New Oregon Freeze Dry Lab Aims to Capitalize on Biopharma Trends

Jason Kaplan
Oregon Freeze Dry's new research and development facility in Albany

The facility will develop and test oral immunotherapy drugs in Oregon, but the company may look elsewhere if scaling is required.

Share this article!

Last month, biotech manufacturer Oregon Freeze Dry opened its newest research and development facility in Albany, in part to develop and test an ingestible COVID-19 vaccine as well as other immunotherapy products.

The $7.5 million construction sits next to the company’s world headquarters, will develop orally ingested alternatives to immunotherapy treatments — a trend company leadership says is on the upswing.

The lab’s first project will be the development of Lyopastille, a dissolving tablet capable of delivering vaccines orally, either by placing the tablet under the tongue or between the cheek and gums. Walt Pebley, vice president of pharma development and technical innovation at Oregon Freeze Dry, says the tablet will be able to deliver any vaccine based on mRNA, including the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

Inside the new Oregon Freeze Dry facility in Albany. Credit: Jason Kaplan. 

Oregon Freeze Dry filed a trademark application for Lyopastille in June of 2021, and Pebley says the company applied for a provisional patent at the beginning of this year. The company will develop and test the new oral tablet at the facility, along with other immunotherapy products, microbial therapeutics — which introduces microbes into the body to treat infections — and cell and gene therapy.

Pebley says the decision to open a new biologics facility came after an internally conducted study showed there was a large “white space,” or gap, of orally ingested alternatives to injected vaccines. A California company called Vaxart is currently testing an oral vaccine, as is an Israeli company called Oramed pharmaceuticals. Lyopastille is not a unique vaccine but a delivery system that could be used with extant medications, including vaccines.

Director of marketing Bruce Bechtel says the potential size of the untapped market for oral vaccine delivery is over $100 billion dollars. He says Oregon Freeze Dry could realistically be able to capture approximately 10% of that market.

Inside the new Oregon Freeze Dry facility in Albany. Credit: Jason Kaplan.

The company has a history of designing freeze-dried medical products. In addition to its popular Mountain House freeze-dried food line, Oregon Freeze Dry has partnered with the Department of Defense to create wound care powders and cell stabilization medications to stop internal bleeding. The company also partners with pharmaceutical companies to develop dissolving oral tablets and probiotics.

The new Albany facility is designed to create test and manufacture products that eliminate injection as a dispensing mechanism for pharmaceuticals, and to be able to do so in bulk to lower the cost. The facility is designed to meet biosafety level 2, a sanitation standard set by the FDA when processing biologics.

“If you think of a silicon wafer cleanroom, where we’re cleaner than that,” say Pebley, who adds the pharmaceutical industry is moving away from small-molecule solutions like injected vaccines and towards to large-molecule solutions delivered orally, which are more heat-sensitive. With this trend comes an increasing need for lyophilization, or freeze-drying, to keep the medicines stable.

Behind the new Oregon Freeze Dry facility in Albany. Credit: Jason Kaplan.

Pebley says the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the inefficiency of injected vaccines compared to pills — first and foremost, the ability to transport a larger number of them at scale.

“Vaccinations are transported in vials,” Pebley says. “If those vials are frozen and freeze-dried you can transport approximately 285,000 to 300,000 doses in a container at a time. We can instead take that vaccine formula and create an oral pastille and bulk freeze dry those to create an equivalent system of about 2 million doses. But in order to do all that, we needed a facility that biologics could be processed.”

While investments in life sciences companies have slowed since the sector’s boom in 2020, the biopharma sector remains attractive for investors, according to a May review by global accounting firm RSM International.

“The pharmaceutical industry is having a massive shift to biological products versus chemically synthesized drugs,” says Pebley. “You’re triggering the body to do its own healing. These products are made from starting materials inherent, or natural, to our bodies. Microbial treatment looks for the gaps inherent to your body for whatever reason, be it genetics, or diet, or whatever your body is being prevented from producing, and provides a more natural form of stimulating or replacing what’s missing.”

Pebley says the aim of the company is to eliminate injection as the primary dispensing method for vaccination and continue to drive the pharmaceutical industry towards a more personalized, preventative, healthcare options for consumers.

A 2020 literature review from the Washington University of St. Louis found consumers “strongly preferred” pharmaceutical products they considered to be more natural, and a products’ naturalness was becoming an “increasingly important driver of consumers’ decisions.”

“I think consumers also have more access to information and are looking to potentially prevent problems instead of medicating to fix it after the fact,” Pebley says. “You see this especially with probiotics. People in the market are asking, ‘How can I be healthier, so I potentially don’t get sick?’ I think there’s a mindset and an industry shift going on around how to be preventative.”

Dietary supplements, which the company also helps develop are a growth industry, but do not require the level of sanitation the new Albay facility provides.

The new facility is currently in the hiring process, and will employ six people by the end of the year, according to the company. Bechtel says working with Pacific Northwest universities, including Oregon State University’s bioengineering and chemical engineering programs, the University of Washington, and the University of Oregon, has meant the facility has not faced the hiring deficits currently affecting other industries.

The new building is the fifth Oregon Freeze Dry facility in the country and is intended as a clinical trial and research facility, not a manufacturing plant, although it does have a bio reactor where the new products could be grown in industrial quantities.

If the market continues to develop, the company could look outside of Oregon to set up a larger-scale manufacturing plant to meet demand.

“If we start mass manufacturing that will be another conversation,” says Pebley.

To subscribe to Oregon Business, click here.

Latest from Sander Gusinow