"We further strengthened our drug product service offerings by adding clinical capacity to drug product manufacturing."

Subodh Deshmukh and Ramesh Subramanian

CEO BIOLOGICS AND PRESIDENT DEVELOPMENT (SD) AND CCO (RS), ARAGEN LIFE SCIENCES

May 24, 2024

What were the main highlights from Aragen in 2023?

RS: 2023 was challenging from a macro perspective, as biotech funding was low. Despite this, our overall performance has been good. We now have around 4,200 people across six global campuses and are working with 17 large-cap firms around the world.

During the year, we further strengthened our drug product service offerings by adding clinical capacity to drug product manufacturing. This will allow us to integrate our drug substance into a drug product. We have also seen strong growth in our Formulations and Analytical verticals. We invest where our customers’ future needs are - biologics, peptides, oligonucleotides, and ADCs (Antibody Drug Conjugates).

On the biologics front, we will have a manufacturing facility that will come online at the end of 2024 and will allow our customers to go all the way to Phase 2 and beyond. We won the EcoVadis Silver Award for the second consecutive year and were recognized as the Best Workplaces in the Pharma, Biotech, and Healthcare sectors in India in 2023. We also received the Great Place to Work (GPTW) certification for the fifth consecutive year, making us possibly the only firm in the Indian Life Sciences sector to achieve this recognition.

What will the investment in the Bangalore facility mean for Aragen’s capability to conduct tech transfers?

SD: Aragen has a 30-year track record of developing cell lines that have powered hundreds of INDs. We can do discovery, protein sciences, bioproduction, and cell line development at our California facility. Adding the manufacturing facility in Bangalore will allow us to expand our biologics service offering. The facility will initially have a bioreactor capacity starting at 2,500 liters and will be expanded to 21,000 liters. Earlier, we were doing tech transfers to other CDMOs, losing out on the value chain beyond generating the cell line. Now, we can do tech transfer in-house to our own facility, using the latest technology, and a plug-and-play platform.

In which areas do you forecast growth?

RS: In our Discovery business we are seeing renewed interest with new customers approaching us for new programs. Our Integrated Drug Discovery business has grown about 6-fold, in the past 18 months, which is terrific. We are also seeing strong tailwinds from the China+1 strategy.

SD: We have broadened our range of offerings in biologics, and can now go from Gene to GMP, allowing customers to take their projects to the clinic. The US is a key geography for us. We have deep roots in California with two facilities and a lot of R&D activity there. We are picking up hot pockets in other areas where there are emerging biotech activities, such as Colorado, Texas, or Florida, and we want to be represented there.

How important is the ability to automate for CROs/CDMOs going forward?

SD: Automation is critical from two perspectives - to improve our operational efficiency and to accelerate innovation. Our new facilities are completely embedded with state-of-the-art automation capabilities to support customers with AI-based assistance from discovery to manufacturing. We recently added significant API and intermediates manufacturing capacity at Vizag with online data control and data mining technology. This helps us analyze the data generated during each manufacturing batch and achieve batch improvements and cost savings. We also partnered with Getinge, a leading bioreactor manufacturer, and helped them launch their latest model of single-use bioreactors (SUBs). Using their digital twin technology and Aragen's platform process, we were able to demonstrate that new products can be brought to market seamlessly and faster.

What will be the main catalysts ahead for the CRO/CDMO segment?

RS: With the US elections and other ongoing geopolitical issues, increasing focus on geo-diversification will also be a key factor to look at. In recent times, there have been several strategic exits by investors and VCs that release capital to invest back in new ventures.

SD: We have seen unprecedented interest in our facilities with an increasing number of customers wanting to explore Aragen’s capabilities. We have now added significant commercial scale capacity. We were already doing commercial projects but are now looking at significantly increasing the volumes in the coming times.

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