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Cathay Health Backed Ascend Gene & Cell Therapies Launches with over $130M in Funding

Ascend is Cathay Health’s 1st investment in the UK and 6th overall since fund launch. It aims to help gene therapy companies translate product ideas into viable clinical program


May 10, 2023, London – Today, Cathay Health announces its investment in Ascend Gene & Cell Therapies (Ascend), a UK-based specialist CDMO (Contract Development & Manufacturing Organization) innovating manufacturing processes to improve quality, potency, safety and cost of gene therapy technologies, enabling wider patient access to these live-saving treatments. In addition to completing its $117.5M Series A from investors including Cathay Health, Abingworth, Petrichor, Monograph Capital, DCVCbio, 4BIO Capital, Deerfield Management, Digitalis Ventures and Ajinomoto Co., Inc., the company announced its official launch as a facilitator for gene therapy companies to help translate product ideas into viable clinical programs.


Ascend marks Cathay Health’s first investment in the UK and sixth investment globally since launch, following Tissium (France/US), Kojin Therapeutics (US), Initiate (US), Moon Surgical (France/US) and Ganymed Robotics (France). The new funding enabled the acquisition of chemical manufacturing and controls (CMC) capabilities and technologies from Freeline Therapeutics GmbH and provides operational runway to build the business. As part of the transaction, Cathay Health Partner Jia-Yi Har joins Ascend as a Board Observer.


Founded in 2021 by Monograph Capital with $15M seed funding, Ascend offers process development, clinical manufacturing, and analytical and regulatory support for biotech companies working in advanced modalities requiring flexible CMC services. Initially focused on high-quality Adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors, Ascend brings together a team of approximately 120 cross-functional experts who have already developed processes for a number of AAV products currently under clinical development.


Ascend has an established global footprint with operations headquartered in the UK with GMP production in Potters Bar, North London, platform technology research in the San Francisco Bay Area, USA, and a specialist process development and analytics team in Munich, Germany.


The company is led by an experienced leadership team, headed by former Chief Operating Officer at Cognate Bioservices (now part of Charles River Laboratories), Chief Executive Officer Mike Stella who brings 30 years of manufacturing expertise. Ascend’s team also includes Chief Financial Officer Wes McConnell who joined from Bavarian Nordic with 20 years in the life science and viral vector-based manufacturing field, Chief Scientific Officer Markus Hörer who began his career in AAV over 30 years ago and brings significant expertise in developing AAV products as well as other viral vector-based therapeutics, and Chief Operating Officer Arjan Roozen who has built and operated a number of ATMP facilities across multiple geographies.



Ascend is a service provider for biotechnology companies, created by bringing together expert teams with regulatory sophistication who have ‘been-there-done-that’ and who understand that the quality and potency of product is just as important as yield. We believe that creating a therapy that changes lives means improving on what’s come before. We are excited to bring a new approach to the space and thank all our investors for their support. We will continue to refine and flex our model, staying adaptable to meet the needs of the market.”

— Mike Stella, Chief Executive Officer at Ascend


AAV manufacturing is complex and needs teams that show real expertise and ownership. This led many advanced modality biotech developers to build their own internal CMC capabilities. However, these companies are now finding it difficult to sustain and fully utilise their facilities. Ascend is realigning this market by carving out CMC units from biotech product developers and offering their capabilities as a service to the originator alongside new clients. This is a more efficient structure that consolidates best-of-breed manufacturing methods and will support the next generation of companies who are looking for external CMC partners.

— Tim Funnell, Founding Investor at Monograph Capital


While the gene therapy market is growing rapidly, access to expertise and manufacturing capacity has not kept pace, leading to prohibitive costs and hampering clinical adoption. Ascend is purpose-built to address these challenges by offering end-to-end support for gene therapy developers from design to clinical and commercial stages. We’re excited to be part of this cross-border project and look forward to supporting the team, using our global network to find new biotech clients and strategic partners to fuel growth, with the end goal of making these therapies more universally accessible worldwide.

— Hongjie Hu, Co-founder & Managing Partner at Cathay Health



About Ascend

At Ascend we aim high. We support our partners to cure the previously incurable by creating the most effective, highest-quality AAV gene therapies possible. But to achieve that, we must be capable of constantly refining and flexing our approach. Operating an efficient, streamlined model, we provide more than just a service. We’re a team of highly skilled individuals who each share a hunger to use their knowledge and experience to help our clients succeed – whether that’s by innovating new techniques, solving unexpected problems, or offering some honest advice. The result? Consistently high quality and low risk for our clients.

Visit www.ascend-gctx.com to find out more.


About Cathay Health

Cathay Health, affiliated to Cathay Capital, is a global fund investing at the convergence of healthcare, life sciences and technology. As a multi-stage €500M fund, it backs venture and growth-stage companies across Europe, North America and Asia whose tech-enabled solutions catalyze groundbreaking advances in medicine. Its global platform brings together startups, established companies and large corporations to fuel cross-border, cross-industry collaboration and growth with direct access to new markets, partners and patients. From the world’s leading life sciences and technology hubs, including San Francisco, New York, London, Cambridge, Paris, Basel and Shanghai, Cathay Health partners with future leaders in the data-driven medicine era that will transform human health and care in all its dimensions.

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