Partnership aims to accelerate cell and gene therapy – Harvard Gazette

Posted: November 28, 2019 at 9:44 pm

MIT Provost Martin A. Schmidt said sharing the risk among several institutions will not only make possible work that would be difficult for a single institution to tackle, it will also encourage collaboration that accelerates the process of moving discoveries from lab to patient.

MIT researchers are developing innovative approaches to cell and gene therapy, designing new concepts for such biopharmaceutical medicines as well as new processes to manufacture these products and qualify them for clinical use, Schmidt said. A shared facility to de-risk this innovation, including production, will facilitate even stronger collaborations among local universities, hospitals, and companies and ultimately, such a facility can help speed impact and access for patients. MIT appreciates Harvards lead in convening exploration of this opportunity for the Commonwealth.

Richard McCullough, Harvards vice provost for research and professor of materials science and engineering, who also helped lead the project, said although the centers activity will revolve around science and manufacturing, its true focus will be on patients.

The centers overarching goal will be improving patient care, McCullough said. This would occur both by speeding access to the essential, modified cells that patients in clinical trials await, and by fostering discoveries through collaborations within the centers innovation space. The aim is that discoveries result in whole new treatments or improved application of existing treatments to provide relief to a wider universe of patients.

Organized as a private nonprofit, the center will be supported by more than $50 million pledged by its partners. It will be staffed by a team of at least 40, experienced in the latest cell-manufacturing techniques and trained in the use of the latest equipment. Among its goals is disseminating badly needed skills into the Boston life-sciences workforce.

We have to be sure that we are constantly feeding the industry with talented people who know the right things, so personally, I am very excited about education programs, Ligner said. Initiatives like [this center] are essential to advancing the industry because they help organizations build on one anothers advances. For example, the full potential of cell and gene therapies will only be realized if we collaborate to address challenges, such as manufacturing, improving access, accelerating innovation, tackling cost issues, and then sharing our learnings.

The new center emerged from conversations with state officials, including Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey, and industry sector leaders about ways to bolster Massachusetts preeminence in life science research and medical innovation. Those conversations sparked a two-year consultation process at the invitation of Garber and Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Bill Lee, that was coordinated with state officials and included representatives from industry, academia, venture capital, area hospitals, and government.

Cell and gene therapies have the potential to revolutionize the global health system. Recently, in Sweden, the first patient received cell therapy outside of a clinical trial. Its the start of an incredible time in the industry and in human health.

Emmanuel Ligner, president and chief executive of GE Healthcare Life Sciences

Called the Massachusetts Life Sciences Strategies Group, members reached out to regional experts beginning in 2017to discover what fields they considered most important and how best to support them. Cell and gene therapy rose to the top because of the considerable excitement generated by activity already going on, its potential to help patients, and its high potential for future growth and innovation. Also important were the opportunities to spread the high cost of these technologies across multiple institutions and, while so doing, capture the collaborative power of housing each player in the development chain within a single facility.

The centers board of directors will be comprised of Harvard, MIT, and industry partners Fujifilm, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, and GE Healthcare Life Sciences. Other members will include Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Womens Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Childrens Hospital, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; as well as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and life-sciences company MilliporeSigma.

When you look at the constellation of players coming together, you really have the best universities and the best teaching hospitals and the best corporate players all supporting it, McGuire said, which I think is a great opportunity.

The facility intends to provide researchers and emerging companies outside the consortium with access to excess material, though organizers said they expect it to be in high demand by center partners.

The centers boost to the areas cell and gene therapy endeavors comes early enough that it should help maintain leadership over places like California and China, which have made clear their interest in life-science research, McGuire said.

I think getting this early mover advantage is going to be huge [in] developing the technology and the know-how and, ultimately, the intellectual property around it, McGuire said.

For Sharpe, the ultimate payoff will come from using cancer immunotherapys checkpoint blockade and other cell and gene therapies to save and improve lives.

We are seeing long-term benefits in some patients whove received checkpoint blockade, Sharpe said. There are patients who are more than a decade out and are melanoma-free. I think that it really has transformed patient care, quality of life, and longevity. So Im optimistic that the more we learn, the more were going to be able to do to help patients.

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Partnership aims to accelerate cell and gene therapy - Harvard Gazette

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