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Gene & cell therapy manu­fac­turing specialist Ascend launches with over $130M of funding as expert teams merge

Ascend Gene & Cell Therapies (Ascend), a specialist company innovating manu­fac­turing processes to improve quality, potency, safety and cost enabling better reach for gene therapy tech­nolo­gies, announces today that it has launched as a facilitator for gene therapy companies to help translate product ideas into viable clinical programs.

Ascend offers process development, clinical manu­fac­turing, and analytical and regulatory support for biotech companies working in advanced modalities requiring flexible CMC services.

Originally founded by Monograph Capital, Ascend has raised a total of $132.5M, most recently completing a Series A fundraise led by Abingworth and Petrichor, supported by DCVC Bio, 4BIO Capital, Cathay Health, Deerfield Management, Digitalis Ventures and Ajinomoto Co., Inc.

This fundraising has enabled the acquisition of CMC capa­bil­i­ties and tech­nolo­gies from Freeline Ther­a­peu­tics and provides operational runway to build the business.

Initially focused on high-quality Adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors, Ascend brings together a team of approx­i­mately 120 cross-functional experts who have already developed processes for a number of AAV products currently under clinical development.

Operating from an evolving technology base which uses a split two-plasmid trans­fec­tion system for AAV manufacture and broad suite of assays, Ascend has an established global footprint created by acquiring and merging experienced teams across three countries and two continents.

Ascend’s operations are head­quar­tered in the UK with GMP production in Potters Bar, North

London, platform technology research in the San Francisco Bay Area, USA, and a specialist process development and analytics team in Munich, Germany.

The company is led by an experienced leadership team, headed by former Chief Operating Officer at Cognate Bioservices (now part of Charles River), Chief Executive Officer Mike Stella who brings 30 years of manu­fac­turing expertise. Ascend’s team also includes Chief Financial Officer Wes McConnell who joined from Bavarian Nordic with 20 years in the life science and viral vector-based manu­fac­turing field, Chief Scientific Officer Markus Hörer who began his career in AAV over 30 years ago and brings significant expertise in developing AAV products as well as other viral vector-based ther­a­peu­tics, and Chief Operating Officer Arjan Roozen who has built and operated a number of ATMP facilities across multiple geographies.

Mike Stella, Chief Executive Officer of Ascend, said: Ascend is a service provider for biotech­nology companies, created by bringing together expert teams with regulatory sophis­ti­ca­tion who have been-there-done-that’ and who understand that the quality and potency of product is just as important as yield.

We believe that creating a therapy that changes lives means improving on what’s come before. We are excited to bring a new approach to the space and thank all our investors for their support. We will continue to refine and flex our model, staying adaptable to meet the needs of the market.”

Lead investor Bali Muralidhar, Chief Investment Officer, Abingworth, added: Ascend brings an extremely compelling proposition to the gene and cell therapy space and is already working with biotech­nology clients who appreciate the team’s analytical expertise, enabling the development of high-quality, high-potency vectors to make safe and efficacious therapies, as well as the adapt­ability and holistic service.

We are thrilled to be supporting the UK-based company’s next phase of growth, which among other things will focus on building the US manu­fac­turing footprint, adding capa­bil­i­ties and expanding into complementary modalities.”

Co-lead investor Michael Beecham, Partner, Petrichor, commented: The team at Ascend represents world-leading expertise across AAV development and manu­fac­turing, bringing the science-first perspective of leading their own programs and solving complex challenges to clients across cell and gene therapies. We are excited to support Ascend in its global expansion and future growth.”

Founding investor, Tim Funnell at Monograph Capital, said: AAV manu­fac­turing is complex and needs teams that show real expertise and ownership. This led many advanced modality biotech developers to build their own internal CMC capa­bil­i­ties. However, these companies are now finding it difficult to sustain and fully utilise their facilities.

Ascend is realigning this market by carving out CMC units from biotech product developers and offering their capa­bil­i­ties as a service to the originator alongside new clients. This is a more efficient structure that consol­i­dates best-of-breed manu­fac­turing methods and will support the next generation of companies who are looking for external CMC partners.”

Bali Muralidhar and Andrew Sinclair of Abingworth, Michael Beecham of Petrichor, Eric Shiozaki of DCVC Bio and Andrew Kozlov of 4BIO Capital will join Ascend’s Board of Directors. Jia-Yi Har of Cathay Health joins as a Board Observer.

Ascend will be attending The American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy (ASGCT) 26th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, CA, USA, May 16 – 20, 2023, presenting nine posters exem­pli­fying its capa­bil­i­ties from AAV vector design to manu­fac­turing platform process and integrated analytics platform.

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Rachael Heath, Senior PR Manager