ElevateBio uncloaks with $150M to build cell and gene therapy biotechs

Mitchell Finer, Ph.D., the former chief scientific officer of Bluebird Bio and CEO of multiple biotech companies, has noticed time and time again a bottleneck in cell and gene therapy: manufacturing. 

“The issue comes because most companies—you don’t have the ability to invest in your own manufacturing facility at an early stage. Bluebird didn’t build one until eight or nine years into the game,” Finer told FierceBiotech. Instead, he said, young companies relied on contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) until they raised larger private rounds or went public: “They’d raise $100 million, $150 million, spending at least two-thirds of that building a facility for one product.” 

So Finer, along with his MPM Capital colleagues and former Alexion execs Vikas Sinha and David Hallal, co-founded ElevateBio, a holding company launching with $150 million to build a group of companies centered on cell and gene therapies. The idea is to provide a centralized R&D and manufacturing team for its portfolio companies to bring cell and gene therapies “from bench to bedside." ElevateBio is partnering with academic researchers, medical centers and entrepreneurs to create those companies. 

Instead of hiring a different set of R&D, manufacturing and clinical development folks for each company—something that Finer has done four times for gene therapy companies as a venture partner at MPM Capital—ElevateBio’s portfolio companies will share those teams. In addition to speeding up the development of cell and gene therapies, the business model addresses another bottleneck—the limited supply of professionals with that kind of expertise. It also promotes ownership and control of programs: “People don’t own the product at CDMOs—they are punching the clock. That’s why companies realize this is a very complex process and eventually build their own facility,” Finer said. 

The model is similar to that of BridgeBio, the genetic disease player that raised $299 million in January. It’s using a “hub-and-spoke" structure to develop drugs for a variety of diseases, ranging from transthyretin amyloidosis (ATTR) and pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration (PKAN) to Gorlin syndrome and K-RAS-driven cancers. Each drug is placed in its own subsidiary with access to “centralized resources” and a “central research and development platform.” 

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ElevateBio is already working on its first portfolio companies at its BaseCamp facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Hallal said. But it will soon move its R&D and manufacturing center, led by Finer, ElevateBio’s chief scientific officer, to a larger site in neighboring Waltham. The new 100,000-square-foot building will house cGMP manufacturing suites, analytics and quality control laboratories, and protein engineering, virology and immunology labs. It will start moving its teams to the lab toward the end of the year, said Hallal, ElevateBio CEO.

The BaseCamp facilities and expertise will also be open to "selected strategic partners" to keep the site operating at its "highest level of efficiency and quality."

"We're not a CDMO," clarified Finer. "We want strategic partners that have objectives that are mutually beneficial, that is, bringing innovative products to patients, with severe unmet medical needs that can only be provided for with cell and gene therapies, or regenerative medicines."

So how is ElevateBio picking its projects? 

“What we’ve been doing is identifying innovation at all stages, from late preclinical to advanced clinical stages of development. We’re looking forward to providing updates on initial company building in the coming weeks and months,” Hallal said. The company isn’t tying itself to any one approach or disease, but will pay particular attention to treatments in immunotherapy, regenerative medicine or in vivo gene therapy. 

“If we believe there is a great match between us and the scientific founder, and that our capabilities provide that scientific founder with what they need to advance their programs with speed and quality, we want to make that an ElevateBio portfolio company,” Hallal said. “We are customizing our capabilities to their needs; we expect with a facility the size of BaseCamp to be able to accommodate multiple portfolio companies.” 

“Our strategy is to be a substantial holder of equity in those portfolio companies, but syndicating over time so our percent ownership might decline over time as we are creating more and more value,” Hallal said. “We can envision, for example, having those companies go public through an IPO and continuing to benefit from our staff that founded and drove that company forward.” 

In the future, ElevateBio may choose to invest more in its portfolio companies—an option that its series A backers could pursue as well. Those investors include the UBS Oncology Impact Fund managed by MPM Capital and F2 Ventures, EcoR1 Capital, Redmile Group and Samsara BioCapital.