Curia CEO seized 'huge open door' to biologics with back-to-back buyouts of LakePharma, Integrity Bio

Curia expanded its biologics base by two last week with rapid-fire acquisitions of Integrity Bio and LakePharma. (Curia, Albany Molecular Research, Inc.)

Curia, the CDMO formerly known as Albany Molecular Research, had itself a busy week. Late last Sunday, the company re-named itself. On Tuesday, it unveiled a deal to acquire formulation and fill-finish specialist Integrity Bio. The very next day, the company purchased the biologics R&D and manufacturing player LakePharma.

While all that action may signal a "shift of pace" for Curia, "it's not a shift in our strategy," CEO John Ratliff said in an interview. After three decades honing its end-to-end small molecule platform, the company is starting to take things to the "next level," said the CEO, who joined the company in late 2019.

The latest pair of deals for Integrity and LakePharma will bolster the company's presence in the biologics realm, Ratliff pointed out. The company already counts more than 900 chemists, senior scientists and biologists in its ranks, and its workforce is set to grow thanks to staffers coming over from LakePharma and Integrity Bio, the CEO said.

The rebrand, meanwhile, should convey Curia's mission to take its partners from "curiosity"—which Ratliff characterized as discovery—to cure, "and then all the way through the commercialization," he said. The phrase "Curia" comes from Latin and denotes an assembly or "meeting of the minds," Ratliff said. 

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Curia sought Integrity based on that company's drug product and injectable capabilities, Ratliff said. The LakePharma buy skews more toward the research and development side of its business.

The latter acquisition target, LakePharma, has facilities in California, Massachusetts and Texas, where it takes projects from discovery through development and manufacturing using its arsenal of cell-line development, bioexpression systems, viral vector production services and more. Six LakePharma facilities and 235 employees are set to join Curia should the deal close in the third quarter as planned. 

By inking both deals, Curia plans to meld LakePharma's platforms in areas like cell line development, viral vectors and antibody discovery with Integrity's formulation and fill-finish know-how to provide the same "continuum of services" in large molecules that it already offers for small molecule drugs, Ratliff said. 

The LakePharma buy will also add to Curia's current viral vector repertoire, and gives the company a chance to "extend ourselves much more ... into cell and gene therapies," he added.

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As Curia beefs up in biologics, the company is also pitching in against COVID-19. In February, Curia said it was helping develop and make lipid excipients for Pfizer and BioNTech's mRNA-based vaccine Comirnaty. Those excipients surround and protect the vaccine's active ingredient. The CDMO is also helping with fill-finish duties on AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford's adenovirus-based shot. 

To be clear, though, Curia's latest M&A moves "really aren't associated" with its pandemic engagements, Ratliff said. 

As for how the company plans to keep the momentum going, Curia sees a mix of organic and M&A-fueled growth on the horizon, the CEO said. "I think you'll see we saw a huge open door to the blologic space." To snag a spot in that "life-changing life science arena," to hear Ratliff tell it, "you've got to go through that door."