Building robots to expand access to cell therapies

04 June 2021 | Friday | News

Alumni-founded Multiply Labs uses an automated manufacturing platform to produce advanced treatments at scale.
Image Source : Public Domain

Image Source : Public Domain

Over the last two years, Multiply Labs has helped pharmaceutical companies produce biologic drugs with its robotic manufacturing platform. The robots can work around the clock, precisely formulating small batches of drugs to help companies run clinical trials more quickly.

Now Multiply Labs, which was founded by Fred Parietti PhD ’16 and former visiting PhD at MIT Alice Melocchi, is hoping to bring the speed and precision of its robots to a new type of advanced treatment.

In a recently announced project, Multiply Labs is developing a new robotic manufacturing platform to ease bottlenecks in the creation of cell therapies. These therapies have proven to be a powerful tool in the fight against cancer, but their production is incredibly labor intensive, contributing to their high cost. CAR-T cell therapy, for example, requires scientists to extract blood from a patient, isolate immune cells, genetically engineer those cells, grow the new cells, and inject them back into the patient. In many cases, each of those steps must be repeated for each patient.

Multiply Labs is attempting to automate many processes that can currently only be done by highly trained scientists, reducing the potential for human error. The platform will also perform some of the most time-consuming tasks of cell therapy production in parallel. For instance, the company’s system will contain multiple bioreactors, which are used to grow the genetically modified cells that will be injected back into the patient. Some labs today only use one bioreactor in each clean room because of the specific environmental conditions that have to be met to optimize cell growth. By running multiple reactors simultaneously in a space about a quarter of the size of a basketball court, the company believes it can multiply the throughput of cell therapy production.

Multiply Labs has partnered with global life sciences company Cytiva, which provides cell therapy equipment and services, as well as researchers at the University of California San Francisco to bring the platform to market.

Multiply Labs’ efforts come at a time when demand for cell therapy treatment is expected to explode: There are currently more than 1,000 clinical trials underway to explore the treatment’s potential in a range of diseases. In the few areas where cell therapies are already approved, they have helped cancer patients when other treatment options had failed.

“These [cell therapy] treatments are needed by millions of people, but only dozens of them can be administered by many centers,” Parietti says. “The real potential we see is enabling pharmaceutical companies to get these treatments approved and manufactured quicker so they can scale to hundreds of thousands — or millions — of patients.”

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