Umoja Biopharma kicks off construction on Colorado lentivirus vector production facility

A headshot of Andy Scharenberg
Andy Scharenberg, CEO of Umoja, said that the company's new manufacturing site in Colorado "represents a significant investment into our commitment to bring novel therapies to cancer patients." (Courtesy Umoja Biopharma)

In less than a year, Umoja Biopharma has made noise with its next-gen CAR-T immunotherapies, a few splashy hires and $263 million in financing. Now the Seattle-based startup is undergoing the next step—building up its manufacturing capacity for preclinical and clinical trials.

On Monday, preclinical-stage Umoja revealed that it had begun construction of a manufacturing facility in Louisville, Colorado, near Boulder. The 146,000 square foot plant will help Umoja overcome production barriers common in CAR-T manufacturing.

The factory will house labs, offices and space for lentiviral vector production. Umoja has targeted the first quarter of 2023 for its initial manufacturing run for potential therapies to treat blood and bone cancers.

Umoja is setting out to ensure its products “are widely accessible in a timely way and at a reasonable cost—all barriers that have long held the landscape of CAR-T treatments back,” CEO Andy Scharenberg said in a release.

The company, which traces its roots to Purdue University and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, touts a three-platform approach to its cancer-attacking medicines. VivoVec creates CAR-T cells in-vivo to boost the immune system. TumorTag binds to tumor cells, marking them as targets. And RACR/CAR delivers the drug to adjust the engineered T cells in the body.

RELATED: Umoja banks $210M to bring next-gen tumor tagging immunotherapies into the clinic

The company is developing treatments for pediatric osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer in children, and B-cell blood cancer, the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.    

Umoja is “rethinking the supply chain of CAR-T therapies from the ground up,” chief technical officer Ryan Crisman said in the release. The company hopes to eliminate costly, time-consuming steps to streamline the process. 

RELATED: Umoja banks $53M to develop triple-threat immunotherapies 

Umoja got its start last November with $53 million in financing and a promise to break through the limits of today’s immunotherapies. In June, the company revealed that it had raised an additional $210 million to take its programs to the clinic. 

This spring the company added the talented trio of Nushmia Khokar, who led clinical development of autologous T-cell treatments at Autolus; Irena Melnikova, formerly the director of investment banking at SVB Leerink; and David Fontana, who led Bristol Myers Squibb’s development of Breyanzi, a CAR-T treatment the company picked up from Juno Therapeutics by way of its Celgene buyout.