Pfizer moved into gene therapies earlier than some of its peers, partnering with Spark Therapeutics in 2014 and paying close to $200m (€180m) upfront to acquire Bamboo Therapeutics two years later. The Bamboo takeover gave Pfizer ownership of a manufacturing facility in North Carolina, US.
Earlier this year, Pfizer doubled down on in-house production of gene therapies, committing $500m to expand its footprint in North Carolina.
Talking at a recent investor conference, Mikael Dolsten, chief scientific officer at Pfizer, said the spending commitment is, in part, a reflection of a belief that keeping production in-house will deliver better results than relying on third parties.
Dolsten said, “When we compare that with what we get from other companies, we think we can really improve the yield, the purity and the characterization of the product.”
Across the industry, poor yields have exacerbated capacity constraints created by the rapid expansion of the gene therapy pipeline, turning quality manufacturing capacity into a sought after resource.
A desire to possess in-house manufacturing capacity was a factor in many of the recent acquisitions of gene therapy companies, such as Astellas’ $3bn takeover of Audentes Therapeutics.
Gene therapy startups, such as Audentes and Bamboo, bypassed the limitations of contract capacity by establishing internal capabilities. Those capabilities enabled the companies to advance their gene therapies and, ultimately, to attract takeover offers, but their creation required the sort of upfront investments in infrastructure that many venture-backed startups typically try to avoid.
Through its $500m gene therapy investment, Pfizer thinks it can provide an alternative for startups that are struggling to access high-quality contract capacity but are unable or unwilling to build their own facilities.
Dolsten said, “We think it's a competitive advantage, not just for our product, but for companies that want to partner with Pfizer that may allow them to have an easier and more high-end dialogue with regulators across the globe about this new field and a new type of product.”
If Dolsten is right, the North Carolina manufacturing capacity could give Pfizer an edge when it tries to partner with gene therapy startups that have other options open to them, such as alliances with rival drugmakers and contract manufacturing organizations.