by Thomas Lynch
Vice President, Client Services, Aldevron
Board Member, BioForward
Aldevron’s Protein Business Unit manufactures recombinant proteins used in a wide range of applications including research, diagnostics, and therapeutics. Our company as a whole is really focused on the exciting new frontier of genetic medicine and being an end-to-end solutions provider.
What we deliver are products that enable our clients to develop these new genetic therapies, which help patients who in many cases don’t have a drug or treatment for their specific disease or condition that’s been successful – or that doesn’t exist at all.
To ensure success for our business, we have a strategic review process every year that forecasts growth and the capacity required to support demand from our clients and partners. This process confirmed that we needed additional space, so we have been planning on this expansion for over a year.
Aldevron has experienced rapid growth in recent years and we expect this to continue as the cell therapy and gene editing markets continue to expand. This forecasted growth aligns with our company’s vision to grow the Aldevron Protein Business Unit in Madison.
Tom Foti, who serves as president of our Protein Unit that he cofounded in 2009, explained their impact with sickle cell disease, a rare blood disorder where an individual has a genetic mutation on chromosome 11 that causes the hemoglobin protein to malfunction.
The red blood cells “sickle,” or don’t move through the circulatory system the way round blood cells do. This creates traffic jams that damage organs, cause pain and ultimately prevent oxygen from properly transporting to tissue to allow people to live normal lives.
People manage sickle cell disease with medications and blood transfusions, but these treatments make the condition tolerable without fixing the root problem cause. We make CRISPR-Cas9 proteins that are research grade and in a clinical setting can assist in corrective gene surgery to solve the root cause of sickle cell disease at the molecular level. Check out the remarkable story of how this gene-editing technique worked for Victoria Gray.
We’re also working on cystic fibrosis, which is caused by several genetic mutations and has a range of different disease states that affect the lungs and digestive system. The goal is to deliver messenger RNA that encodes the proper protein so when individuals take their medicine (which is inhaled in the lungs), the protein clears mucus from the lungs to improve breathing and decrease the risks for complications such as pneumonia.
There is great opportunity in both autologous and allogenic cell therapies – in helping individual patients and creating large batches of “supercharged” cells to help thousands of patients, respectively. Using gene engineered allogenic cells to address cancer is one of the main targets for this novel therapeutic approach. There are up to 8,000 monogenetic diseases, or conditions caused by one chromosome mutation.
The Madison Connection
Our recent expansion allows us to do this work on an even bigger scale with more space to develop larger fermentation capabilities to purify larger batches of proteins at cost-effective prices. We’ve been growing for quite some time and have a strong foundation built here within the biohealth ecosystem in Madison.
Madison is great city that is uniquely positioned to support rapid growth of biotech companies. We chose the city initially because of the ability to recruit a talented workforce, do business locally and the biotech ecosystem is vibrant. We are very fortunate to have operations in a setting where biotechnology has such strong support from the community, University of Wisconsin-Madison, state of Wisconsin, and BioForward Wisconsin.
Universities across the state and local technical schools have been integral in satisfying our growing need for excellent talent across the entire spectrum of our operation. We are especially proud of the talented team that we have been able to recruit to our Madison site who collaborate closely with their teammates in Fargo, North Dakota (Aldevron Headquarters). There are 50+ employees here in Madison, and we plan to add about 30-40% more to our employee base this year.
Aldevron has been successful in recruiting people to Madison from all across the country – Massachusetts, California, Texas, etc. People can see themselves living here, raising their family here and being surrounded by talent focused on this growing field. They also have the tremendous opportunity to continue their education and training at UW, and we work closely with UW on the innovation side with their top experts in gene editing.
Another benefit of being part of the biohealth ecosystem in Madison is the close collaboration with our team in Fargo. Our clients appreciate that closeness and partnership here in the Midwest.
BioForward has done a nice job of cultivating that biotech ecosystem in Wisconsin. We are thrilled to be members of the organization and we thank them for creating a platform that promotes collaboration and member successes.
Celebrating and Looking Ahead
As Tom noted, we have a “very unique box seat to what is coming down the pipeline for healthcare.” There are thousands of clinical trials involving cell and gene therapy, medical students are learning about CRISPR in their first year of medical school, and we’ll continue to see more life-changing stories like that of Victoria Gray.
Looking ahead even further, we are very excited about our ribonucleoprotein (RNP) manufacturing service, as we believe this gene editing strategy can revolutionize cell therapy. In 2021, we plan to manufacture and deliver both research-use and GMP RNPs to clients.
We welcome you to join us for our virtual ribbon cutting at noon Wednesday, Feb. 10, and keep tabs on the exciting developments to come!