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Aldevron Taps Legal Chief, Looks for Possible Covid Vaccine Role

Aug. 27, 2020, 3:53 PM

Aldevron LLC, a company angling for a role in the production of Covid-19 vaccines, hired Rachel Lei as its first general counsel and corporate secretary.

Lei became Aldevron’s first general counsel in June. She joins new chief executive officer Kevin Ballinger, hired the following month, among other recent additions to the North Dakota-based company’s leadership team.

“I want to try to maintain what has made Aldevron so successful, which is an incredibly service-based mentality,” she told Bloomberg Law. “We really exist in the service of the science community to advance treatments and cures for a lot of terrible diseases.”

Aldevron is the world’s largest producer of plasmids, or circular strands of DNA widely used in gene therapy and vaccine production. The company expects a spike in demand when a Covid-19 vaccine is eventually approved.

The move marks a shift in Lei’s career from compliance and Big Law to biotechnology. She said her new role doesn’t feel completely foreign.

“There’s a surprising amount of overlap between the topic areas I was very familiar with. I was used to risk spotting, I came from a litigation background, a lot of the things I worked with were contracted, it’s also very heavily regulated,” Lei said.

‘Tremendous Public Health Challenge’

Many of the Covid-19 vaccines currently under development are genetic vaccines. Unlike those that directly introduce a piece of the virus into the body to trigger an immune system response, genetic vaccines use genetic material called messenger RNA to instruct the body’s own tissue to make viral proteins that induce the immune response.

“The chances are good that one or more of these vaccines will use the type of material that Aldevron manufactures. We’re hopeful that we can be a part of the solution to this tremendous public health challenge,” said James Brown, the president of Aldevron’s plasmids business unit.

To keep up with rising demand due to both a potential vaccine and the growth of gene therapy, Aldevron is constructing an additional production facility to be completed early next year. Brown expects it to be finished in time to assist with Covid vaccine production.

“Our importance is more obvious than ever,” Lei said.

For Lei, joining Aldevron has been a goal since 2018, when she drove past the company in her hometown of Fargo while visiting her late father. At that time, she said he had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and given months to live. Thanks to genetic treatments such as the ones Aldevron helps produce, her father far outlived his prognosis.

“I discovered that this company I had seen was making products that were really foundational to the drugs that had kept my dad with me for almost five years past his prognosis,” Lei said. “I actually said to my sister, ‘Oh, I wish they were hiring a general counsel.’”

Lei was formerly the associate general counsel of investment management company GATX Corp., where she worked for over a decade. Prior to that, she was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis.

“Having her perspective and informed legal opinion as part of our senior leadership team ensures we remain committed to our values as a company, and to our clients,” Ballinger said in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ruiqi Chen in Washington, D.C. at rchen@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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