5 Life Science Companies Drive Innovation in Lone Star Bio

Lone Star Bio

A single star may adorn the Texas state flag but the life sciences ecosystem is comprised of a galaxy of brightly shining companies such as FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, Taysha Gene Therapies and Veravas developing innovative new medicines, diagnostics and medical devices.

The growth of the quickly rising Lone Star Bio life sciences hub is fueled by financial support from the state government in the form of the multi-billion dollar Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas fund and the drug discovery research coming out of the state’s universities. Baylor College of Medicine and Texas A&M headline the list of academic powerhouses.   

“That’s where it all begins. Most research that results in drug discovery generally starts at universities,” said Andrew Strong, a partner at Houston-based Hogan Lovells, a legal firm representing biotech clients across Texas and the United States, in an interview with BioSpace.

Andrew Strong_Hogan Lovells [square]Barry Burgdorf, also an attorney with Hogan Lovells, echoed Strong’s statement. There is a “ton of great IP” spinning out of the universities, he said. That research is fueling a number of startups across the state, as well as legacy pharma companies that are licensing the developmental programs. That, in turn, is strengthening the ecosystem, Burgdorf noted.

Although the slowing economy is reducing expenditures of venture capital, Burgdorf and Strong agreed that in Texas, there has been no slowdown of new technologies being developed in the universities.

“Texas is still very focused on growth [and] recruiting companies,” Burgdorf said.

Barry Burgdorf_Hogan Lovells [square]

Real estate prices are also attractive to companies hoping to set up shop in Texas, especially when compared to other major U.S. hubs such as Boston and San Francisco.

 Lower Cost Real Estate 

The per-square-foot cost for space in the Boston area is approximately $95.57, according to Pete Briskman, executive managing director and co-lead for JLL’s Mid-Atlantic life sciences practice. In the Bay Area, the per-square-foot cost is $82.41. This compares to $22 per square foot In Houston. Briskman said the difference is critical to companies as it can help them build out space and hire new employees.

He said companies used to have a mantra that the real estate costs were less significant than the science. When it comes to a place like Texas where a company is saving tens of millions of dollars, however, it becomes a real consideration.

Strong agreed with that assessment. He relayed that the CEO of a Boston area biotech told him real estate needs were taking up seven percent of its annual budget. The money can go much farther in Texas, he said.

Strong pointed to the August decision of Cellipont Bioservices to relocate to Texas from San Diego. Cellipont, a cell therapy contract development and manufacturing organization, plans to build a 76,000-square-foot facility in the state.

Strong was the founding chief executive officer of Kalon Biotherapeutics, a startup biotech spun out of the A&M system. He sold the company to FUJIFILM.

Strong pointed to the significant investments FUJIFILM has made. Those expenses are having a positive ripple effect across the region. For every one of the 1,000 FUJIFILM jobs in Texas with a salary of more than $80,000, six additional jobs have been created because of these investments, he said.

FUJIFILM’s Ever-Expanding Footprint

Since its 2014 arrival in Texas, FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies (FDB)’s contract manufacturing operations in College Station have rapidly expanded and changed the landscape of the ecosystem across the Brazos Valley region. The Japan-based company has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into its facility, expanding its offerings to bolster the development of gene therapies. The College Station facility has become the largest single-use CDMO production campus in the United States.

In 2019, FUJIFILM established a new Gene Therapy Innovation Center. One year later, the federal government selected the College Station facility to support COVID-19 vaccine candidate manufacturing at its Flexible Biomanufacturing Facility.

In December 2021, FUJIFILM announced another investment to expand its services in Texas and in June, it provided additional finances to expand its continuous processing technologies.

Gerry Farrell, chief operating officer at FDB Texas, told BioSpace the company's expansions within Texas have been supported by a strong partnership with state and local governments, as well as the universities. 

Taysha’s Gene Therapies for Rare and Orphan Diseases

Dallas-based Taysha started the year with disappointing news from its experimental gene therapy for Sandhoff and Tay-Sachs diseases, two forms of GM2 gangliosidosis. A patient treated with TSHA-101, a bicistronic vector, died. However, the patient did not succumb to complications from the gene therapy. They died after contracting a hospital-acquired methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection while being treated for COVID-19.

Although the death was related to the infection, the independent review board determined a review of the data was warranted.

In addition to TSHA-101, Taysha is also developing AAV-based gene therapies for the treatment of monogenic diseases of the central nervous system in both rare and large patient populations. In its quarterly financial report issued in August, the company highlighted positive momentum with its gene therapy for giant axonal neuropathy.

Taysha received orphan drug and rare pediatric disease designations from the FDA and orphan drug designation from the European Commission for TSHA-120, an AAV9 gene therapy. Data showed GAN patients treated with TSHA-120 have seen “durable improvement and recoverability of sensory nerve amplitude potential (SNAP), a definitive clinical endpoint,” the company noted in its announcement.

Taysha is also developing a gene therapy for Rett Syndrome. TSHA-102 is the first-and-only gene therapy in clinical development for Rett. It has also received orphan drug and rare pediatric disease designations from the FDA and has been granted orphan drug designation from the European Commission.

Veravas’ Antibody Detection Platform

Based in Austin, Veravas launched in 2017. The company has developed the VeraPrep Antibody Detection Platform. The platform uses proprietary magnetic beads to “pre-analytically clean samples to remove problematic heterophilic and autoantibody interference,” according to the company. The clean sample allows for better capture and measurement of targeted IgA, IgG and IgM immunoglobulins.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Veravas used its platform to develop an antibody test for SARS-CoV-2.

Baylor Genetics' Pandemic Contributions

A pioneer in genetic testing, Houston-based Baylor Genetics offers a range of diagnostic sequencing and analysis. The company provides a full spectrum of cost-effective, genetic testing it claims leads to clinically relevant solutions.

Baylor offers whole exome and genome sequencing services that provide data for point mutations, insertions and deletions. Oncology testing can find mutation panels through next-generation sequencing.

The company also provides prenatal diagnostics, molecular diagnostics and cytogenetics.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Baylor launched a combination test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as influenza A and B.

Asuragen

Also based in Austin, molecular diagnostics company Asuragen, a Bio-Techne brand, provides streamlined solutions for genetics, oncology, controls and companion diagnostic needs.

One of Asuragen’s products is AmplideX, a genetic test for Fragile X syndrome, which causes mild to severe intellectual disability and is associated with autism spectrum disorder.

Beyond Fragile X, Asuragen offers a chronic myeloid leukemia monitoring kit.

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