New Cellares facility a win for NJ’s innovation, life sciences sectors

New Cellares facility a win for NJ's innovation, life sciences sectors

When Cellares cut the ribbon recently on a first-of-its-kind Smart Factory in Bridgewater, the event marked a moment of potential for the state’s economy as well as for patients desperately in need of the potentially life-saving cell therapies that will be manufactured there. “We started the company to accelerate access to life-saving cell therapies for patients, and ultimately, we are on a mission to meet the total patient demand for cell therapies globally,” said Cellares CEO and co-founder Fabian Gerlinghaus during the Jan. 29 ceremony, which drew local, county and state officials in addition to other business leaders and stakeholders. He noted the company launched about five years ago. Cellares’ new 118,000-square-foot state-of-the-art Smart Factory is located at 95 Corporate Drive in Bridgewater – a site formerly occupied by Pfizer. It represents the world’s first Integrated Development and Manufacturing Organization Smart Factory dedicated to clinical and industrial-scale cell therapy manufacturing. The Smart Factory was made possible through a $255 million Series C funding round raised last year, which the San Francisco-based cell therapy manufacturer invested in a big way in the Garden State. Using futuristic-looking Cell Shuttles, a modular platform for industrial scale cell therapy, and powered by robotics and software, Cellares says the facility is capable of producing more than 40,000 cell therapy batches a year – with a goal of producing up to 100,000 batches annually. The company expects to create 350 new jobs at the facility, which is opening in phases as construction continues on parts of the site. Cellares expects to manufacture its first clinical doses by the end of the year with commercial-scale manufacturing expected in 2026. During the news conference and ribbon cutting, Cellares leaders explained that the company is the world’s first IDMO – noting that Conventional Development and Manufacturing Organizations cannot meet patient demand due to the lack of automated, high throughput manufacturing technologies. It is leading to a situation where patients are dying on the waitlist for these potentially life-saving cell therapies. The Bridgewater site will eventually boast 50 Cell Shuttles, which use compact automation that enables concurrent processing of up to 16 batches with a 90% reduction in labor and facility size – using advanced technology to streamline the process. Simply put, the company says that IDMO Smart Factories – like this one in Bridgewater – can produce 10 times more cell therapy batches per year than the CDMO facilities, with the same footprint and workforce. Cellares’ process also emphasizes speed: Partners can automate and transfer a manual process to the Cell Shuttle in just six months and every tech transfer after is instant to any other Cell Shuttle in any other Smart Factory in the world. In October, Bristol Myers Squibb expanded a partnership with Cellares, which will provide proof-of-concept manufacturing for a second BMS CAR-T cell therapy. That announcement came just weeks after Cellares first indicated that BMS had entered the Cellares Technology Adoption Partnership program – a fast and low-risk opportunity for cell therapy developers to adopt the company’s automated manufacturing technology for products in their pipeline. Participating cell therapy developers can also transfer their cell therapy processes onto a Cell Shuttle at any stage. “We’re excited to expand our relationship with Bristol Myers Squibb even further beyond the Series C investment and the first TAP program for cell therapies,” said Gerlinghaus in an October statement. “The optimization and automation of this additional CAR-T cell therapy process through our TAP program expands on our first partnership with BMS and helps our mission to accelerate access to life-saving cell therapies for patients.” During the January event, Gerlinghaus said the facility is a great fit for New Jersey. “We are aligning ourselves with the state goals, with the goals of the township – to create new jobs, especially in the high-tech industry and in biopharmaceutical manufacturing,” he said, thanking the state and local community for welcoming and supporting Cellares. “Bridgewater is such an important site for us. It’s our flagship IDMO Smart Factory.” “The opening of this facility marks a tremendous milestone toward Cellares’ mission of accelerating access to life-saving cell therapies to meet total global patient demand,” said John Tomtishen, senior vice president and general manager of the Bridgewater site, in advance of the ribbon cutting. “We look forward to partnering with the state and local community to create 350 job opportunities for highly talented individuals as we bring the facility online to manufacture tens of thousands of cell therapy drug products per year.” “We’re excited to welcome Cellares to the life sciences hub of New Jersey,” said Somerset County Commissioner Shanel Robinson. “These are the kinds of businesses that our economic development team is committed to bringing to Somerset County.” “Not only does Cellares join a thriving life sciences industry here, but they reinforce the fact that many of the cures needed by the world come from Somerset County,” said Jessica Paolini, manager of economic development for Somerset County. “We are investing in infrastructure critical to the growth and retention of the life sciences.” “Somerset County’s commitment goes from start to finish to help companies like Cellares bring their lifesaving, life-changing cures to the world,” said Somerset County Commissioner Melonie Marano. “That means being a welcoming and supportive partner for innovative businesses, educating a highly skilled workforce with our $3 million investment in advanced manufacturing and cleanroom operation at Raritan Valley Community College, and providing great communities for employees to raise their families.” Bridgewater Mayor Matthew Moench spoke at the ribbon cutting. He welcomed Cellares and thanked the executive team for choosing the township for this Smart Factory. “This is a phenomenal opportunity for not just the state – but for Bridgewater,” said Moench, noting the town’s history supporting life sciences and serving as home to some of the leading pharmaceutical companies. “Having the ability to have Bridgewater be home for companies that do the work that you do is really an honor for us. “I think what we offer in Somerset County, what we offer in Bridgewater, is really the best of what Jersey has to offer,” Moench continued. “This is a truly wonderful opportunity. We are happy to promote what you do. And I hope when you are on the West Coast – telling everybody else about your business and you say, ‘this is a great place be and you should be here too.’ We welcome your friends and will give them the red-carpet treatment too.” New Jersey Economic Development Authority CEO Tim Sullivan also spoke at the event – welcoming Cellares to the state on behalf of the Murphy administration. He thanked the company for the life-saving treatments that will come out of the Bridgewater Smart Factory – as well as its investment in New Jersey, and subsequent, jobs and economic impact. Sullivan noted that Cellares joins a robust life sciences and innovation economy ecosystem, which has a rich history. “Now with Cellares joining that constellation of folks who are choosing to make New Jersey a big part of their presence, building their manufacturing capability here – and fueling the innovation economy,” said Sullivan. “If that thing in the lobby [Cell Shuttle] isn’t the innovation economy, I don’t know what is.” He said that the Cellares facility opening speaks well about the future. “Because not only do we have the iconic names that call New Jersey home – and built the pharma industry here over the last 150 years. But we’ve got new folks – growing, raising a lot of capital. Some of the most exciting companies in the world choosing to put down roots in New Jersey, grow here, and most importantly, hire a lot of people and pay a lot of salaries,” said Sullivan. “We really appreciate that. On behalf of Gov. Murphy, deep appreciation to Cellares and the entire team for choosing New Jersey. We appreciate everything you are going to do here. We look forward to being a strong partner in the years to come – as you go from where you are now to where you are going – and saving a lot of lives. So, thank you for that.” “The innovation that Cellares is bringing to New Jersey and to patients is first-of-its-kind, best-in-class, and life-altering in every way – exactly what New Jersey is known for,” Debbie Hart, president and CEO of BioNJ and chair of the Commission on Science, Innovation, and Technology, who attended the ribbon cutting, told NJBIZ. “This will be impactful in so many ways and on so many fronts – and we could not be more proud.” Gerlinghaus says Cellares plans to continue its rapid growth toward its stated mission. “We are scaling to global scale very, very quickly. And between having a technology that allows for a 10-times improvement of productivity – and facilities around the globe, we are very confident that we will deliver on our mission, which is to meet the total patient demand for cell therapies, globally,” he said.