Why Ohio’s ‘biotech corridor’ is the perfect place to launch the massive life-saving project
A new Ohio medical startup wants to make Columbus the capital of the world’s gene therapy, tackling rare and serious diseases with new treatments thanks to a flood of investment. Forge Biologics is focused on viruses just like the rest of the world — but these viruses have nothing to do with COVID-19. Forge is poised to set the standard for gene therapy in the country, developing a massive facility that will be harnessing the power of viruses to advance therapies for rare genetic diseases.
“We take a safe virus, scoop out the bad stuff that makes it a virus and put in a gene that people with genetic diseases are missing,” said co-founder, president and CEO Tim Miller. “For example, if you have a disease called Krabbe disease, you have a genetic mutation that means you can’t metabolize a certain sugar. What we do is provide back the gene that allows you to do that. We put it in the virus, make a lot of the virus and then put that genetically modified virus back into the body to basically deliver the correct copy of the gene.”
In addition to Krabbe disease, Miller said research at Forge will help advance therapies for “many forms of muscular dystrophy,” as well as a variety of cancers that gene therapy can help treat. Forge was created out of a partnership with Drive Capital, who Miller said had a vision of creating a new type of manufacturing plant, one that creates the future of gene therapies. With that motivation and the resources available to them, Miller believes Forge will make a major impact.
“We’re building our facility to be a global leader in manufacturing gene therapies for the world,” said Miller. “We’ll have the potential to serve thousands of patients over the years in multiple areas of the globe. We hope to make our mark by providing and accelerating access to these life-changing therapies for patients with rare diseases.”
Since launching earlier this year, Forge’s trajectory has shot through the roof. In July, the startup garnered $40 million in investment, and Miller said the team has tripled since that funding was announced. That team is growing even faster now, hiring for more than a dozen positions and more expected soon. For Miller, the fast surge of interest showcases the power of Forge’s mission and the expectations of what they can achieve.
“That’s really a sign of both the management team’s expertise and the vision we’re trying to set,” said Miller. “We’re trying to bring these life-changing therapies to fruition for patients and we’re already able to manufacture gene therapy in early-stage development. Most facilities are smaller than 80,000 square feet, and we’re on track to have double that size with multiple suites for potential clients and our own work. As we go into 2021, we’ll be able to manufacture gene therapies at a scale and a quality to be able to conduct clinical trials around the United States.”
Forge’s founding team is full of the medical talent Ohio is known for. Miller was previously President, CEO and co-founder of Abeona Therapeutics in Cleveland and most of the Forge team has ties to Ohio and its medical institutions. Co-founder Jaysson Eicholtz was previously responsible for Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s gene therapy manufacturing facility and co-founder Erandi de Silva was in management at Myonexus Therapeutics in Columbus. For Forge, Columbus represents the ideal location to start one of the world’s best gene therapy centers with the resources available in Ohio.
“The biotech corridor of Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati really offers a rich and robust pool of talent,” said Miller. “You have some world-class hospitals, global-leading institutions and also a really great cost of living and infrastructure to bring people to the Midwest and keep them here. We look at Columbus as a biotech hub for gene therapy and we’re trying to build out the epicenter of gene therapy in 2020 and beyond.”