In this episode of the Ori Spotlight Podcast Jason C. Foster is joined by Philip Vanek, CTO of Gamma Bio. They talk about the role Gamma Bio is playing in accelerating the development of disruptive technologies for CGTs, why focussing on digital is key to solving the manufacturing pain point in the industry, and why the CGT industry is the most exciting space to work in.
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“Ultimately, there are patients at the end of this process. This journey for all of us. If you keep the eye on that prize, that we can really transform lives of patients throughout the world, where else would you want to work? Where else would you want to be? This is the industry to be in right now.”
Gamma Bio sits in a unique space between private equity and venture capital investment. The brainchild of KKR and Gamma CEO Matt Gunnison, it seeks to deploy capital and talent into underserved high growth areas to accelerate the development of disruptive platforms and technologies for CGTs.
“We used our network to identify assets and companies that we thought could be disruptive. This was not a highly speculative investment we were trying to take. We were looking for opportunities where the technology was largely de-risked. It worked to the specifications we felt were necessary for them to be successful in the market. But what they needed was growth capital. They needed people who have a network in this community that would redirect those efforts to solve real world problems in creative ways.”– Philip Vanek
Philip brings a wealth of experience in the CGT industry to his role as CTO at Gamma. Like many others, he’s identified manufacturing as a major pain point in the industry, both in the mindset and the technology of current developers.
“The industry was building the plane while we were flying it. We had no idea what the technologies are. Back in my Lonza days, we were having the debate about allogeneic versus autologous and build versus buy and what are the best processes. Nine years later, we’re still having those same conversations. We have to get to a point, and this is what I’m passionate about, where cell and gene therapy manufacturing is not even raised as an issue anymore… We are an industry that is highly reliant on bioprocessing technologies as opposed to cell and gene therapy manufacturing technologies. So if you talk to people in the industry, everybody is cobbling together a process to get their therapeutic manufactured, to get it out to the patients. But each of those unit operations within that workflow are borrowed, and typically are suboptimal for what we’re trying to do.”– Philip Vanek
Solving this and other big problems that the industry faces requires collaboration, which is easier said than done in an industry which is traditionally very proprietary. But if companies can find ways of exchanging information around technology and skills, Philip thinks the entire industry will benefit.
“One is the technology, and one is the skill set in effect. No single company has the monopoly on the most talented scientists. I always tell our team that technology envy is a good thing. You see somebody else with a technology like, ‘Geez, why didn’t I think of that?’ That’s brilliant. Because of the pace of the industry, it’s demanding that people get out of their silos, get out of their own way, and try to figure out innovative ways. Because honestly, a therapeutic developer does not care about what brand technology they’re using to make it. All they care about is getting a safe therapy into their patient.”– Philip Vanek
Of course, when talking about technology and the fast pace of the industry, the conversation inevitably turns to digital. This is a vast topic in itself, but Philip believes that there are achievable goals the industry can reach in the short-term, and long-term ambitions that could revolutionize the development of CGTs
“Quality by exception is a critical driving force for the industry…There’s no reason why we can’t with the data integrity and process analytical sensing when you’re getting the appropriate readouts through the entire workflow, that a batch record gets created automatically… Understanding the chain of custody and the chain of quality from the starting material through to the final product that’s manufactured, whatever the manufacturing process that is low hanging fruit for the industry… One of the biggest obstacles for [the digital twin notion] that is we don’t have curated data to inform the learning set. I always used to make this joke when I’m talking about it. We can get there, but we’re still in the days where you poke a frog, it sticks its leg out and we go, ‘That’s cool. Why did it do that?’… We do something to a cell, something happens and we’re going, ‘okay, what is what does that mean?’ There’s no shortcut. We have to curate the data to get the sets to actually be able to figure out.”– Philip Vanek
Philip believes we’re only starting to scratch the surface with cell and gene therapies in oncology. So addressing the manufacturing pain point is one of the ways Gamma Bio is future proofing the industry for the explosion in demand that new technologies for new indications will bring.
“As therapies become more accessible, more reliable, more reproducible and scale up, the economics will change dramatically. And because of the durability of these treatments or persistence of these treatments, the economics can quickly pivot. What’s really exciting me is that we’re having clinical progress in solid tumours. We’re seeing clinical progress in inflammation, we’re seeing clinical progress in tissue regeneration. So that will continue to play out. Our focus is completely on, okay, let’s assume that the dog has caught the car after it’s chasing it. What does it do now? We have to make sure manufacturing is ready to, you know, address those challenges going forward.”– Philip Vanek