The greater Philadelphia region’s role as a global epicenter for the life sciences was showcased earlier this month when more than 17,000 life sciences professionals from 67 countries attended the 2019 BIO International Convention in Philadelphia, organized by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.
As a researcherand chair of the Genome Editing track, I was proud to hear the stories of our region’s milestones in the fields of cell and gene therapy, gene editing, and connected health technology.
With patients and their families at the forefront — combined with an extraordinary spirit of collaboration — leaders across northern Delaware, southern New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania are embarking on profound research and development in the biosciences. Our region is gaining a reputation among global biotech and pharma leaders as a new “Innovation Corridor,” home to promising start-ups that are creating new pathways for cures to diseases, and improving and saving lives.
In gene editing, my field of focus, the research and development of the next generation of gene-editing tools called CRISPRs are creating breakthrough treatments in personalized cancer care. Just last month, Christiana Care’s Gene Editing Institute in Delaware announced plans to develop a clinical trial for FDA approval that will use CRISPR gene-editing technology to help lung cancer patients by making their chemotherapy more effective.
Resolute efforts have also resulted in remarkable discoveries and regulatory approvals, including four U.S. Food and Drug Administration approvals, the first FDA-approved personalized cellular therapy for cancer, and the first FDA-approved gene therapy. In addition, Penn Medicine played a role in the science, research, and development that led to the FDA approval of a gene therapy for spinal muscle atrophy, a rare genetic disease.
The region that launched and nurtured gene therapy more than two decades ago, and pioneered CAR T-cell cancer treatment therapy, is now home to more than 30 cell and gene therapy development companies. Collectively, local start-ups have raised more than $1 billion in invested capital and created more than 3,000 jobs.
Among the new start-up companies launched from area research institutions and headquartered in Philadelphia is Spark Therapeutics, founded with technological advancements realized over two decades at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and two University of Pennsylvania spin-off companies, Passage Bio and Tmunity Therapeutics.
In addition, established companies such as Amicus Therapeutics and Verve Therapeutics are opening new research facilities in Greater Philadelphia to be closer to the center of this work and build research collaborations with local university-based experts.
Days before BIO 2019, California-based Iovance Biotherapeutics announced plans to build a 136,000-square-foot production facility at the Navy Yard. Combine this with the launch of the new Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing that opened May 31, and the scores of other incredible academic and research activities happening at Christiana Care, Coriell, Drexel, Rowan, Rutgers, Temple, University of Delaware, Wistar, and more, and greater Philadelphia is solidifying its leadership position in the life sciences.
Connected health technologies emerging from this region are educating patients and improving lives. Just look at Quil, a patient-centered platform created by Independence Blue Cross and Comcast that delivers personalized health guidance for patients and caregivers; the Perelman School of Medicine’s Center for Digital Health; Christiana Care’s unique data-powered care-coordination platform; and Jefferson Health’s JeffConnect® telemedicine program that provides patients and physicians with convenient access to each other through video visits.
While BIO 2019 is finished, the many area organizations that played a part will continue to share the messages of the region’s life sciences assets, including the high concentration and diversity of research institutions, ease of collaboration, access to capital, and proven success in attracting and retaining new talent — including students seeking to work with the region’s distinguished researchers.
Congratulations to PHLCVB, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Life Sciences Pennsylvania, BIONJ, Delaware Bio, the CEO Council for Growth and Select Greater Philadelphia (councils of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia), and the collaboration of academic institutions, businesses, and civic organizations that made this event a success.
Now that we’ve demonstrated to the global scientific community that our region is one of the best places in the nation for bioscience and biotechnology, we must maximize the momentum. We need to work together on shared storytelling that builds awareness of the region’s assets — research, results, talent, collaboration, capital, untapped resources — provide resources to start-up and scaling companies, understand the talent needs of the sectors, and support infrastructure for growth.
The story of greater Philadelphia’s role in cell and gene therapy, gene editing and connected health — anchored in a passion for improving health outcomes for people around the globe — is one we can all be proud of. Let’s build on it.
Eric Kmiec, Ph.D., is director of the Gene Editing Institute at Christiana Care Health System’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute and a faculty member at the University of Delaware and the Wistar Institute.