‘A lot is happening in the field of what we call the “-tides”: peptides and oligonucleotides’, says Dirkjan van Zoelen, manager of development and technical operations at Aspen in Oss.

Aspen, traditionally Organon’s manufacturing company, is now a standalone contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) for pharmaceutical companies. ‘Oligonucleotides are currently best known from orphan drug applications, i.e. medicines for rare diseases. But they are now increasingly finding their way into much broader therapeutic applications.’ 

As an example, Van Zoelen cites the approach to cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. ‘And importantly, don’t forget the mRNA vaccines’, he says. ‘The mRNA fragments that certain vaccine producers use in their corona vaccines are also oligonucleotides.’ We may expect to see such vaccines in the future for other infectious diseases, such as HIV and flu, and even for treating genetic disorders in which, for example, certain proteins are insufficiently produced. 

Traditionally, Aspen mainly produced various peptides, at a steadily increasing scale. It is due to this background, according to Van Zoelen, that the company now has the knowledge and expertise needed to take the step towards larger-scale production of oligonucleotides. ‘Our products are all synthetic’, he explains. ‘Larger organic molecules are generally best made through biotechnology, but these smaller elements can be chemically link together relatively easily. That’s an advantage, because this gives us more control over the processes during future, larger-scale production.