Deal sees Charles River Labs acquire large-molecule discovery platform

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Zhanna Hapanovich
© GettyImages/Zhanna Hapanovich

Related tags CRO cell and gene therapy

Preclinical contract research organization (CRO), Charles River Laboratories International, has announced the acquisition of an antibody discovery company, Distributed Bio, for US$83m in cash.

The transaction also includes contingent additional payments of up to US$21m based on future performance.

The deal, said the Wilmington, Massachusetts, headquartered Charles River, will further enhance its ability to serve as a single-source partner to global clients’ in their early-stage research, as it expands its scientific capabilities through access to an innovative, large-molecule discovery platform.

The San Francisco based Distributed Bio’s estimated annual revenue in 2020 was around US$15m. It aims to increase the chance of success for formattable antibody fragments to support antibody and cell and gene therapies.

The acquisition follows an alliance between the two parties, initiated in October 2018.

James C Foster, CEO, Charles River Laboratories, said: “Our successful partnership has already generated significant client interest and we believe our broader platform will continue to attract new discovery business opportunities.

“Distributed Bio’s large-molecule discovery platform fills a gap in our portfolio and expands our early discovery expertise in a complex drug modality that few CROs can successfully offer.

“We believe our clients’ willingness to outsource more of their discovery programs will be predicated on our ability to continue to add innovative capabilities to meet our clients’ critical research needs, which we are accomplishing through strategic acquisitions and our partnership strategy.”

Expediting antibody discovery 

The deal combines Distributed Bio’s antibody libraries and immuno-engineering platform with Charles River’s drug discovery and non-clinical development expertise. The idea is to create an integrated, end-to-end platform for therapeutic antibody and cell and gene therapy discovery and development, said the CRO.

Distributed Bio’s antibody libraries are optimized for both sequence diversity and immuno-engineering fitness through the analysis of thousands of human antibody repertoires and known monoclonal therapeutics in clinical trials, which can generate many unique binders against every antigen tested, said the research organization.

“This large molecule discovery platform improves the chance of successful hit finding, reduces optimization requirements, and thereby expedites the antibody discovery process by several months. Distributed Bio’s computational immunology expertise also enables optimization of existing client antibodies generated through more traditional platforms, such as hybridoma or traditional phage display.”

Focus on cell and gene therapies

In November 2019, Charles River singled out cell and gene therapies as the fastest growing component of its biologics business. The following month, it revealed a US$380m (€340m) deal​ to buy cell and gene therapy specialist, HemaCare, a company that had worked on three cell therapies approved in the US - Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel), Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel) and Provenge (sipuleucel-T).

Then in August 2020, the CRO announced the acquisition of Memphis based, Cellero, (formerly Key Biologics and Astarte Biologics), a provider of cellular products for cell therapy developers and manufacturers worldwide, for US$38m.

The Cellero deal, said Charles River, would complement the HemaCare business by boosting the supply of critical biomaterials, including a wide range of human-derived primary cell types to support the discovery, development, and manufacture of cell therapies.

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