Cornell Spinout SwiftScale Biologics’ Cell-Free Biotech Seeks to Accelerate COVID-19 Therapies

Apr 14, 2020 | Cell Free Biotechnology, Cornell University, Coronavirus, COVID-19, E.coli glycoprotein products, Investor Watch, News

Cornell Spinout SwiftScale Biologics’ Cell-Free Biotech Seeks to Accelerate COVID-19 Therapies

A Cornell spinout called SwiftScale Biologics is on a mission to beat COVID-19. In translating an antibody therapy against COVID-19, they are taking a different approach than many others by using a cell-free biotechnology based on glycoengineered bacteria. They could scale up production ten times faster than conventional methods.  

TrialSite News introduces this company and breaks down the approach of this new company co-founded by Matt DeLisa, the William L. Lewis Professor of Engineering in the Robert F. Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and his longtime collaborator, Michael Jewett, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University.

What is the foundation for this Cornell spinout intellectual property?

Professor DeLisa and his research group focuses on engineering biological machinery in cells, and in 2018 they pioneered a method for cell-free manufacturing of glycosylated proteins (proteins with a carbohydrate attachment). The combination of DeLisa’s protein glycosylation technologies and Jewett’s knack for developing cell-free protein expression systems has the potential to create glycosylated protein drugs such as therapeutic antibodies, and led to the launch of SwiftScale Biologics in 2019.

In attempting to summarize this approach Professor DeLisa, who also directs the Cornell Institute of Biotechnology, noted, “SwiftScale is pioneering an innovative antibody development and manufacturing platform that can significantly accelerate normal timelines for translation of antibody treatments.” DeLisa continued for Daniel Nutt of the Cornell Chronicle: “All the technologies are based off of laboratory strains of E.coli, a very simple, very fast, very customizable chassis.”

Could this be a real ‘Game Changer’?

Importantly, this approach represents potentially a low-cost way to rapidly manufacture therapeutic antibodies.  Conventional ways to manufacture antibody drugs relies currently on the use of mammalian cell lines, reports Cornell’s Nutt. For example, the use of Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells are common and once set up for production it is not unusual for nine-month production cycles, if not more. 

But Professor DeLisa believes that the use of his new startup’s cell-free lysate derived from E.coli bacterial could compress timelines to a month: a “game changing” condition when operating in the middle of a pandemic. As DeLisa explains in the Cornell Chronicle, “Bacteria cells do everything faster than CHO cells. They grow faster, they divide faster, they produce proteins faster.” Although historically bacteria-based production has been limited because they don’t produce glycoproteins, DeLisa chimes in that “What we’ve done in my lab is to equip E.coli with the machinery for complex carbohydrates onto proteins, which now opens up the opportunity to use these bacterial cells or their lysates for making glycoprotein products such as monoclonal antibodies.”

SwiftScale Biologics Profile

SwiftScale Biologics seeks to speed up COVID-19 treatments with rapid antibody manufacturing. The company was founded on research done at Cornell University, including professor DeLisa, Jewett (Northwestern University) and a biotech entrepreneur/executive David Mace. Based in South San Francisco, CA, they have inked a partnership with Centivax and seek more to grow.

Are they a Cornell spinout?

Yes. They are listed under the startups of The Center for Technology Licensing. This is the technology transfer office for Cornell.

What was SwiftScale’s original development targets?

Originally, DeLisa and Jewett were targeting cancer.

Has that changed with COVID?

Yes. Moving forward, SwiftScale will produce antibody therapies targeting COVID-19.

Do they have a commercial biotech partner?

Yes. They have partnered with Centivax, a biotherapeutics company. Centivax has identified several lead antibody candidates it believes could be used against COVID-19.

Does Centivax have targets in clinical trials?

Yes. Centivax is planning a phase I/II clinical trial in late July, with the support of SwiftScale scaling up capabilities with the hopes of producing 100,000 doses a month for 10 months upon the clinical trial meeting its endpoint targets.

Centivax Profile

San Francisco-based Centivax is a therapeutics company founded to treat and eradicate the remaining pathogens of the 21st century. They seek to engineer medicines that matter at a price that the world can afford. The company applies their computational immunoengineering expertise to develop what they position as superior therapeutic monoclonal antibodies against the most challenging targets. By March 30, they completed optimization of a panel of ultra-potent neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). They partnered with SwiftScale to leverage their “cell-free biotechnology” for purposes of condensing manufacturing time.

Who is Centivax’s founder/CEO?

Jacob Glanville, PhD is an entrepreneur and inventor as well as computational immuno-engineer. He co-founded Distributed Bio and developed the core business model for that company to become profitable without any institutional investors.

Lead Research/Inventors

Matt DeLisa, the William L. Lewis Professor of Engineering in the Robert F. Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Michael Jewett, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University

Call to Action: This approach could be promising. The TrialSite Network includes hundreds of investors that should look into this approach. SwiftScale Biologics seeks potential partners, which could be in form of strategic investors.

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