Takeda taps Univercells for low-cost vaccine technology

By Phil Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

Takeda taps Univercells for low-cost vaccine technology

Related tags Vaccine Malaria

Takeda has taken a stake in Belgian bioprocessing start-up Univercells as part of a programme aimed at supplying low-cost vaccines to lower-income countries.

The identity of the vaccines covered by the initial agreement has not been disclosed but Univercells technology platform will be used for "viral vaccines from Takeda's current product pipeline,"​ according to Univercells' chief technology officer Jose Castillo.

Univercells was formed in 2013 with the express aim of driving the costs out of biomanufacturing processes, and claims it can reduce the sale price of biologics by 75% to 90%.

Castillo told Biopharma-Reporter.com that Univercells' approach to reducing the cost of biomanufacturing is to intensify each step - from media prep, to culture, harvest and purification - and integrate them into a continuous process​.

"We start with single-use high-cell-density bioreactor operated in perfusion mode, which makes it a continuous process, chaining clarification and capture operations,"​ he said.

The first step for the Takeda collaboration will be to "revamp and optimise the manufacturing process for current vaccines using Univercells' platform,"​ he added.

The level of investment to be made in the collaboration by Takeda has also not been disclosed, but Castillo said the Japanese drugmaker "intends to mobilise significant resources"​ for the production of vaccines.

As part of the deal, Takeda has closed a €3m equity investment in Univercells - via its investment arm Takeda Ventures - which gives it a 19.9% stake in the Belgian company. Takeda's vaccine pipeline includes candidates for dengue fever and norovirus, which are in late-stage development.

"Equal access to health around the globe is critical and we believe this comes through decentralized production, which is the biggest challenge in this new era of biomanufacturing,"​ said Castillo.

Takeda restructure

The announcements comes amid a period of significant change for Takeda's vaccines business unit, including the closure of several US operations in order to focus its efforts around a new hub in the Boston/Cambridge area of Massachusetts.

The changes introduced by recently-appointed chief executive Christophe Weber - the first non-Japanese CEO in Takeda's history - are part of a broader restructuring​ that has also seen Takeda's cancer unit Millennium rebranded as Takeda Oncology.

Set up in 2012, the vaccine business remains a core part of the Japanese group's portfolio, with the revamped US operations sitting alongside a main European hub in Zurich, Switzerland, as well as regional facilities in Singapore and Brazil.

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