Cellares unveils $255M investment round with Bristol Myers among those in the fold

Forget the industry terms "CDMO" and "CMO" when discussing cell therapy manufacturer Cellares. The South San Francisco-based company has coined its own acronym as the world’s first integrated development and manufacturing organization (IDMO).

Based on the financing Cellares has attracted, investors are convinced the company has plenty to offer along with its differentiating new handle.

Wednesday, Cellares revealed a $255 million series C investment round to complete construction of its commercial-scale cell therapy manufacturing facility in Bridgewater, New Jersey. The fresh funding follows an $82 million series B round in 2021 and brings total backing in the company to $355 million.

Leading the round is Koch Disruptive Technologies, which will enlist its managing director David Mauney to Cellares’ board. Another investor betting on Cellares’ approach is Bristol Myers Squibb—a major cell therapy player with two treatments approved (Abecma and Breyanzi) and three others in its pipeline.

“Cell therapies have tremendous curative potential across a wide range of diseases," Mauney said in a release. "But right now, manufacturing by conventional CDMOs is expensive, failure-prone, and impossible to scale. 

"As the first IDMO, Cellares is empowering cell therapy companies to build viable businesses, remain competitive, and meet the needs of fast-growing patient populations.”

CDMO is the biopharma industry term for a contract development and manufacturing organization, while a CMO describes a contract manufacturing organization. The companies help drug developers throughout the various stages of advancing a drug to market and then help provide commercial supply when needed.

Meanwhile, Cellares’ site in New Jersey covers 118,000 square feet and will be able to produce 40,000 cell therapy batches a year, the company said. This represents a tenfold increase in productivity compared with “conventional CDMO facilities," according to Cellares.

Compact automation allows for a 90% reduction in both labor and facility size to produce the same number of batches, according to the firm. Cellares has dubbed its platform Cell Shuttle.

The New Jersey site will have the capacity for 50 Cell Shuttle modules. Each is a factory-in-a-box platform that leverages automation to reengineer patient cells and create a finished product ready for infusion.

The company aims for the New Jersey factory to be ready in the second half of 2024.

At its headquarters, Cellares plans to conduct preclinical process development and tech transfer of manual processes into Cell Shuttles for its existing partners. That site will be ready in the first half of next year. Cellares also has a third plant in the works in Europe at a location it has yet to unveil.  

Also participating in the investment round are DFJ Growth and Willett Advisors along with prior investors Decheng Capital, Eclipse and 8VC.