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April 28, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Fairly new resident of Maryville wants to help make Tennessee a bio hub

Alex Aust has a special interest in the rare disease space and orphan drugs after the granddaughter of one of his former colleagues was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.

Alex Aust asks a simple question: Why can’t Tennessee become a bio hub that might one day rival San Francisco and Boston? If the native of Indianapolis and now a resident of Maryville, TN, has his way, the Volunteer State will achieve that vision or at least come close.

Aust relocated to the region three years ago where he says his “passion is in the orphan rare disease space.” His company – Aust Business Solutions – provides a variety of services with a particular specialization in the biopharmaceutical and medical device sectors, working closely with CDMOs (contract development and manufacturing organizations) and therapeutic manufacturing sites to help them scale and grow.

His interest in the rare disease space and orphan drugs intensified after the granddaughter of one of his colleagues was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. At the time, Aust was working at Sigma-Tau Pharmaceuticals Inc., and the drug that was used to treat her was one of four drugs the company made.

Alex Aust

“She was the first patient I had ever met,” Aust said, but the experience made a lasting impression on the young man. “I decided I liked that (orphan drugs for rare diseases) a lot.”

After the family sold its interest in the company in 2017 and Sigma-Tau was rebranded as Leadiant Biosciences on Rare Disease Day 2017, he moved to Exelead for a little more than three years. That company was acquired by Merck in early January 2022, but Aust had founded his consulting company by then.

For more than two years at Exelead, he headed business development, noting that the biz dev team numbered one person – Aust.

“People came to us because of the complex formulations they needed,” he explained, adding that Exelead sold all of its capacity for manufacturing drugs to a single CDMO before he left in February 2020. “We made personalized cancer drugs including one for a single patient.”

Today, Aust Business Solutions has clients around the globe with a focus on three types:

  • Biopharma companies;
  • CDMOs where the services involve teaching the clients how to manufacture drugs like mRNAs (messenger ribonucleic acid) and LNPs (lipid nano particles) but on the rare and orphan side; and
  • Investors who need an assessment of the company’s capabilities before investing or an evaluation of its formulation capabilities.

“It’s a big jump between a research organization and becoming a CDMO,” Aust says, adding, “I’ve seen gene therapy and cell therapy grow for more than a decade.”

Since arriving in the region, Aust has become active with the Heath Integrated Business and Engineering Program jointly operated by the Haslam College of Business and the Tickle College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Aust earned three degrees – a B.S. in biology from the University of Southern Indiana, an M.S. in molecular biology from Purdue University, and an MBA from Ball State University.

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