By Erin Harris, editor-in-chief
Being a Greater Philadelphia Area resident affords me the opportunity to meet and collaborate with scientists, doctors, researchers, and other highly skilled professionals knee-deep in the cell and gene therapy sector. From the University of Pennsylvania to CHOP to Spark Therapeutics to Tmunity and many, many more, Philadelphia not only continues to shine as the geographical standout for innovation and continuous forward movement for cell and gene therapies but also as the smart economical choice for SMEs in the field.
In fact, just last month, I attended Life Sciences Pennsylvania’s Leadership Panel featuring Steven Kelly, President and CEO of Carisma Therapeutics, Dr. Mel Sorensen, president and CEO of Galera Therapeutics, and Dr. Evan Loh, president, COO, and CMO of Paratek Pharmaceuticals. When asked why they chose Philadelphia as the place to operate their businesses, all three went long on why Philadelphia is the region for education and talent given the city’s best-of-breed universities not to mention that Philly is economically superior to Boston and San Francisco. These are the reasons why Philadelphia-based cell and gene therapy firms, big and small, continue to shape the industry.
I caught up with two of the Greater Philadelphia Area’s most respected luminaries in their various fields, Bruce Levine, Barbara and Edward Netter Professor in Cancer Gene Therapy at University of Pennsylvania, and Chris Molineaux, President & CEO, Life Sciences Pennsylvania, to get their take on why Philadelphia is the leader in cell and gene therapy. Here’s what they had to say.
Levine: With more than 30 cell and gene therapy firms in the immediate Philadelphia area employing more than 3,000 people, Cellicon Valley is under the radar no more. In just the past year, University of Pennsylvania spinouts Tmunity, Carisma, and Cabaletta have collectively raised over $300 million in funding and are hiring in highly skilled positions to grow this new industry dedicated towards development of new therapies.
Molineaux: Philadelphia’s global leadership in cell and gene therapy began in the early 1990’s with the strategic vision of Penn Medicine’s Bill Kelley, and it continues today.
Scientific pioneers such as Jim Wilson, Carl June, Kathy High, Bruce Levine, and Jon Epstein were quickly joined by other leaders such as Kevin Mahoney, Dario Altieri, Jeff Marrazzo, and Oz Uzam who wanted to continue advancing the opportunity.
Philadelphia is now home to expertise at every step along the value chain – R&D, manufacturing, commercialization – including more than 60 labs engaged in cell and gene therapy work with approximately 13 researchers per lab.
75% of the known vectors used in cell and immune-therapy research around the world were identified at the University of Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia also is home to the first in-vivo gene therapy manufacturing. More than $550 million has already been invested here in advanced cell and gene therapy manufacturing.
Commercial organizations in cell, gene and immuno-therapies offer a promising future for the Philadelphia region’s continued leadership in this growing area of science. Companies like Absorption Systems, Adaptimmune, Carisma, Fibrocell, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen, Pfizer, Spark Therapeutics, Tmunity and WuXi Apptec, just to name a few.