BPR: Could you give us an overview of the work you’re doing at ScaleReady?
My position is commercial director at ScaleReady, covering European and Middle East countries. ScaleReady is a joint venture that was formed a couple of years back in 2020 between Bio-Techne, Fresenius Kabi and Wilson Wolf. They came together to create a solution that is covering the needs of cell therapies today. The partner companies are powerhouse players with tools and technologies that are uniquely flexible and scalable, and that have been proven and are being used in approved CART-T therapies today. ScaleReady is an optimization expert group and we're working closely with client collaborators to ensure that we optimize their processes and do application support to ensure that the programs they are working with are set up for cost-effective commercialization success already in the early research stage.
BPR: Could you tell us about your partnership with Cellular Origins, your first project together and how you envisage the partnership long-term?
This collaboration is very important for the industry. Over the past 10 years, the sector has been talking a lot about the need for automation and how we can automate to enable more patients to get treated. However, the automation that the industry initially thought was the right answer has proven to be misguided. We automated parts of the manufacturing platform that built on old knowledge and old systems that have proven to be faulty. We ended up with very complex systems for manufacturing cells that take up a lot of space, expensive to run and very complicated.
With Cellular Origins, we are removing those complexities to ensure that we can multiply and scale through automation. So we are excited to see how we can, still with a very small footprint, be able to automate and treat a lot of patients.
BPR: Are you trying to stand out from competitors in offering something more efficient and straightforward?
Yes, it's definitely much more straightforward, taking top quality technologies of today and automating around them is a much better option than trying to reinvent the wheel. This ensures we can move quickly with a technology that can scale, meaning that you can have cell cultures with small volumes all the way to large volumes because flexibility will be one of the cornerstones for cell therapy manufacturing today and tomorrow. What we are doing with cellular origins is maintaining the flexibility in automation.
BPR: What first piqued your interest in science and what made you want to be a part of this industry?
It started a long time ago! I did my master's degree in medical biology and went from there to do my PhD in the field of hematopoises and really on the pre-clinical side of hematological malignancies. So from the start, I've been into the field of leukemia both ALL and AMR. Therefore, moving out of the academic world into the industry and into cell therapies was not a big step. During my entire career, I have been in the field of cell and gene therapies at a couple of different companies. This has allowed me to acquire a lot of knowledge from the early days of cell therapies, prior to first approvals. It’s been a very exciting journey hearing about the first CAR-T treatments during my early days in the industry where everyone including academics were still thinking about – is CAR-T really going to be revolutionary? Are we going to find some side effects that are going to be an issue moving forward or are we really on the right track to finding a solution to cure cancer? Now we know that these are therapies that have limited side effects but are curing a lot of malignancies – which is just amazing.
BPR: How was the transition from academia to commercial? Was it rewarding or did you encounter any challenges?
For me it was very rewarding to be able to sit on the other side of the table, hearing all the fantastic science that is taking place out of universities, biotech’s and big pharma’s out there and acquiring all that knowledge. I was no longer doing the lab work on my own, not just being an expert in one area, but getting a broader knowledge of what the field is doing and what it takes to be successful in the industry. So for me it was really the right move, being able to meet a lot of people and support them through their scientific hurdles.
BPR: The pre-day at Advanced Therapies 2023 was all about women in the industry. How would you describe the current state of representation for women in the field and do you find events like this valuable in building and strengthening your network?
Absolutely. There's been a big change here over the past decade. Ten years ago in many of these cell therapy conferences, there were not that many women around! If you look at the agendas, we are getting close to a 50-50 ratio on presenters and this is something that I really think is important for the industry – for women and people with diverse backgrounds. It means that the next generation that are here now and are the next leaders in the cell therapy space, they have new faces to look up to and they know it is possible to grow in the industry and be the next one up there talking on the podium.
For me, it’s been a great journey to be part of and see the evolution in the field. If we look at ScaleReady, it’s a great example. We are a new company so we don’t have the legacy of having a lot of men on the senior leadership team. Our leadership team consists of about 60% women and this is reflective of the company – making sure we have diversity and different cultural backgrounds. It’s very rewarding and something that I hope more companies prioritise.
BPR: Would you say that’s the benefit of being part of a young company? You have more scope to shape things?
Definitely. It’s easier in a younger company. That doesn’t mean it’s a hopeless fight in any of the bigger, older companies – there is movement there too! But for us, starting fresh has definitely been an advantage. Having diversity is so important and it’s about making sure that your background and your gender is not what is giving you, or not giving you, a certain position – it’s your knowledge and scientific or commercial background.
BPR: Why do you think the cell and gene therapy industry and science more generally has made strides in gender representation where other industries have struggled?
It’s a great question and it’s important to look at who is taking exams from major universities because that should really reflect who is getting to the leadership positions today. The number of PhD students graduating is higher among females than males. So in this space, if we are just taking that population and putting it into future boards and leadership teams, there should be more women than men. So I don't think it's surprising as there are lots of qualified women.
In the cell and gene therapy industry, it is a big advantage to have a scientific background and once you've got that, you are likely to stay as it is a very exciting and fast-moving industry.
BPR: Looking into the future, when we’re attending Advanced Therapies 2028 and potentially have cell and gene therapies offered as first line solutions to large patient populations – will ScaleReady be able to offer that solution?
I am certain we will. Building on our technologies that have proven to be the simple and scalable solution that the industry needs, supporting both centralized and de-centralized manufacturing. We have seen how the partnership with Cellular Origins supports the automation of our technologies, there may be new evolutions to ensure we are getting even better in space-saving manufacturing by exploring additional ways of automation to support scalable manufacturing.