Lex Rovner Wants to Transform AAV Manufacturing

Nachi Pendse, PhD - June 02, 2022

Dr. Pendse talks to Lex Rovner, PhD, about her start in science and how she became co-founder and CEO of 64x Bio.

I recently had a great opportunity to chat with my former colleague, brilliant scientist Alexis (Lex) Rovner, PhD, who is a co-founder and CEO of 64x Bio. 64x Bio is a synthetic biology company that combines novel genome engineering approaches with high throughput screening technologies. Securing $55 million Series A funding, 64x Bio is revolutionizing cell and gene therapy manufacturing capabilities via their VectorSelect™ platform. This platform utilizes proprietary genetic barcoding technology that enables high throughput genetic screens of millions of candidate production cell lines.

Rovner holds a PhD in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology from Yale University. After graduating, Lex started her post-doctoral work in George Church’s Lab at Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. During her time in Church’s lab, she co-developed 64x Bio’s propriety novel technology along with Jeff Way, PhD, David Thompson, PhD, Pam Silver, PhD, and George Church PhD.

NP: How did you get into science and who are the people that most influenced you on this path?

LR: In college, my first exposure to synthetic biology was while reading Jay Keasling's work on artemisinin production in heterologous organisms. I called Jay to figure out the best way to get into the field and he told me I should apply to synthetic biology PhD labs, of which there were only a handful at the time. I applied to all of them and joined Farren Isaacs' lab at Yale. I met George in 2011 through a multi-institutional collaboration between Yale, Harvard, and MIT to recode the genome of E. coli. Towards the end of my PhD, I knew I wanted to start a company, which George had done a few times. After getting my PhD, I wanted to learn more from George and ended up joining his lab at Harvard & the Wyss Institute as a postdoctoral fellow in early 2015. George regularly encourages his graduate students and postdocs to pursue their passion. 64x was something I was very passionate about and he gave me the confidence I needed to spin the company out of the lab on my own.

NP: Tell us about your journey towards 64x Bio. How did a bench top idea translate into an emerging biotech company?

LR: Between 2017 and 2018, I had numerous conversations with industry experts to understand the potential impact of work I was pursuing in the Church lab at the time. Through these conversations, I became aware of massive biologics manufacturing bottlenecks that were impacting the biotech industry. I realized that what we were building in the Church lab had a great chance at solving this problem. George Church, Pam Silver, Jeff Way and I decided to spin out a company based on this vision and applied to Y Combinator. I had upwards of 800 additional touch points with industry experts and potential biotech partners to learn that viral vector manufacturing was one of the biggest problems in the biologics space. This is a problem we've been working to solve since 2018. 

George Church is a world renowned Harvard professor and a founding member of the Wyss Institute. His work has contributed to the development of next generation sequencing and genome engineering technologies. George has been a very important mentor in my life. He's very good at empowering his students and incredible work has emerged from his lab as a result of that. I hope to empower our team at 64x in the same way.

Dr. Church discusses synthetic viruses and tissue interactions during ASGCT's 22nd Annual Meeting in 2019.

NP: What is your current role at 64x Bio and what technologies does the company focus on?

LR: I'm the CEO and co-founder of 64x. 64x is innovating in the cell and gene therapy space. We're focusing on building technologies that enable biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to bring more cell and gene therapies to market. Currently, we're focused on engineering more efficient cell lines for AAV gene therapy production. At 64x, our vision is to become the leading developer of vector manufacturing cell lines and other technologies that improve the reach of cell and gene therapies to patients that need them. 

NP: Do you have any advice for professionals in the field who might be interested in starting a spinoff company?

LR: If you are interested in starting a company, surround yourself with advisors that are experts in company building in your industry. Listen to the market and your potential customers. It can be tempting to focus on technologies that are scientifically fancy but have no industry impact. The best companies are often built from simple solutions to complex problems.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Novartis or any of its officers.

Dr. Pendse is senior project lead scientist at Novartis and a member of ASGCT's Communications Committee.