How Cell Therapy Is Impacting Personalized Medicine in Toronto
Emily Whitehead has become a nationally recognized champion for a form of personalized medicine known as cellular immunotherapy. After being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at five years old and relapsing twice, despite multiple rounds of chemotherapy, Emily’s parents made the difficult decision to enroll her in an experimental trial at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in 2012.

According to GE Reports, cellular immunotherapy is “a type of regenerative medicine that seeks to fix faulty cells and tissues by reengineering their DNA and restoring their normal function.” In Emily’s case, doctors began by collecting T lymphocytes from her blood. These T lymphocytes are white blood cells that play a large role in the body’s ability to fight off disease.

Doctors then altered the DNA of these white blood cells and essentially “reprogrammed” them to identify and attack Emily’s cancer. Once they were injected back into Emily’s bloodstream, these cells multiplied rapidly and wiped out her leukemia for good.

The Personalized Medicine Revolution

Phil Vanek, general manager for cell therapy technologies at GE Healthcare, explains the importance of cell therapy well: “We are on the cusp of a revolution in medicine,” say Vanek. “These are living drugs. The reprogrammed cell itself becomes the treatment that gets reintroduced to the patient. Ordinary drugs wear off after we take them, but regenerative medicine can have a durable effect. It can restore function that was lost or, someday, give our cells one they never had.”

While GE played a major role in the development of the bioreactor that doctors used to cultivate Emily’s cancer-trained T cells and continues to offer a variety of products and services dedicated to cell therapy manufacturing, the next step is to foster increased collaboration amongst major players in the healthcare industry.

One of the most concrete steps in this effort is the commitment by GE and Canadian government to construct a new cell therapy research and process development hub in Toronto. Each entity will invest CA$20 million towards the project, which will be led by Canada’s Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM).

CCRM, which has been operating since 2011, is a non-profit organization that has collectively organized more than 50 partners, including academic teams, pharmaceutical and tech companies, investors, and regulators. The new research and development center will share space with Facebook, Johnson & Johnson’s, JLabs, Autodesk, and several venture investors. The center will also be in close proximity to the University of Toronto’s main campus, a cluster of innovative regional hospitals, and the Ontario Legislative Assembly.

Why Toronto?

Back in 1961, James Till and Ernest McCulloch discovered stem cells while working at the Ontario Cancer Institute and the University of Toronto. Stem cells will be the major key in personalized regenerative medicine. The city now offers an incredibly rich and diverse research and bioengineering ecosystem.

The collaborative research and development centre will serve to connect researchers, universities, drug manufacturers, and technology companies. The goal is to facilitate rapid development and production of regenerative cell therapies so they will be available to patients sooner.

According to Vanek, “Cell therapy has the potential to cure everything from cancer to diabetes. But we need to make it affordable and scalable. In this era of increasing scrutiny of medical costs and reimbursement, we have to help our customers achieve a reasonable cost of goods.”

The new research and development center will share space with Facebook, Johnson & Johnson’s, JLabs, Autodesk, and several venture investors. The center will also be in close proximity to the University of Toronto’s main campus, a cluster of innovative regional hospitals, and the Ontario Legislative Assembly.

According to CCRM President and CEO Michael May, “We need to integrate existing technology to break through manufacturing bottlenecks and make cell therapy affordable and available. This rich environment will help us validate new clinical technologies and turn them into lucrative products.”

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Posted by: DSR
Monday, February 1, 2016
Tag: Healthcare
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