Repligen sees $150M Avitide acquisition as key to reaching gene therapy goals


Avitide, a company that spun out of an Ivy League lab with a way to quickly and efficiently purify biologic drugs, is being acquired for $150 million by global bioprocessing vendor Repligen, which aims to use the technology to bolster its offerings to gene therapy developers.

Lebanon, New Hampshire-based Avitide doesn’t make any drugs, but its technology is important for manufacturing them. The company specializes in a segment of biological drug production called chromatography, which is a technique for separating the parts of a mixture. In the production of monoclonal antibodies, for example, chromatography separates the antibodies from the components used to produce them. This purification process can take five or six steps, but Avitide cuts it down to one or two, making it faster while at the same time minimizing product loss, CEO Kevin Islett told MedCity News in 2015.

Chromatography uses affinity ligands, molecules that specifically bind to a drug and let the rest of the components of a mixture wash away. Waltham, Massachusetts-based Repligen makes Protein A affinity ligands, which its life sciences industry customers use to purify monoclonal antibodies. Two years ago, the company started a partnership with Navigo Proteins to co-develop multiple affinity ligands. Repligen holds commercialization rights to those ligands.

Repligen framed the Avitide acquisition as complementary to its Navigo alliance, explaining in an investor presentation that the New Hampshire company broadens the bioprocessing vendor’s scope beyond Protein A affinity ligands. While Avitide’s purification capabilities apply to several classes of biologics, Repligen singled out gene therapy as a key one. The company noted that Avitide has three affinity ligands for purifying adeno-associated viruses, which are used in gene therapies. Those ligands are expected to be ready for commercial launch later this year and next year, Repligen said in the presentation.

In its 2020 annual report, Repligen cited industry reports as projecting annual revenue growth of 20% to 30% for the cell and gene therapy market over the next five years. The report added that the company is well positioned to support this market, particular in making the plasmids and viral vectors used in gene therapies.

More affinity ligands are on the way. Avitide and the Navigo partnership each provide “best-in-class screening” for affinity ligands across the spectrum of biologic drugs, the company said in the presentation. In particular, Avitide brings the advantage of speed. Repligen said that Avitide can discover ligands in about six weeks compared to other approaches that take four to six months.

Avitide spun out of Dartmouth College in 2013. The company’s website says its technology is used by 18 partners spanning 34 programs from preclinical stage to commercialized products. Those partners range in size from venture-backed biotechs to large biopharmaceutical companies. Disclosed partners include Allergan (now part of AbbVie) and Gemini Therapeutics. Earlier this year, Avitide rolled out purification products developed for use in the manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines.

Repligen reported more than $366 million in total revenue in 2020. Its customers include pharmaceutical companies and contract manufacturers. Avitide’s fiscal 2020 revenue was $2.5 million, according to the investor presentation. Sales are projected to reach $4.5 million in fiscal 2021, then more than double to about $10 million in the next fiscal year. Avitide currently outsources its ligand manufacturing and scale-up work. With the acquisition, that work will be done by Repligen. In a prepared statement, Repligen CEO Tony Hunt said Avitide’s entire staff, totaling 40, is joining Repligen.

“Together, we anticipate bringing many new products to market over the coming years, directly addressing the growing need for affinity solutions in gene therapy and other emerging modalities,” he said.

According to securities filings, Avitide had raised more than $40 million, most recently a $10 million financing in 2019. Its investors include Polaris Partners, OrbiMed Advisors, and NeoMed Management. With Avitide’s acquisition, those financial backers are in line to share in a payout that breaks down to $75 million cash and $75 million in Repligen common stock. Avitide is eligible to earn more tied to performance; the amounts and the performance goals were not disclosed. Repligen said it expects to close the transaction by the end of this month.

Photo by Flickr user Petra B. Fritz via a Creative Commons license