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Saturday, Sep 30, 2023

A2 Bio’s HQ Move

BIOTECH: 76,000-square-foot facility will allow firm to ‘control’ its cell-therapy manufacturing.

A2 Biotherapeutics recently signed a lease on a 76,000-square-foot facility that will help the company meet clinical and manufacturing demands for its cell-therapy pipeline.

A2 Bio has four pre-clinical programs in its pipeline, two of which are closing in on phase-one trials. One program, designated as A2B530, has indications for colorectal, lung and pancreatic cancers. The other program, A2B694, has indications for ovarian, mesothelioma, colorectal, lung and pancreatic cancers. 

The new facility, located at 30601 Agoura Road, will support phase two for both programs and eventually serve as the company’s headquarters. The development is purely an interior build-out for A2 Bio.

“The facility allows us to have things ready on time when we need them and not have a gap between phase one and phase two and really allows us to control our manufacturing process,” Scott Foraker, A2 Bio’s president and chief executive, said. He added that the facility makes certain that A2 Bio will not have to redo the work invested in research capabilities and phase one manufacturing — instead, building on top of the work completed by the company.

According to Foraker, the Agoura Hills company explored potential outsourcing of its manufacturing but decided against it, instead opting for control over the cell therapy manufacturing process, which is significantly complex. Outsourcing manufacturing operations is common in the biotech industry. 

However, the contract development and manufacturing companies (CDMOs) and contract manufacturing companies (CMOs) being looked to for outsourcing have been in a crunch because of COVID-19’s impact, according to a report by the Datex Corporation. The report noted that CDMOs and CMOs usually have long lead times in manufacturing schedules, an issue that puts pressure on early-stage companies in the process of growing their science and production processes.

“We’re privileged because we have a head of manufacturing that has built these things before and we absolutely want to be able to control that, especially considering all the challenges these days with supply chains,” Foraker said. “Chain of custody is a tough environment, and on top of that we’re manufacturing cell therapy. So, with all those complexities, we want to be in control and that’s why we decided to build it all in-house.”

The lead of A2 Bio’s manufacturing team is Dr. Michelle Kreke, the company’s head of technical operations, who previously worked for Santa Monica-based Kite Pharma. Kite was acquired by Gilead Sciences for $11.9 billion in 2017.

Excluding the new facility at 30601 Agoura Road, the facilities that A2 Bio currently has under its belt at Agoura Hills Business Park include its core research facility, a facility primarily geared toward phase-one manufacturing, and another primarily used for process development. In total, A2 Bio will have four buildings within close vicinity of one another.

A factor working in favor of A2 Bio is that Harbor Associates is the landlord of two of their current buildings and will also be the landlord for the new building.

“They believe in our science, they believe in our potential and they’re supportive of our expansion,” Foraker said. “This was the perfect time for us to lay the ground down for manufacturing because of the lead time you need for putting the building up and ordering equipment in this supply chain (strained) environment.”

A2 Bio’s presence in Agoura Hills is one of, if not the most, eastern location of a biotech company within the Conejo Valley’s biotech cluster. The decision to base the company in Agoura Hills was informed by the regional talent pool, according to Rick Pearson, senior director of real estate service firm Cushman & Wakefield’s Tenant Advisory Group.

“Over the last five years a number of Biotech companies have been established in the Conejo Valley, many of which are located in the Thousand Oaks area,” Pearson wrote in an email to the Business Journal. “A2 Bio chose Agoura Hills because it provides access to early-career talent from key academic institutions looking to begin their careers in industry as well as experienced individuals working at established biotech companies who are looking for a new challenge.”

The Conejo Valley’s biotech growth has picked up steam and recently gained validation from business leaders who see the region’s housing growth as an important way to attract talent and future residents alike. 

Adam Haverstock, director of government affairs and tourism at the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce, said at a Thousand Oaks City Council meeting in July that, “The City of Thousand Oaks is working to expand the footprint of its biotechnology corridor. The thing is, you can’t expand biotech without also expanding housing. They are one and the same. One cannot be done without the other.”

According to Pearson, some of A2 Bio’s staff have moved to the region from other states. Pearson wrote that continuing to grow the local biotech presence will bring new residents to the area, which benefits from a more manageable cost of living compared to the well-established biotech hubs in the Bay Area and Boston.

The decision to invest capital into phase two while still being a pre-clinical company has some risk according to Foraker, who described A2 Bio’s tactic as high risk, high reward.

However, such a level of risk is not new for a company involved in developing cell therapies for solid tumors, a sector that has not seen a lot of success. If anything, risky decisions are par for the course when the odds are stacked against a company like A2 Bio. 

Foraker said A2 Bio has gone out on a limb in terms of its science, facilities and its location in Agoura, the latter of which Foraker characterized as an island when compared to biotech company presence in Thousand Oaks.

“However, I think when it comes together, it’s really going to be pretty remarkable and a landmark in terms of what we’re able to mark up for ourselves, for patients and the community.”

To learn more about the sale of the building A2 Bio plans to occupy, please see page 6.

Antonio Pequeño IV
Antonio Pequeño IV
Antonio “Tony” Pequeño IV is a reporter covering health care, finance and law for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. He specializes in reporting on some of the biggest names in the Valley’s biotechnology sector. In addition to his work with the Business Journal, Tony has reported with BuzzFeed News on the unsupervised use of Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition technology. Tony, who also conducts freelance reporting, graduated from the USC’s Master of Science in Journalism program in 2021. He is in his fifth year as a journalist as of 2021.

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