Center for Breakthrough Medicines Taps Joerg Ahlgrimm as new CEO

With a goal of expanding manufacturing capabilities to meet the growing demands of cell and gene therapy production, The Center for Breakthrough Medicines (CBM) promoted Chief Operating Officer Joerg Ahlgrimm to the role of Chief Executive Officer.

Ahlgrimm joined CBM last year after serving as Head of Global Operations Pharma Biotech and Nutrition at Lonza. CBM, located within the Discovery Labs campus in suburban Philadelphia, is a quickly growing contract development and manufacturing organization that aims to provide pre-clinical through commercial manufacturing capabilities for client companies. CBM’s offerings include process development, plasmid DNA, viral vectors, cell banking, cell processing, and supporting testing capabilities.

As he settles into his new role, Ahlgrimm said he is focused on building out CBM’s capacity to ensure that cell and gene therapies, when they are approved for commercial use, can be quickly and safely manufactured to benefit patients. He pointed to the promise of cell and gene therapies as near cures for many diseases. Although the bulk of gene therapy manufacturing is currently for clinical research, he said they must be prepared to meet the future needs. Because of that potential, he said that CBM’s goal is to support the science with the most efficient manufacturing capabilities.

“We know from a mechanism standpoint that these therapies work. We want to improve the (manufacturing) process. Our mission, really, is to save lives,” Ahlgrimm told BioBuzz. “We plan to build out the largest manufacturing capacity in this area so we have the capacity for the needs of many of these companies to help them become successful.”

With Philadelphia playing a key role in the cell and gene therapy space, Ahlgrimm said part of CBM’s mission is to see that Cellicon Valley remains the global epicenter for cell and gene therapy innovation. Philadelphia is the global pioneer of cell and gene therapy and is home to more than 25 different cell and gene therapy companies, as well as outstanding research institutions, such as the University of Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, the University of Pennsylvania Gene Therapy Program, which focuses on the development of AAV-based gene therapies for rare and orphan genetic diseases with high unmet needs, announced plans to become an anchor tenant for Discovery Labs.

Audrey Greenberg, Co-Founder of the Center for Breakthrough Medicines and Executive Director of The Discovery Labs, praised Ahlgrimm’s appointment to the role of CEO. In a statement, she said his decades of experience in the industry, which also includes time as Head of Global Manufacturing for Baxter Healthcare’s BioScience Division, Baxalta, “will be a game changer for CBM and the advanced therapies’ industry.” With his background in the pharmaceutical and CDMO industries, Greenberg predicted Ahlgrimm will turn CBM into “an advanced therapy powerhouse,” a powerhouse that will ultimately benefit Philadelphia and its quest to become a top-five biopharma cluster.

As CBM expands its manufacturing, Ahlgrimm said there are some challenges he hopes to overcome to improve the efficiency of the process. In particular, Ahlgrimm said one of the challenges they hope to address are yield-related issues. Currently, he said the yield requires a significant amount of manufacturing capacity to treat all of the patient populations. Ahlgrimm said they want to improve the processes so you can have a higher yield for the patient population with less material.

Additionally, Ahlgrimm said many of the manufacturing processes specifically in Cell Therapy are still handled in an open manner. That means there is an increased chance for contamination. Ahlgrimm wants to devise a process that will eliminate any potential of contamination, in order to “produce the therapies right every time.”

Ahlgrimm’s promotion is not the only change to the executive team CBM has made over the past year. In March, CBM made four key hires to bolster its leadership team. Sybil Danby joined as Senior Vice President of Business Development & Strategy; Eileen Brett is the Vice President of Project Leadership; Dana Cipriano serves as Vice President of Testing and Analytical Services; and Emily Moran is Vice President of Viral Vector Manufacturing.  In addition to this team of four power females, the CBM management team also includes Brian Tomkowicz, Senior Director of Vector Engineering and Manufacturability; Matt Farabaugh, Chief Financial Officer; Michael McCormick, Vice President of Quality and Compliance and Avi Nandi, Head of Process Development in addition to 80 other extremely talented cell and gene therapy experts. The team is growing every day and CBM is hiring throughout the organization.

Ahlgrimm touted the other members of CBM’s leadership. He said CBM has been successful in attracting “the greatest talent in the industry” because of the patient-centered culture we have built within the organization. Ahlgrimm praised his colleagues for having the “absolute dedication to being the best service partner for cell and gene therapy companies.”

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Alex Keown is a freelance journalist who writes about a variety of subjects including the pharma, biotech, and life science industries. Prior to freelancing, Alex has served as a staff writer and editor for several publications.