Seattle-based biotech company Lumen Bioscience, which manufactures proteins in algae, will expand its manufacturing operations to a former bakery in the city’s Wallingford neighborhood, the company announced today.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic, the handsome brick building housed a café for the Essential Baking Company, across the street from Lumen’s current operations.
“We used to go there for sandwiches,” said Brian Finrow, Lumen’s CEO. Now his company is going to grow the algae spirulina in the space, roughly quintupling production capacity from the company’s current 3 kg per week.
Lumen is expanding on the heels of a $16 million Series B round in September and a suite of new endeavors. The company recently announced a joint project with the pharma company Novo Nordisk and an up to $14.5 million project with CARB-X, a nonprofit supporting the development of new antibacterials. In addition, Lumen recently snagged a nearly $4 million grant from the U.S. Army to develop a potential therapeutic for COVID-19.
Spirulina acts like a little bioreactor to produce high amounts of candidate therapeutic proteins. The manufacturing system is a lot cheaper than the industrial-scale manufacturing facilities for the human cells typically used to make biologics, which cost around $1 billion to build, said Finrow.
“What we do is radically less expensive,” said Finrow. Patients in the company’s clinical trials simply eat capsules of protein-packed spirulina. Lumen is currently focused on gastrointestinal tract-related conditions.
He notes that spirulina can’t manufacture more complex biologics, but one of the company’s products is camelid antibodies, a class of small proteins derived from camels. And spirulina can make a lot of them. “With the GI tract, in particular, you have to keep refilling the pipe,” said Finrow, who is also a co-founder.
The company recently published a paper outlining its approach, posted on the preprint server bioRxiv, prior to peer review, and is testing a pill in clinical trials against C. diff, a common hospital acquired infection.
Last fall the company announced the agreement with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command to develop a drug cocktail, including camelid antibodies, to treat the gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19. COVID-19 often has effects in the gut.
The joint research collaboration with Novo Nordisk, announced this June, will focus on developing metabolically relevant molecules for obesity and other metabolic disorders.
The CARB-X project supports development of a spirulina pill against two pathogens that cause diarrheal diseases, Campylobacter jejuni and enterotoxigenic E. coli. The company currently has a phase 2 clinical trial, supported in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for diarrhea caused by these bacteria, which kill thousands of children worldwide each year.
The company has roots also at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, with co-founder and chief scientific officer Jim Roberts. He is an investigator there and was formerly head of the basic sciences division.
The company aims to commission the new facility within six months. “Three years out, we hope to be commercial with at least one of these products, and building out a larger scale commercial plant, probably in eastern Washington,” said Finrow.
The new manufacturing building has a long history as a bakery. It was built in 1925 for the Buchan Baking Company and in the 1990s it became the home of the now-popular Essential Baking Company, which quickly outgrew the space. In recent years Essential was only using the building as a cafe, and the the bakery area was used as storage for a nearby fisheries supply store. This March, Essential decided to focus more on its wholesale bakery business and closed the Café.