The €466,500 ($503,000) grant was awarded to the Brussels, Belgium-based bioprocessing firm by the Economy, Employment and Research branch of the Walloon government and will be used to complete a two-year research project – UNIVERSCALE - looking at reducing the cost of vaccine and antibody production.
Univercells is hoping to overcome the low-volume limits of single-use technologies by developing platforms which integrate high-cell density culture in single-use fixed-bed bioreactors with the continuous process of perfusion, the firm’s Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder Jose Castillo told Biopharma-Reporter.
This “results in a smaller footprint and unit cost that significantly reduces capital expenditure, enabling a range between $15-20m for multi-products facilities, producing between 25-150kg of antibody per year.”
Furthermore, the firm’s methods have significantly lower running costs, we were told, with the cost of goods per gram reduced by a factor of 10. “It dramatically impacts the commercial price.”
In November, Japanese Pharma firm Takeda acquired a stake in Univercells in order to leverage the technology for several viral vaccines from its own pipeline.
“Today, original antibodies are mass-produced by a few large global players in huge and complex facilities based on stainless steel technologies,” Castillo continued. “These production units are setup to enable the production of 1000 – 1500 kg antibody/year and involve very high capital expenditures and operational costs.
“Reducing these costs would allow emerging countries to develop in their territories intermediate size manufacturing capabilities and local production of biologics in order to make them available and affordable to their population.”
If the UNIVERSCALE research proves successful, the platform will be utilised by Univercells itself from a 400m2 unit in the Charleroi Brussels South Biopark in Gosselies, Belgium, with the firm looking to produce between 10 and 50 million doses of its own viral antigens per year by 2019.
To do this, Univercells would require an investment of less than $15m, Castillo added, and the cost per dose would be less than $0.75, compared to around $6 with traditional methods.
“This is only possible through process intensification, process integration and the use of disruptive technologies,” he said.
“This is what we call technology-driven affordability, where biologicals can be made available and affordable independently of the place, country or continent where the facility is implemented, while keeping the highest quality standards and facilitating technology transfer and implementation.”
Univercells also intends to use the tech platform to commercialise at least one of its own biosimilar products by the end of 2017.