Supporting the gene therapy community

Date: January 2024

This profile is part of a series called In it Together, which shines a light on members of the PROGEN team and their contribution to the gene therapy community. The PROGEN team consists of life science and adeno-associated virus (AAV) experts who deliver high quality antibody and exclusive AAV products in order to solve research challenges within academia, biotech, and pharma.

In late 2017, Katja Betts saw a video that changed her life.

She was attending a talk at the European Society of Gene and Cell Therapy’s annual conference when she saw footage of a four-year old Japanese girl hugging her mother. The video was taken just months after the girl had been treated with an adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapy for a rare genetic disease known as aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase deficiency. Katja was floored by the progress that girl – and the other children with the same disease in the study – had made thanks to the therapy, given that the disease had rendered the girl unable to move for the first three years of her life.

“After the patients received treatment from AAV gene therapy, first you could see that they were able to turn over. Then you could see them hugging their mums. Being a new mum at that point, I basically welled up,” said Katja.

“At that point, producing products used in AAV gene therapy analytics was just one of the things we did at PROGEN. We were thinking of going in various different directions. But that study made it clear to me just how amazing this type of therapy is. It probably had an effect on how much we ended up pursuing things in the AAV field.”

Now, as co-CEO of PROGEN, along with Maik Lander, Katja is committed to supporting the AAV community by helping to progress new gene therapies safely, quickly, and affordably. This entails communicating with players throughout the field – in biotech startups, contract development manufacturing organizations, contract research organizations, as well as in large pharmaceutical companies – to find out their needs and then offering new products to meet them.

When Katja first started at PROGEN in 2016, there was one product – a control that can be used to determine the quantity of empty AAV capsids in a sample – that was sold only as part of a kit.

“We started to get requests from people who wanted to buy that product separately so that they could use it in orthogonal methods – that is, as a control for tests other than the ones we provide – but the market was asking for it, so we decided to offer that product,” she said.

“And as people started ordering it quickly and in significant quantities, we knew we had made the right decision and that there was a real need for it.

” Understanding the needs and challenges of the gene therapy community and the willingness to solve problems is crucial for us as a company in our mission to support the AAV community.

“That is the reason we ask ourselves, ‘What are the requirements from the market and who else do we need to work with to provide that product?’ We are very well aware that although we have certain strengths, there are other players in the field with complementary strengths. And we know that producing an optimal product involves working with the best partners,” she said.

“These collaborations, along with our careful evolution, have worked very well in enabling us provide our customers with the products they need. These incremental changes won’t make us the next Steve Jobs. But we’ve found that doing the thing we’re good at and evolving from there has made it possible for us to best support the AAV community, which is what we care about most.”


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