Cencora’s Lung-I Cheng: ‘Cell and gene is becoming a very competitive space’

By Isabel Cameron

- Last updated on GMT

© Cencora
© Cencora

Related tags cell and gene therapy cell and gene therapies Gene therapy Cell therapy Manufacturing CAR-T

The cell and gene therapy sector has recently seen an influx of investment and interest from the pharmaceutical industry.

This has prompted certain companies to adapt by introducing new business divisions, to accommodate these innovative treatments.

One such company is Cencora, formerly Amerisource Bergen, which established its own cell and gene offering in 2022, headed up by vice president Lung-I Cheng.

For Cheng, growing the department has been a rewarding experience, and he has been ‘so impressed by the enthusiasm and the dedication that everybody at Cencora has for cell and gene’.

“The cell and gene line at Cencora is structured differently than some of the other service lines that we have within the company. The difference is that this service line encompasses all the different areas that Cencora has that can support cell and gene,” he told Bio Pharma Reporter at Reuters Pharma USA 2024.

“Therefore, the spectrum is really wide so we can give speciality logistics, speciality distribution, patient services, regulatory consultants, market access strategies – it’s a multi-functional team and a complex matrix so I really can’t do this on my own. I need to be working with everybody.”

Lung-I Cheng, vice president, cell and gene therapy at Cencora. 

When it comes to facing challenges within Cencora's expansive organizational structure, Cheng notes that his team consistently works to maintain effective communication with the appropriate internal subject matter experts.

“The subject matter is very new and cell and gene therapy is evolving so quickly. I think we still have more room to grow and that’s just the nature of the business we’re in,” he said.

Specifically, Cheng highlights how Cencora is making its mark in logistics, a critical part of cell therapies as they require precise temperature control and time sensitivity.

“For a lot of cell and gene companies, the greatest aspiration is to be global and provide treatments to patients across the world, but it’s also the biggest challenge. How do you go about doing that?” he said.

At Cencora, Cheng has spearheaded the establishment of a cryogenic network around the world to help companies build and leverage that network – ‘no matter where they are’.

“With these advanced therapies, it’s a different game. With out network, companies can conduct their clinical trials with these specialized products and as they are commercializing, they are able to reach more patients.”

When selecting a cell and gene commercialization partner, the vice president believes the majority of pharma companies are looking for a collaborator they can trust.

To build that trust, Cencora puts its experience and network front and center, he said. 

“If you look at our specialty distribution business, which is different and separate from logistics, we have a huge heritage that translates really well to cell and gene. We also have a number of cell and gene programs that we're supporting right now."

“We can speak to real life examples. We’re also trying to get ahead of problems to make sure that there's no delay in terms of a patient journey. The other key element is our culture and customer focused approach. Those cultural attributes lend themselves to a very collaborative relationship with biopharma companies.”

For companies working to bring their cell and gene product to market, Cheng stresses that they should engage with Cencora as soon as they can – ‘as strategic decisions are made very early on, sometimes before we even go to the clinic’.

“Cell and gene is becoming a very competitive space. So, as the market becomes more competitive and providers demand more simplicity and standardization – you want to work with companies that can help you with that and begin to think through some of these strategic decisions as early as possible,” he added.

Moving forward, Cencora is striving for further growth and visibility in the industry, with plans to host its first cell and gene summit in May.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring the right stakeholders together and we have a great line of speakers ready. It will allow us to really talk about what we've learned ourselves and throughout our partners and to share that with a broader audience,” Cheng said.

In addition, sharing ideas and best practice is even more important in an industry that ‘requires learning from one another more than other areas’.

While relatively new to the advanced therapies space, Cencora is betting on its heritage and large network to cement its place in the ever-growing industry.  

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