Astellas, Yaskawa Electric Corporation ink pact to explore automated cell therapy production

Japan’s Astellas Pharma and Yaskawa Electric Corporation inked an agreement to explore the development of an automated cell therapy production system.

The two companies have worked together since 2017, with Astellas using a cell therapy robotics system dubbed Maholo that was developed by Yaskawa subsidiary Robotic Biology Institute.

Although no financial details were disclosed, Astellas and Yaskawa said they will initiate discussions to develop a new platform aimed at linking early-stage research to commercialization and reducing the R&D time of cell therapy. The partners will incorporate the Maholo technology in these efforts, they said in a May 21 press release.

Under the agreement, Astellas is responsible for providing cell manufacturing technology, clinical development and regulatory experience, with Yaskawa bringing its robotics and factory automation tech to the table.

The two will consider offering the use of the platform to startups and academia. The deal is expected to have only a "minor' impact on Astellas’ financial results for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2025, the company said.

With more and more cell therapies coming to the market, drugmakers have been embracing automated manufacturing processes that help mitigate the complex development and production at scale of new and innovative treatments.

In April, Bristol Myers Squibb shelled out $380 million to Cellares in a deal to reserve CAR-T manufacturing space with the South San Francisco company. That deal gives BMS exclusive access to an unspecified number of Cellares’ compact automated cell therapy manufacturing units in the United States, Europe and Japan and expands the drugmaker’s capacity to produce potential CAR-T blockbusters Breyanzi and Abecma, as well as potential future candidates. 

And earlier this year, Thermo Fisher Scientific expanded its partnership with robotics specialist Multiply Labs to further automate the cell therapy production process. Thermo Fisher will integrate Multiply Labs’ technology to "fully" automate the manufacture of advanced therapies.