Charles River inks viral vector production pact for Navega's chronic pain gene therapy

After charting multiple personalized medicine expansions in recent years, contract manufacturer Charles River Laboratories is back with another gene therapy pact—this time centered on an adeno-associated virus 9 (AAV9) candidate meant to serve as a non-opioid alternative for rare disease patients living with chronic pain.

Charles River on Thursday announced a new accord with epigenetic gene therapy outfit Navega Therapeutics as part of the CDMO’s Cell and Gene Therapy Accelerator Program.

The deal will grant Navega access to Charles River’s contract development and manufacturing capabilities and advisory services to produce the AAV gene therapy candidate NT-Z001 for phase 1 clinical trials, the companies said in a press release.

Navega is positioning its gene therapy candidate to help treat chronic pain associated with rare diseases like small fiber neuropathy and primary erythromelalgia. The drug leverages Navega’s artificial intelligence-enabled zinc-finger gene-editing platform, the company explained.

NT-Z001 specifically addresses a gain-of-function mutation in the Nav 1.7 gene, which is linked to inherited erythromelalgia, small fiber neuropathy and other chronic, debilitating pain disorders. Aside from pain tied to rare diseases, Navega figures its gene therapy could eventually address other pain indications, including neuropathic and inflammatory pain.

Charles River, for its part, will help bring NT-Z001 to the clinic by leveraging its off-the-shelf plasmid products, custom plasmid capabilities and AAV production.

Over the years, Charles River says it has significantly enhanced its cell and gene portfolio through a mix of acquisitions, capacity expansions and manufacturing platform launches, including eXpDNA for plasmids, nAAVigation for AAV and Lentivation for lentiviral vectors.

Back in November 2022, the company debuted the expansion of its cell therapy manufacturing facility in Memphis, Tennessee. The plant reveal came just weeks after the CDMO opened a separate plasmid production facility in the U.K. Under the expansion, Charles River added nine processing suites to its 16 clean rooms at the Memphis site.

The additions were designed to handle high-volume production—plus options for dual production lines—for late-stage clinical and commercial cell therapies, the company said at the time.

Charles River also recently acquired a site in Rockville, Maryland, through its $350-million buyout of gene therapy CDMO Vigene Biosciences back in 2021. The site largely helps with the production of viral vectors, which have experienced supply constraints among advanced cell and gene therapies for several years.

Elsewhere on the personalized medicines front, Charles River last year linked up with South Korea’s Rznomics to develop and crank out viral vectors for its partner’s experimental liver cancer gene therapy RZ-001. RZ-001 marks the first ribozyme-based RNA reprogramming approach to receive FDA authorization for evaluation in humans, the companies said last January.