Cell Reprogramming Startup Bit Bio Inks Pact With Charles River

Xconomy Boston — 

Charles River Laboratories International is making moves in the cell therapy space after signing on the cell reprogramming startup Bit Bio and announcing plans to acquire a biomaterials company for $380 million.

The Wilmington, MA-based contract research organization (CRO) last week announced that it has entered into an exclusive discovery and safety services partnership with Bit Bio.

UK-based Bit Bio, formerly knowns as Elpis, has developed a gene engineering approach to scale the reprogramming of induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs)

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The approach—optimized inducible over-expression, or opti-ox—has been validated on muscle and brain cells for use in drug discovery, research, and cell therapies. Combining the opti-ox platform with deep learning algorithms opens up the opportunity to expand the process to all human cell types, according to the company.

“If you could actually replicate the whole human atlas in terms of cell types, imagine the power that you have to bring now not only into the research environments, but into the screening and end state drug discovery,” says Bit Bio Chief Business Officer Paul Morrill, calling the company’s platform  “a method for enabling a new generation of human cell types from IPSCs.”

As per its partnership with Bit Bio, Charles River (NYSE: CRL) will offer clients access to Bit Bio’s products and services. It also will support the startup with business development and marketing, Morrill tells Xconomy. Specific financial details of the partnership weren’t disclosed.

“As we go into 2020, it’s really starting to focus on where and how IPSC-derived cell types within the right context can really start serving the research and drug discovery environments,” he adds.

The company is currently directing its efforts in underserved areas, including hepatocytes, which is a cell type that makes up approximately 65 percent of the liver’s mass. In the next month, further cell types will be announced.

Morrill notes that Bit Bio has really started gaining momentum in the last year, growing 2.5-fold in the last 9 months to approximately 30 employees. He expects this growth to continue until closer to 60 employees are brought on board.

The startup also will use what it learns to adapt and improve its platform in order to increase the company’s own ability to derive new therapeutics for the future, he adds. “We can only do a fraction of the therapeutics that are possible. You have to turn those cell lines lose; Democratize science for all researchers,” Morrill says.

A Series A financing round also is part of the 2020 plans and the company is currently talking to investors. Says Morrill, “2020 is going to be another year of tremendous expansion and consolidation of our expertise around our platform and creating new cell types.”

In related news, Charles River today announced that is has signed a definitive agreement to purchase HemaCare—a producer of human-derived cellular products—for approximately $380 million in cash.

The Los Angeles, CA-based company provides cell processing services and biomaterials, including human primary cell types, and will boost Charles River’s capabilities in the cell therapy space, which currently represents approximately $100 million of Charles River’s annual revenue.

According to the CRO, the market for HemaCare’s products could potentially increase from $200 million today, to an estimated $2 billion over the next ten years. For Charles River, over the next five years, the addition of HemaCare is estimated to contribute to revenue growth of at least 30 percent annually.

(Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash)