Visit of His Majesty the King of the Belgians Philippe and Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians Mathilde to Afrigen Biologics
Belgian Royal delegation visits the Afrigen facilities where Univercells and Etherna will be supporting the development of the first African-owned mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
CAPE TOWN (SOUTH AFRICA) & BRUSSELS (BELGIUM), MARCH 25, 2023 – HM King Philippe and HM Queen Mathilde, currently on a state visit to South Africa until March 27, visited the Afrigen Biologics facility in Cape Town to learn more about how two Belgian companies, Univercells and Etherna, are supporting the development of the first African- developed mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The King and The Queen are accompanied by five ministers of federal and regional governments, as well as a business delegation including several Belgian companies. The intention is to further discuss cooperation and partnership between the two countries and focus, among other things, on business and development.
Given the strong commitment from Belgium and the European Union towards supporting regional production autonomy in the region, and the fact that the mRNA Technology Transfer Programme co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), is at the epicenter of this global effort, the Royal delegation made it a point to include a visit to Afrigen as part of their stay.
Quantoom Biosciences, a Univercells’ company, is leading the development of the mRNA production technology that encompasses all the steps of RNA production, from sequence construct to large scale production, allowing for rapid growth and scale-up. Dramatically more efficient than existing methods, it was built with distributed and de-centralized manufacturing in mind – ensuring that processes can be easily transferred across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Today, the project has delivered exceptional results based on the analytical characterization proven to be compliant to Critical Quality Attributes (CQA) specifications, allowing the company to transfer its process to Afrigen.
Afrigen and Univercells are supported in the collaboration by mRNA expert development partner Etherna. The company has enabled the development of the RNA production equipment and developed a thermostable COVID-19 vaccine and platform which enables distribution across the continent to even the remotest rural communities, an essential part of the collaboration, and is sharing the way this LNP formulation needs to be produced.
It is in this context that the King and the Queen decided to visit Afrigen and meet both Belgian companies and South African partners who are working together for the development of this milestone vaccine.
The Afrigen guided tour started in the production area, followed by the R&D department and laboratories. As part of the tour, each partner provided the delegation with an update on their involvement and the status of work.
As they were passing by the R&D facilities, Bernard Sagaert, interim Chief Executive Officer of Etherna, explained how the project is benefiting from Etherna’s technologies, at multiple levels and stages: “We are delighted to partner with Univercells and Afrigen Biologics on this important project by providing expert support and knowhow in all the key areas of mRNA vaccine development. The resulting vaccines validates our integrated approach using our unique skillset – from optimizing RNA payload, through formulation of the lipid nanoparticle delivery system to enhancing thermostability for mass manufacturing. This will allow for storage in normal fridges which are more accessible than -20 or -80°C freezers, especially in LMICs and significantly improve the prospects of making vaccines more accessible globally.”
José Castillo, co-founder of Univercells Group and CEO of Quantoom Biosciences continued: “Almost one year after signing the agreement we are thrilled to be back at Afrigen and meet all partners to discussion the progress and project deliverables. Over the last months, three batched of RNA were produced and Quantoom’s NtensifyTM midi system will be delivered at Afrigen within the next weeks.”
Petro Terblanche, Afrigen Chief Executive Officer, declared: “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that there is a pressing need to build sustainable capabilities in vaccine development and manufacturing in African and other LMICs. I am thrilled to see how the project is moving forward bringing cutting edge technology to Afrigen to integrate into the technology and manufacturing platforms we are building and transferring to partners in Africa and other LMICs. This is driven by our quest for enabling access to life-saving vaccines and medicines for the people living in the global South.”
Charles Gore, Medicines Patent Pool, added: “Since the start of the mRNA Technology Transfer Programme in June 2021, it is impressive to see the amazing developments here at Afrigen and all that has been achieved in mRNA vaccine development. None of it would have been possible without the Programme funders, and I particularly want to thank the Kingdom of Belgium for their support from the outset of the project. ”
Dr Owen Kaluwa, World Health Organization, concluded: “ The mRNA Technology Transfer Programme is built on partnerships and working closely will leading technologies and experts is essential. Through this cutting-edge technology that has been developed with LMICs in mind, and that provides an inclusive solution, Afrigen with the support of Quantoom and eTheRNA can ow move rapidly to the next phase of mRNA vaccine development. It is still WHO firm belief that a more widely distributed access to technologies and vaccine manufacturing capacity will reduce the gap in making vaccines available promptly for everyone, everywhere and accelerates the impact of the necessary collective effort to control outbreaks.”
Next steps include receiving the Quantoom’s NtensifyTM midi system in Afrigen, and eTheRNA’s proprietary lipid to enable Afrigen to replicate the production of mRNA drug substance and drug product according to Quantoom and eTheRNA’s processes, respectively.
For more information or to interview any of our senior team, contact Cecile Hisette, firstname.lastname@example.org, +32.422.214.171.124.
*** About Afrigen ***
Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines is a Cape Town based biotechnology company strategically directed, supported, and capitalized by Avacare Healthcare Group and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) of South Africa. It was founded in 2014 by Steven G. Reed (PhD) and Erik Iverson (JD, LLM), both of the Infectious Diseases Research Institute (IDRI) in Seattle. Afrigen drives a business strategy focussing on product development, bulk adjuvant manufacturing, and supply and distribution of key biologicals to address unmet healthcare needs. Through international partnerships and local capacity building, Afrigen has established the first ever adjuvant production and formulation technology centre on the African continent. In June 2021 Afrigen was designated by the WHO to host the global mRNA vaccine technology transfer Hub. The Hub at Afrigen is developing end-to-end mRNA vaccine research, development, manufacturing and delivering capacity and capabilities for transfer to LMICs. The WHO programme is working with global health partners to create a sustainable model for vaccine production and pandemic preparedness particularly in regions of the world that is vulnerable. Afrigen Biologics’s first mRNA vaccine (Covid 19 vaccine candidate) is currently in pre-clinical development and is preparing for its GMP certification for end to end vaccine production.
*** About Univercells ***
Univercells is a global life sciences company with the mission of making biologics accessible to all. Using our combined expertise in scaling, production, and bioprocessing, Univercells finds new and sustainable ways to widen access to life-changing drugs. Our affiliate companies deploy innovations in infrastructure, drug substance manufacturing, equipment manufacturing, equipment design, training, and on-the-ground health services to drive down costs, shrink manufacturing footprints and meet the needs of the entire health value chain. Headquartered in Jumet (Belgium), Univercells is supported by regional and national investors, as well as international investors active in vaccines and healthcare, such as the European Investment Bank and Global Health Investment Fund, among others. Quantoom Biosciences, a Univercells company, is focused on mRNA. www.univercells.com
*** About Etherna ***
Etherna is an mRNA technology discovery and development company with a full platform of integrated capabilities including: mRNA construct design and optimization; proprietary lipid nanoparticle (LNP) formulations which have demonstrated organ-specific distribution preclinically; process development and manufacturing capabilities for mRNA drug substance (gram GMP scale); and proprietary LNP / final product formulation technologies, including a lyophilized thermostable formulation in advanced development. With a focus on immune modulation and T Cell stimulation, Etherna is pursuing internal development programs to validate its core technologies and enable strategic partnerships in a range of geographic markets and therapeutic areas. Etherna is backed by a global syndicate of leading investors and is headquartered in Belgium with offices in New York and Hong Kong.
*** Disclosure Statement ***
The contents of this announcement include statements that are, or may be deemed to be, “forward-looking statements”. These forward-looking statements can be identified using forward-looking terminology, including the words “believes”, “estimates,” “anticipates”, “expects”, “intends”, “may”, “will”, “plans”, “continue”, “ongoing”, “potential”, “predict”, “project”, “target”, “seek” or “should”, and include statements the Company makes concerning the intended results of its strategy. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, and readers are cautioned that any such forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance. The Company’s actual results may differ materially from those predicted by the forward-looking statements. The Company undertakes no obligation to publicly update or revise forward-looking statements, except as may be required by law.
Foundational RNA and cLNP expert Antonin (Tony) de Fougerolles joins Etherna as independent board member
- Follows recent financing round led by Novalis LifeSciences LLC, with investors Marijn Dekkers and Moderna’s co-founder Dr. Kenneth Chien joining the board of directors
- Strategic focus includes customized lipid nanoparticles (cLNPs)
- mRNA chemistries and process capabilities as enabling technologies driving company excellence
Niel, Belgium, January 9, 2023 – Etherna (“the Company”), a leading mRNA technologies company, announced today that Antonin (Tony) de Fougerolles has joined its board of directors as an independent member. This follows the Company’s recent Series B2 financing round to expand investment in its integrated mRNA technology platform and further pursue its new partnership-driven business strategy.
Tony is currently the CEO of Evox Therapeutics, an Oxford-based company developing exosome therapeutics, and has an extensive background in mRNA and more specifically LNPs through his roles at Moderna and Alnylam. He has nearly 25 years of biotech R&D experience in building out drug pipelines, and he has played a key role in developing and successfully advancing 3 new drug modalities to the market (mRNA, RNAi, single domain antibodies) and in helping build several multi-billion-dollar companies from start-up stage. As founding Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) at Moderna Therapeutics, he pioneered modified mRNA as a new therapeutic and vaccine drug modality and the mRNA chemistry and delivery systems that form the basis of the approved COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. Prior to that, as VP of Research at Alnylam, he helped develop RNA interference (RNAi) as a new drug modality, including overseeing development of the first approved LNP-based RNAi delivery system and the development of several approved RNAi drugs including inclisiran. Author of over 60 scientific publications and an inventor on over 100 issued US patents, Tony has also a ‘Belgian’ connection, from his time as CSO at Ablynx (now Sanofi) where he played a key role in the approval of the first single domain antibody drug, caplacizumab. Tony obtained his PhD in Immunology from Harvard University.
Since Etherna was founded in 2013, the Company has established an integrated set of proprietary capabilities for end-to-end design, development and manufacture of next-generation mRNA products. These include molecular designs, lipid biochemistry expertise, customized lipid nanoparticle formulations (cLNPs), mRNA-based T cell adjuvants, and advanced manufacturing processes, and overcome the current challenges facing the development of mRNA therapeutics. Etherna’s new business model will utilize this suite of capabilities as enablers to deliver superior products for partners in both early-stage research as well as later-stage development for mRNA therapeutics.
“Tony is exceptionally qualified to help ensure Etherna’s future corporate growth,” added Russell Greig, PhD, Chair of Etherna’s board of directors. “His addition to the board will add momentum to the company’s mission to deliver cutting edge advances in mRNA and LNP technologies for the treatment of unmet medical needs.”
“I am thrilled to be joining Etherna’s board and contributing to its future growth,” commented Tony de Fougerolles. “The cLNPs and mRNA manufacturing expertise that the company has developed is world-leading and impressive in both its breadth and novelty. As is increasingly being understood, the ability to robustly deliver mRNA and other genetic medicines to new cell types and tissues is the central element needed to enable their wider application.”
Marijn Dekkers, Chairman of Novalis LifeSciences, said: “We are excited to have Tony join at this important stage of the Company’s development. He is a fantastic addition to the competences we have already gathered on the board. In addition to scientific excellence, he is a proven entrepreneur with an incredible track record of commercializing new modalities and technology platforms.” .
Bernard Sagaert, interim CEO of Etherna said: “We are delighted to have Tony join the board, as he brings, together with Ken, vast experience in cLNPs and mRNA to Etherna, and is well connected in the industry. Having him on board will be invaluable in helping us implement our new business strategy. Strengthening and expanding our significant expertise in designing, synthesizing, and manufacturing cLNPs for a range of prophylactic and therapeutic indications, will enable the Company to accelerate near-term revenue growth through technology licensing and mRNA cGMP manufacturing services for multiple future partners.”
Etherna is an mRNA technology platform company with integrated capabilities including mRNA construct design and optimization, coupled with specialized expertise in designing and manufacturing customized lipid nanoparticles (cLNP) formulations tailored for the prevention and treatment of various pathological states, providing end-to-end solutions for next generation mRNA therapeutics. The company believes that customized LNPs are critical enablers in advancing mRNA technologies to new levels of prophylactic and therapeutic utility. www.Etherna.be
Company Contact: Bernard Sagaert media@Etherna.be
mRNA specialist eTheRNA has been selected as a candidate for the M&A Award Life Sciences 2022
Niel, Belgium, November 10, 2022 – eTheRNA, a leading mRNA technology company, announces its nomination for the Belgian M&A Awards 2022 in the “Best Venture Capital Deal – Life Sciences 2022” category. The nomination of eTheRNA is based on its successful Series B financing in August 2022, in which eTheRNA raised €39 million of fresh capital from reputable investors.
Bernard Sagaert, interim CEO eTheRNA, comments: “It is an honor to be nominated for this highly respected award within the Belgian economic community. Our nomination is in recognition of last summer’s successful funding round, which allows us to further invest in our technology platform for mRNA and customized lipid nanoparticles (cLNPs).”
The M&A Awards Belgium2022 will be presented on 24 November 2022 at Maison de la Poste in Brussels. For the fifth year in a row, the organization is scrutinizing transactions from the period 1 October – 30 September, in this case the period 1 October 2021 – 30 September 2022. Candidates are nominated by the Belgian M&A community (advisers, law firms, corporate finance institutions, etc.). From there, a shortlist is drawn up in six categories: Best Large Cap Corporate Deal, Best Mid Cap Corporate Deal, Best Large Cap Private Equity Deal, Best Mid Cap Private Equity Deal, Best Venture Capital Deal – Technology and Best Venture Capital Deal – Life Sciences. A six-member jury evaluates all deals in detail during the jury deliberations, after which the nominees for each category are announced.
Bernard Sagaert continues: “It is gratifying to note that we are in the list of three nominees for our category alongside Precirix and Syndesi Therapeutics, two other promising companies from Belgium’s successful biotech/medtech ecosystem, which are pursuing an international strategy. The international and innovative mission of eTheRNA is also underlined by the composition of our shareholder base, which since the Series B funding round also includes Novalis LifeSciences LLC and Dr Kenneth Chien, the co-founder of Moderna.”
eTheRNA is an mRNA technology platform company with integrated capabilities including mRNA construct design and optimization, coupled with specialized expertise in designing and manufacturing customized lipid nanoparticles (cLNP) formulations tailored for the prevention and treatment of various pathological states, providing end-to-end solutions for next generation mRNA therapeutics. The company believes that customized LNPs are critical enablers in advancing mRNA technologies to new levels of prophylactic and therapeutic utility.
mRNA leading expert Kenneth Chien and Novalis LifeSciences’ Marijn Dekkers investing in EUR 39M Series B2 financing of mRNA technology platform company eTheRNA
- Financing round led by Novalis LifeSciences LLC
- Both investors Dr. Marijn Dekkers and Moderna’s co-founder Dr. Kenneth Chien to join the board of directors
- Strategic focus includes customized lipid nanoparticles (cLNPs)
- Current COO Bernard Sagaert appointed interim-CEO
Niel, Belgium, August 23, 2022 – eTheRNA (“the Company”), a leading mRNA technologies company, announced today that it has raised €39M in a Series B2 financing to expand investment in its integrated mRNA technology platform and further pursue its new initiatives for a partnership-driven business strategy. The round was led by Novalis LifeSciences with participation from Professor Kenneth Chien, a world-renowned expert in mRNA technology and its therapeutic applications. Existing investors, including LSP (now EQT Life Sciences), PMV, Grand Pharma, Fund+, Omega Fund, and others, also participated in the financing.
Concurrent with this investment round, the two new investors Dr. Kenneth Chien, co-founder of Moderna Therapeutics and professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and Dr. Marijn Dekkers, founder and chairman of Novalis LifeSciences LLC and former CEO of Bayer AG and Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., will join the company’s board of directors. In addition, eTheRNA announced the departure of its CEO, Steven Powell, and the appointment of current COO, Bernard Sagaert, as interim-CEO.
Since eTheRNA was founded in 2013, the Company has established an integrated set of proprietary capabilities for an end-to-end solution to design, develop and manufacture next-generation mRNA products based on enabling technologies. eTheRNA’s new business model will utilize this suite of capabilities to provide superior products for partners in both early-stage research as well as later-stage development for mRNA therapeutics. eTheRNA will leverage its proprietary molecular designs, lipid biochemistry expertise, customized lipid nanoparticle formulations (cLNPs), mRNA-based T cell adjuvants, and advanced manufacturing processes to overcome the current challenges facing the development of mRNA therapeutics. By expanding its significant expertise in designing, synthesizing, and manufacturing cLNPs with a spectrum of properties suitable for a range of prophylactic and therapeutic indications, this innovative business model will allow the company to accelerate near-term revenue growth through technology licensing and mRNA cGMP manufacturing services for multiple future partners.
Kenneth Chien, a Distinguished Professor of the Swedish Research Council at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden said: “I am delighted to be joining eTheRNA as both an investor and board member. eTheRNA’s specialized expertise and proprietary knowledge in mRNA technologies and cLNPs are consistent with my vision of the future in which cLNPs of increasingly sophisticated design will lead to novel applications in a range of currently untreatable diseases. I am looking forward to applying my knowledge and expertise to assist eTheRNA realize this ambition.”
Marijn Dekkers, chairman of Novalis LifeSciences, said: “We are excited to lead this new funding round for eTheRNA, and help propel the company to contribute its breakthrough technologies to the development of mRNA-based therapeutics, an area that is full of unimaginable opportunities as the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine has shown us.”
“I would like to thank Steven Powell for his dedication and professional guidance over the last four years and positioning the company for this latest round of funding,” said Russell Greig, chairman of eTheRNA. “It is also my pleasure to welcome Bernard as the interim-CEO. In his previous capacity as COO, Bernard has been instrumental in building eTheRNA’s manufacturing and processing technologies, and I look forward to continue working with him to drive the company to a new level of operational and commercial performance.”
“Similarly, I am delighted to welcome Marijn and Kenneth, both of whom bring extraordinary skills to the board of eTheRNA. Marijn has enjoyed a highly successful career both in the life sciences industry and as an investor. Kenneth, as co-founder of Moderna, with deep expertise in the application of mRNA/LNPs in the prevention and treatment of previously unapproachable disease states, brings an unparalleled level of expertise that is perfectly aligned with our vision for the future of eTheRNA.”
“The capital raised from this latest funding round, coupled with our new leadership, provide a solid foundation for growing our investment in eTheRNA’s state of the art technologies in mRNA and cLNPs technology platform. Through this investment, we expect to forge new strategic, global partnerships which can ultimately lead to unprecedented progress in treating a range of pathological diseases”, added Russell Greig.
eTheRNA is an mRNA technology platform company with integrated capabilities including mRNA construct design and optimization, coupled with specialized expertise in designing and manufacturing customized lipid nanoparticles (cLNP) formulations tailored for the prevention and treatment of various pathological states, providing end-to-end solutions for next generation mRNA therapeutics. The company believes that customized LNPs are critical enablers in advancing mRNA technologies to new levels of prophylactic and therapeutic utility. www.etherna.be
About Novalis LifeSciences LLC
Novalis LifeSciences is an investment and advisory firm for the Life Science industry that was founded in 2017 by Marijn E. Dekkers. With a team of experienced operating executives from the Life Science industry, Novalis funds and advises visionary Life Science entrepreneurs. In addition to making financial investments, Novalis provides strategic and operational advice to portfolio companies that are at a critical growth stage in their development. www.novalislifesciences.com