Isolere raises $ 7 million to improve production of AAV gene therapy
Isolere Bio, a spin-out from Duke University whose technology helps manufacture biotechnology, has raised $ 7 million in seed funding, the company said on Wednesday.
Isolere, founded in 2017 by Duke graduate student Kelli Luginbuhl, makes adeno-associated viral vector (AAV) purification technology an important component of many of the most promising gene therapies in development.
Some gene therapies use AAVs as a vehicle to insert new genes into a patient in order to cure certain genetic diseases.
But AAVs and other cell therapies can be difficult to manufacture and to ensure their safety, they must be purified of contaminants.
Isolere thinks he has found a more efficient way to achieve this purification.
“There has been very little innovation in the purification field of manufacturing as a whole,” Luginbuhl said in an interview.
She believes Isolere’s technology can improve viral vector yields by at least 50%.
Northpond Ventures, a Maryland-based biotech investor, led Isolere’s funding round. This is the first round of investment that Isolere has taken, outside of grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the NC Biotechnology Center.
Growing presence of gene therapy companies
With a base in the Chesterfield Building in downtown Durham, Isolere operates close to a growing group of AAV-focused gene therapy companies in the Triangle.
AAVs were started, in part, by the work of Professor Jude Samulski of UNC-Chapel Hill, and the region has made a name for itself as a location for the creation of gene therapy manufacturing facilities.
Samulski’s own gene therapy company, AskBio, was sold to Bayer for $ 4 billion last year. But other major players have also settled in the region, such as Pfizer, Biogen and AveXis.
Luginbuhl said his company’s proximity to this cluster was a real advantage.
“The Research Triangle Park area has become a hub for cell and gene therapy,” she said. “Thought leaders in the field live here and have created companies to develop gene therapies, and every week there is a new article about another biotech company (moving here). So this is a great yard for us.
Luginbuhl says Isolere is already working with some major viral vector manufacturers, although she declined to name them.
But the company has impressive ties to the bioproduction space. One of the co-founders of Luginbuhl is Joe McMahon, the former CEO of KBI Biopharma, a large contract manufacturer based in Durham.
Isolere currently has five employees. But, with its new funding and focus on commercializing its technology, the company plans to expand in the coming months.
Luginbuhl said she hopes to triple the company’s workforce by the end of next year.
It also predicts that Isolere will expand beyond AAV in the coming years. The company’s technology, she said, could be used in other viral vectors, such as those that have been successfully deployed in the coronavirus mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
“The AAV is really just a starting point for us,” she said. “We really believe in the potential of our technology to become a real platform … so part of this fundraising is expanding our applications and starting to apply the technology to other viral vectors.”
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