Why leading-edge cell therapy firm Cellares is building manufacturing facility in Bridgewater

Company, which just raised $255M in Series C funding, aims to open 118K sq. ft. facility by end of 2024 to produce game-changing cancer medication

Here’s the good news about why Cellares, a leading-edge cell therapy company based in the San Francisco area, will be bringing a 118,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to Bridgewater thanks to $255 million in Series C funding: The company was drawn by the state’s educated workforce and history in the sector.

So said co-founder and CEO Fabian Gerlinghaus in a sound bite that is almost too good to be true for state officials.

Fabian Gerlinghaus.

“New Jersey is a hub in the U.S. for biopharmaceutical manufacturing,” he told ROI-NJ. “We found a great talent pool, great infrastructure, plenty of large facilities available and proximity to a great number of customers.

“But it really comes back to the great talent pool.”

Here’s the even better news about Cellares bringing its commercial-scale smart factory to Bridgewater: It has the potential to be a game-changer for cancer patients in the state, in the country and around the world.

“We’re making cures for cancer mass-manufacturable,” Gerlinghaus said. “Cell therapies are a breakthrough in modern medicine. They can cure previously untreatable diseases. This is the leading edge of modern medicine.”

That belief is what led so many major companies and funds to invest in the Series C round, including Bristol Myers Squibb, DFJ Growth and Willett Advisors — who joined existing investors Eclipse, Decheng Capital and 8VC.

The investment was announced earlier this week. Gerlinghaus said the company is hopeful of being up and running by the end of 2024.

For cancer patients, that day can’t come soon enough.

Cell therapy is a proven technique. The issue always has been the difficulty and cost of producing what is personalized medicine.

“Every therapy is made to order for that individual patient, using that patient’s cells as the starting material,” Gerlinghaus said.

That’s why the facility in Bridgewater — while still employing approximately 350 — will be driven by robotics, implementing the company’s “Cell Shuttle” program, which they call a “factory-in-a-box.”

“The problem that this entire industry is facing right now is that conventional manufacturing for these cell therapies is very expensive, and it’s failure-prone,” Gerlinghaus said. “And, because each cell therapy is manufactured for each patient individually, it’s impossible to scale that up to hundreds of thousands of patients per year, or even millions of patients, with the current manufacturing methods.

“As a result, we actually have patients dying on the waitlist, even though there’s FDA-approved cell therapies on the market that would most likely cure them. It’s a medical emergency. That’s the problem that we’re focusing on at Cellares.”

The company, founded in 2019 in South San Francisco, currently has one manufacturing facility, at its headquarters.

That facility is much smaller — it’s a 57,000-square-foot building — and much of the facility is used for research & development.

The facility in California can produce up to 1,600 doses per year. Gerlinghaus said the Bridgewater facility will do approximately 40,000 doses. The need is there.

CAR-T cell therapies still remain inaccessible to 99% of the 450,000-plus patients who qualify for them, the company said.

Co-founders Omar Kurdi, left, and Fabian Gerlinghaus with the Cell Shuttle.

Today, the process to produce a single cell therapy dose can take up two weeks — and require more than 50 manual processing steps and more than 80 hours of touch time.

Cellares officials said the Cell Shuttle maintains its own cleanroom environment, which no human ever enters. Inside the space, a robot moves the single-use cartridge from one modular bioprocessing instrument to the next to carry out the workflow.

Gerlinghaus said the company will maintain its headquarters in California but will have a full executive team in New Jersey, too.

Gerlinghaus, who said the company intends to eventually open facilities in Europe and Asia, said its first venture outside of California is being well-received.

“We’ve definitely been working with and forging close relationships with the Governor’s Office, as well as with local authorities in the township,” he said. “Our interactions to date have been tremendously positive.

“We feel that we’re being welcomed to the community in Bridgewater and we’re very excited to create new jobs in New Jersey.”

New Jersey Economic Development Authority CEO Tim Sullivan said the state is thrilled to have Cellares.

“Under Gov. Phil Murphy’s leadership, the NJEDA continues to strengthen its expertise in the high-growth sectors targeted by the governor’s Economic Development Strategic Plan, including life sciences,” he said. “This includes raising awareness of New Jersey’s advantages for growing companies like Cellares seeking an ideal location, an educated talent pipeline and highly-regarded research universities.

“The NJEDA’s Life Sciences sector lead, Kara Moore, has worked closely with Cellares’ executives to connect the company to local business resources, including recruiting contacts at New Jersey colleges, regional industry events and university programs.”

The fact that Cellares seemingly is a spokesperson for the state is an added bonus, Sullivan said.

“The NJEDA is delighted that Cellares recognizes the clear benefits of a New Jersey location, and looks forward to continuing to work with the company to ensure it reaps the rewards of all the Garden State has to offer,” he said.