The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY -

The breast can­cer drug Her­ceptin and the rheuma­toid arthri­tis drug Hu­mira are break­through treat­ments. Both are bi­o­log­ics, or drugs that have been pro­duced us­ing ge­net­i­cally-engi­neered liv­ing or host cells.

Bi­o­log­ics are the fu­ture. How­ever, they are very costly and time-con­sum­ing to make. This is where the Dublin-based life­sciences com­pany Val­i­ta­cell fits in. It of­fers a novel method of trans­form­ing the com­plex man­u­fac­tur­ing process that pro­duces bio-ther­a­peu­tic drugs by mak­ing it faster and more cost ef­fec­tive.

Ev­i­dence that the com­pany is on the right track can be seen from its client list. The young startup has al­ready at­tracted the at­ten­tion of US con­glom­er­ate GE Health­care, in­ter­na­tional biotech com­pany MedIm­mune, which is part of As­tra Zeneca, and global health com­pany Gri­fols.

Bi­o­log­ics is a rapidly emerg­ing spe­cial­ist niche with huge growth po­ten­tial. Es­ti­mated sales in 2016 were $210 bil­lion (€175.2bn), with Her­ceptin con­tribut­ing $7 bil­lion (€5.8bn) and Hu­mira $13 bil­lion (€10.8bn).

Val­i­ta­cell em­ploys 10 peo­ple, and is based at the Na­tional Institute for Bio­pro­cess­ing Re­search and Train­ing (NIBRT) on the UCD cam­pus.

“Bi­o­log­ics are highly com­plex, and must be grown in host cells to de­liver the bio-ther­a­peu­tic re­quired,” says CEO Dr Terry McWade, who co-founded the com­pany with Jerry Clif­ford in 2015. “A tra­di­tional small-molecule drug such as Aspirin has 21 atoms. The bi­o­logic Her­ceptin has 25,000. At the moment the prob­lem is the huge vol­ume of cells – over 2,000 – that need to be screened for their abil­ity to pro­duce the drug. This is where we come in.

“Our technology changes the way in which the cells are screened, and in so do­ing short­ens the time needed to set up the pro­duc­tion of a bi­o­logic drug by iden­ti­fy­ing the op­ti­mal host cell. At the moment com­pa­nies test for sta­bil­ity over 160 days. We be­lieve we can bring this back to 30-40 days.

“Our prod­ucts also al­low users to select cells with greater reg­u­la­tory con­fi­dence at the ear­li­est pos­si­ble stage dur­ing the drug de­vel­op­ment

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