Univercells' CDMO Exothera hopes to help scale COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing

With the novel coronavirus continuing its global spread, drugmakers are pouring massive resources into developing targeted therapies and vaccines. Now, a new CDMO from Belgium's Univercells is hoping its expertise can help drugmakers scale up their manufacturing for a successful shot. 

Univercells has launched Exothera, a viral vector CDMO targeting cell and gene therapy and vaccine developers, in a refurbished 161,000-square-foot facility in Jumet, Belgium, the company said Thursday. 

Exothera will help companies streamline the development and production of viral vectors through "bespoke" programs, including building custom commercial facilities on site, Univercells said. 

Exothera also hopes to find a role in the development and manufacturing of a potential vaccine for the novel coronavirus, which has lead to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases around the world. Univercells said Exothera would provide manufacturing services to rapid response vaccine developers and are "currently pursuing support opportunities for COVID-19 vaccine innovators."

RELATED: China's CanSino pushes coronavirus vaccine into clinical testing as Moderna kicks off trial

Exothera will move into the newly refurbished facility in Jumet after "initial activities" at Univercells' established campus in Nivelles, Belgium, the company said. Univercells purchased the Jumet site for around $7.5 million and hopes to have the site refurbished and fully operational by the second half of 2021, according to Univercells CEO Hugues Bultot. 

Hugues Bultot

While Bultot didn't specify the number of employees that would eventually work on-site, he did say the project could eventually lead to "the creation of dozens—potentially hundreds—of jobs in the area in the next few years." Some of Univercells' existing personnel will also move over to the Jumet site, Bultot said. 

For its COVID-19 vaccine efforts, Bultot said Exothera has a "few concrete leads" on potential partners moving forward and is focused primarily on process development for adenovirus-based platforms. 

"Exothera’s process scientists have longstanding experience in working with gene therapy vectors and viruses due to their Univercells origin," Bultot said. "This expertise can be applied to accelerating market entry of a new vaccine such as corona, ensuring it is available and affordable to foster its accessibility worldwide."