovators active in research and development and early clinical stages to build long-term partnerships. One of Exothera’s strengths is its willingness to focus on identifying the most suited manufacturing technologies to develop cost-effective intensified processes for its clients. This is inclusive of the Univercells Technologies offer, as well as other technologies in the market.

Exothera’s main differentiator is its unique selling proposition leveraging on years of expertise and its capacity to develop integrated bioprocesses for large-scale and cost-effective viral vector manufacturing. The team at Exothera works with the customer to tailor manufacturing solutions to their situation and offers flexible support capacity in commercial manufacturing with a seamless technological transfer to a modular manufacturing facility.

BI: How will Univercells Technologies sit within the consolidated bioprocess vendor space?

MG: Univercells Technologies is a company focused on novel bioprocessing technologies enabling large scale manufacturing of viral products, including but not limited to viral vectors for gene therapies, oncolytic viruses, human and veterinary vaccines. The scale-X bioreactor range and the NevoLine biomanufacturing platform have demonstrated superiority in terms of cost-effective large-scale production. They represent the new generation of biomanufacturing leveraging the principles of intensification and chaining and can solve today’s and tomorrow’s manufacturing challenges.

As a dedicated company, Univercells Technologies will have the capabilities to offer a high level of service with enhanced customer intimacy and reduced lead times.

BI: Is the company looking to separate either this or the CDMO business out further, through M&A for example?

MG: With the financial support of the global investment firm KKR, Univercells Technologies is geared up to bring its activities to the next level. The company will focus its strengths on the industrialization of the manufacturing technologies and their global commercial deployment. It will also target inorganic growth via selected acquisitions.

Nevertheless, Univercells Technologies is always open to exploring new industrial partnerships.

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