Building a Beautiful Biotech
Sitting Down With… Vered Caplan, CEO of Orgenesis, Israel
James Strachan | | Interview
What attracted you to (biomedical) science?
I began my career in mechanical and biomedical engineering. Yet I always loved art. And, to me, science is the art of understanding reality. If you think about music, there are people who can break down and analyze pieces of music and understand what makes a given piece beautiful. If they’re creative, they can then take what they’ve learned and create something new – something others can relate to and enjoy. Scientists do something similar when they seek to understand the rules underpinning reality – in the case of biology, the mechanisms of the human body. And so, developing new therapies that positively impact people’s lives is artistic – and that’s always been an attractive notion for me. People think of science and art as two separate things, but science is deeply creative and, I would say, beautiful.
Though mechanical engineering obviously has positive implications for human beings, nothing is quite as direct as improving health and saving lives. And that’s a huge source of motivation for me – an obsession really. I’ve had to draw upon that source of motivation plenty of times as an entrepreneur, which has had its fair share of ups and downs. Building a biotech company is something that takes years and years of work, and I don’t think I would have persevered with only financial success as a goal.
How do you balance the “art of science” – or the desire to do something positive – and the need to make money?
Good question! It’s all well and good talking about creating a “beautiful biotech company” that will help patients around the world. But to be helpful you must be sustainable; and to be sustainable, you must make a profit! So, building a steady revenue flow is something we’ve tried to do at Orgenesis. For example, our POCare Platform includes several different arms, including therapeutics and our “POCare Network,” which brings leading research institutes and hospitals together and provides a pathway for their therapies to reach patients more quickly.
Please tell us more about Orgenesis and the POCare network...
The goal of Orgenesis is ultimately to make cell and gene therapies more accessible to patients. CAR T cell therapies can cost $300,000–$1,000,000; how many patients could we realistically treat given these prices? Developing cell and gene therapies is far from straightforward – cleanroom environments, several manual operations, complex logistics, and so on – so it’s easy to see why such therapies would be so expensive. We realized that the industry needed a way to automate production and move it closer to the patient. The POCare Platform sets out to do this by bringing three critical components together: therapy development (POCare Therapies), automation through processing and cell engineering technologies (POCare Technology), and the hospital site (POCare Network).
The idea is for Orgenesis to act as an open source biotech. POCare Network hospitals work with us to design and manage validated cleanrooms that implement our automated and closed technologies. And that allows them to affordably develop and commercialize therapies in-house – significantly reducing the cost of clinical trials, and ultimately the cost of the therapy. In return, Orgenesis gains access to new promising therapies and technologies. We currently have 16 centers in the POCare Network and we’re looking to make our technologies available to as many hospitals as we can.
Can you talk about any recent additions to the Network?
We have announced collaborations with a few international institutions this past year. For example, we’re supporting Johns Hopkins University’s cell and gene therapy development and processing needs as part of a collaboration. The University of California, Davis, joined the Network too: we’re working together to scale up and integrate their lentiviral vector process. I’m also excited about the establishment of a center at Hospital Infantil Universitario Niño Jesús in Madrid where we are working together on a treatment for solid metastatic tumors based on oncolytic virotherapy. Within the POCare Therapies portfolio, we recently acquired Koligo with a view to expanding their autologous pancreatic islet cell therapy for chronic or recurrent acute pancreatitis.
What is your hope for the near future of the cell and gene therapy field?
I can certainly tell you what I’d like to see. I want patients with diseases like cancer to have access to a treatment center not too far from their homes, where they get the best care possible at a reasonable price. And I want this to become routine – something we expect from our healthcare systems. This vision is achievable – even within the next five years. We already have all the essential elements; we just need the researchers, hospitals, and technology companies to come together and make it happen.