Last week was HUBweek in Boston, a week of activities that feature innovation in art, science and technology. Over the course of the week, participants visited a variety of venues around the cities of Boston and Cambridge, including pop-up domes on Boston’s City Hall Plaza. Boston has long been recognized as a leader in innovation and creativity, and HUBweek, in its third year, highlights the universities and companies in the area driving this growth. One highlight of the event was a panel discussion on the future of cancer therapeutics and cell therapy.
The session, The Personalized Cell Therapy Challenge: A Race Against Time, was part of the Future Forum track of the event. A panel moderated by Udit Batra, CEO of MilliporeSigma, included leaders in the industry from Massachusetts General Hospital, Dana Farber/Boston Children’s Hospital, Unum Therapeutics, Northeastern University and the University of Pennsylvania.
The session focused on CAR-T therapies, autologous therapies where a patient’s own immune cells are collected and targeted toward their specific cancer. When the cells are reinjected back into the patient, in theory they track down and destroy the cancer cells. Although very promising, the therapy requires 4-6 weeks of processing time, is very logistically and resource challenging, and extremely costly. The panel discussed the importance of universities, hospitals and companies working together to bring these therapies to the mainstream for the treatment of patients.
One of the issues facing CAR-T therapy production is that cells from every patient are different and thus the process of developing the treatment is unique to each preparation of cells. Thus, obtaining a consistent product can be challenging. Furthermore, the cost of goods is incredibly high; the panelists are looking to engineers for more tools to streamline the manufacturing process. To date, the most success with CAR-T treatment has been in children with leukemia. The first CAR-T treatment, from Novartis, was recently approved by the FDA.
The panelists felt that the field will see a series of small changes and improvements over time as occurred in antibody treatment manufacture. Antibody treatments matured after the first approval of an antibody therapy – but this took a lot of time and step-by-step improvements. Innovations to process manufacturing greatly drove the increase in productivity and yield of antibody therapeutics. Other time-consuming steps in the manufacturing process for cell therapies include the processes for regulatory, quality assurance and other testing. These areas present other opportunities for improvement and decreasing the manufacturing time.
Collaboration is Key
Boston, being a hub of science, engineering, medicine and innovation, is the perfect cauldron for advancements in personalized cell therapies. Collaboration was stressed by the panelists – between clinicians, engineers, academics and for-profit companies. Great minds and creative thinking are required to enable the innovations necessary to bring this biological process to a full-scale manufacturing process.
Located in the Seaport innovation area of Boston, Kerafast is right in the middle of so many thought leaders in science. Our neighbors include Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Ginkgo Bioworks and Emulate. The rich intellectual resources that surround us motivate us every day to provide reagents that are unique and needed to progress science and the treatment of disease. Are you looking for something unique? Check out Kerafast.com or contact us to discuss your needs.