The investment fund Columbus Venture Partners and the American company Asklepios Biopharmaceutical merge in the joint venture “Viralgen Vector Core” to set up, with the technology of Asklepios, a production environment of gene therapy unique in Europe

San Sebastián, Spain, September 2017– The venture capital Columbus Venture Partners, specialized in medical and biotechnology investments, has made possible the arrival from the U.S to the Basque Country, the first development of gene therapy and production of viral vectors center in Spain, unique in Europe. Javier García Cogorro, Managing Partner of Columbus Venture Partners, who has introduced the project today, says, “Viralgen born with a differential factor, which is given by the use of Asklepios technology, for the production of adeno associated virus (AAV) that will be the only manufacture in Europe which has access to this technology”.

The investment of Columbus, about 10 million euros, is based on three fundamental factors: the market potential, the quality of the location and the commitment of the Basque Government regarding the project.

Viralgen Vector Core is a company founded by Asklepios Biopharmaceutical Inc (AskBio), a North Carolina company specialized in technology development technology for gene therapy treatments; and Columbus Venture Partners, a Spanish venture capital company. Thus, through the Columbus INNVIERTE Life Science program, Viralgen will develop its adeno associated virus (AAV) activity in the Science and Technology Park of Gipuzkoa, in San Sebastian.

The Minister of Economic Development and Infrastructures of the Basque Government, Arantxa Tapia, has marked that “having this substructure in Euskadi means that the large European pharmaceutical companies, interested in a gene therapy, visualize us as a territory of interest.” The decision taken by Columbus Venture Partners and Asklepios, basing the vector factory in Euskadi -although there were other possibilities- is due to the feasibility of attracting international talent, the presence of a biotechnological sector, which is a point of interest for our country, as well as the collaboration of the administration, whereby this infrastructure can be located in a privileged environment such as the Scientific and Technological Park of Gipuzkoa.

The Basque Country count already with 80 entities in the Bio-Sector assembling qualities, which have been able to ward off the crisis, and dive deeper into an economic future model: highly investment I+D rates, highly qualified employees, and  a very specialized demand, are focused on the global market. “We are in front of a huge opportunity of  diversification and consolidation of a new business sector in The Basque Country”, says Arantxa Tapia. Burgess of Gipuzkoa, Markel Olano, has shown his satisfaction about the investment and he bets on  Columbus Venture Partners and Asklepios in this territory of Guipuzkoa. Olano mentions, “the choice of Donostia as headquarters for the expansion in Europe bears out the sustained bet of bioscience as a future strategy sector in Guipuzkoa”. As well as he highlights, “our territory provides already an important business network and agents”.  A bio-scientific ecosystem, with Miramón as highly exponent, has been an attraction for an American company and consolidates bit by bit.With this new arrival can Guipuzkoa show that it is a scientific community, which generates advanced knowledge and which makes  it attractive for the leading companies in the sector. We will work in order to keep it in the same line”.

The project was born from the analysis viral vectors market, in which the offer is pretty below the existing demand. This situation allows a new factory that, with the technology of Asklepios, will supply viral vectors as GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) to the global market. The manufacturing plant at full capacity will create about 50 highly qualified jobs. Moreover, the ability to attract and developing talent has been one of the key criteria of selection for the final location of Viralgen.

Gene therapy

Gene therapy is a medical treatment that consists in handling the genetic information of diseased cells to compensate a defect or to restore them with a new function, which allows them to modify their disturbance. These vectors (usually viruses) carry on the right gene, which is inserted into the diseased cell and modifies its wrong function.

One of the key points of this technology so that it come up to the patients, is the manufacture of viral vector in large batches with GMP quality. Asklepios Biopharmaceutical has been working in this field of gene therapy for more than 10 years and has developed its own cell line and manufacturing system. That allows a huge volume of  AAV vectors production and better outputs in GMP quality within the market.Natichu Alvarado, director of investments for Columbus Venture Partners and acting CEO of Viralgen, says they are convinced that gene therapy is the great hope for many pathologies. In particular, for many rare diseases that today lack of effective treatment and on which is being already investigated in the early stages for its definitive cure.

With this urgent need of production, she sustains that Columbus have strongly betted the implementation of ViralGen in the city of San Sebastian. Also from the institutional framework, they have welcomed it with open arms and have understood the magnitude and pressure of the plan. From Asklepios, the partners know about the scientific talent that exists in Spain, and they have not hesitated validating and firmly supporting  this project.

Along with Viralgen, the event was attended by Markel Olano who is the General Burgess of Guipuzkoa, Arantxa Tapia who is the Minister of Economic Development and Infrastructures of the Basque Government, Ainhoa ​​Aizpuru, the burgess of Economic Promotion, Rural Environment and Territorial Balance of Gipuzkoa and Itziar Epalza, director of the Technological Science Parks of Euskadi.

Setting-up a scientific value

Through the development of this plan, “Columbus Venture Partners is committed to the transfer of scientific knowledge to the society, which would be impossible without the determination of scientists and investors who  collaborate going forward in  the development of therapies. For this reason, Columbus is working to make the solutions originated in the laboratories,  applicable to  patients and achieve  a real social and economic impact.” says Damià Tormo, managing partner of Columbus Venture Partners; who has received the Princess of Girona 2017 prize for entrepreneurship.Since 1970 to date, a limited number of gene therapy treatments have been approved. However, there are more than 500 ongoing clinical trials that strengthen the market potential of this technology. It is estimated that in 2026 the number of clinical trials will have doubled, but the lack of production of viral vectors is a funnel that obstructs the practical enforcement of these therapies.

About Asklepios Biopharmaceutical

Asklepios BioPharmaceutical, Inc. (AskBio) is a private, biopharmaceutical company borned in 2003 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.AskBio was established to develop curative gene therapy platform technology for neglected groups of patients in the society. To date, it keeps up as one of the most important patent portfolios of this kind of technique and covers aspects of product development and production.

About Columbus Venture Partners

Columbus Venture Partners is a Spanish investment Management Company with an investment strategy focused on the early-stage and high growth opportunities of biotechnology, medical technology, pharmaceuticals and healthcare industries in Spain.Its team of professionals combines a solid scientific, medical and business knowledge with an extensive experience in the establishment and investment of companies to accelerate its merchandising.Its investment team has more than 75 years of professional experience in the healthcare sector, with venture capital investment and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and who invests through the COLUMBUS INNVIERTE Life Science Fund, FCR.

Left to right: Javier Garcia, Markel Olano, Arantxa Tapia y Natichu Alvarado