High Impact Drugs at Dirt Cheap Cost

Highlights from Lumen’s big new collaboration with CARB-X, A-Alpha, Tufts University, and the US Naval Medical Research Center

By Brian Finrow and Jim Roberts

A component of Lumen Bio’s cGMP antibody drug manufacturing plant. (Photo by Arianna Lewellyn.)

Searching for a solution: historical antecedents and serendipity

The idea for an edible (i.e., orally delivered) antibody drug has been around for a long time: the first modern edible antibody clinical trial was in 1988. For enteric disease in particular, edible antibody drugs have a lot going for them — they can be safer, more effective, and easier to distribute and administer than antibodies delivered by injection.

Some of Lumen’s R&D team members relaxing on the office patio where Omar pitched us on the idea of joining the Gates Foundation’s Synthetic Colostrum Consortium: orally delivered monoclonal antibodies to prevent and treat infectious diseases such as traveler’s diarrhea. (Photo by Arianna Lewellyn.)

Fighting complexity with complexity

Antibody drugs are a remarkable accomplishment of late 20th century biotechnology: broadly reactive as a class, yet individually possessing exquisite specificity. In general, this allows for high-potency drugs with fewer toxicity risks than small-molecule pharmaceuticals.

Lumen research associate Jason Dang evaluating prototype antibody-spirulina strains.
Lumen scientist Jason Dang evaluating prototype antibody-spirulina strains. High-complexity antibody cocktail development dramatically increases the number of antibody expression strains that must be evaluated for manufacturability, so Lumen has built a large, automated array of photobioreactors for high-throughput evaluation of production antibody therapeutic strains. (Photo by Arianna Lewellyn.)

Edible antibodies: how solving the cost and scaling problem brings it all together

Delivering antibody drugs orally rather than by injection makes them safer but creates another problem: high cost. Orally delivered antibodies require repeat dosing, and antibodies made with traditional technologies (e.g., CHO cell fermentation), which typically cost $100-$200 per gram, are too expensive to manufacture in the quantities necessary for oral delivery. This is the challenge that led the Gates Foundation team to discover Lumen in the first place, after all, and despite decades of efforts by various well-funded groups, no one had found a solution.

Jim and I started Lumen Bioscience in 2017 to develop and commercialize ultra-low-cost biologics.

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