Global trailblazer in cell therapy sets up shop in Liège14/08/2019

Cell culture: Global trailblazer in cell therapy sets up shop in Liège

Orgenesis, an international pioneer in cell therapy, has set up a daughter company in Liège to support the development of its innovative POCare cell therapy platform. The Nasdaq-listed company, with Israeli roots and headquarters in the US, focuses on finding solutions against insulin-dependent diabetes, known as type 1 diabetes.

The foundation of its subsidiary Orgenesis Belgium, consisting of laboratories and offices at Accessia Pharma, which provides infrastructure for pharma and biotech companies, is Orgenesis’s second major initiative in Wallonia. In 2015, it took over MaSTherCell Belgium in Charleroi, a spin-off of the Free University of Brussels that specialises in manufacturing cell therapy products on an industrial scale.

While MaSTherCell Belgium functions as a service provider, Orgenesis Belgium will focus on research and development. The Walloon subsidiary will boost the creation of new autologous cell therapies, used to treat patients with their own cells.

Orgenesis is a pioneer in the process of transdifferentiation or cell reprogramming, whereby a cell is converted into another type of cell to treat patients. The company has the knowhow to transform a type 1 diabetic patient’s own liver cells into insulin-producing cells. People with type 1 diabetes struggle to produce the hormone insulin and as a result can’t obtain the energy they need from glucose. The transdifferentiation technique can be used for other pathologies as well.

Specifically, the Walloon team will support the development of Orgenesis’s Point of Care (POCare) cell therapy platform. The POCare strategy aims to integrate the process of collecting, processing and administering cells within the patient care setting for therapeutic treatment.

“We are excited to further expand in Wallonia, a leading centre for talent and R&D within Europe,” says Vered Caplan, the CEO of Orgenesis (pictured). “The opening of our new offices and laboratories will strengthen the roll-out of our POCare strategy across Europe.”

Efrat Assa Kunik, general manager of Orgenesis Belgium, says “the POCare strategy can help to significantly reduce development costs through joint ventures with local partners who bring strong regional networks. These networks include partnerships with local hospitals, which allow us to engage in continuous in-licensing of autologous therapies from academic and research institutes, and to use hospital networks for the clinical development of new therapies.”

At the presentation of its new Walloon daughter company, the Orgenesis team cited different reasons for choosing the region as  base. Among them were the central position in Europe, the logistics infrastructure, the focus on innovative research, the large pool of life sciences specialists, the tailor-made facilities and the ability to quickly set up clinical trials. Orgenesis also highlighted the advantages provided by BioWin, Wallonia’s health competitiveness cluster.

The increased interest of major players shows how Wallonia is positioning itself as a European front-runner in cell therapy. In this respect, the region can also benefit greatly from Belgium’s recent modification of the law regarding access to human cells and tissues to produce allogenic cell therapies – when donor cells are used to treat various patients – for medical applications or scientific research.

Belgian companies can now obtain or import these human materials in a more transparent way. As a consequence, more patients will benefit from the innovations in cell therapy.

“Thanks to this new legislation, Belgium reinforces its unique eco-system involved in the research and development of cell therapies,” says Frédéric Druck, secretary general of biotech sector federation bio.be/essenscia. “It makes it even more attractive for local enterprises to develop activities in this field and for international companies to start up a European production unit for cell therapy here.”

By Andy Furniere

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