Partners in Greater Philadelphia’s Cell & Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative continue to make significant contributions to the response to SARS-CoV-2, impacting human health not just regionally, but globally as well.  The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s regional CEO Council for Growth has compiled a list of just some of the recent research and development contributions made by its partners in the Initiative. The round-up includes research updates from Penn Medicine on vaccine development; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on COVID-19 tracking; ChristianaCare on gene editing; and Aramark on the creation of a workplace safety digital product.

Penn Medicine

Penn Medicine scientists are investigating a variety of vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Pioneering technologies developed by Penn researchers are being used to develop mRNA, adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors, and DNA vaccines for the novel coronavirus. Two major leaders in COVID-19 vaccine development — Moderna and BioNTech — are basing their vaccines, in part, on technology created at Penn by Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases. Dr. Weissman is currently collaborating with Chulalongkorn University in Thailand to develop a modified mRNA vaccine for potential distribution within that country and as a potential model for how to distribute advanced vaccine technology to countries that may not initially have access to a COVID-19 vaccine.

James Wilson, MD, PhD, a professor of Medicine and director of the Gene Therapy Program and the Orphan Disease Center, is collaborating with several institutions on a COVID-19 vaccine using AAV technology invented at Penn and exclusively licensed (see Gene Therapy Program at Penn Medicine Joins AAVCOVID Vaccine Project).

Penn emeritus professor David Weiner, PhD, a former professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, now the Executive Vice President and Director of the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center at The Wistar Institute, who developed a synthetic DNA vaccine against MERS while at Penn, is using that technology to work on a COVID-19 DNA vaccine with Inovio.

Pablo Tebas, MD, a professor of Infectious Diseases, led a Phase I clinical trial for that vaccine. In addition to utilizing the groundbreaking technology invented at Penn, the institution is participating in a public-private partnership program launched by the NIH called ACTIV (Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines). Penn is also a clinical trial site for vaccine candidates with Inovio, Janssen, Moderna, and Sanofi.

Below are links to other recent announcements:

Bridging Medical Impact and Scientific Discovery to Treat COVID-19

$2.5 Million Grant Supports Penn Medicine Study of COVID Watch’s Impact on Health Disparities

Text-Based Platform Helps Penn Medicine Watch Over COVID-19 Patients Safe at Home

Answering the Call: How the COVID Hotline Became Penn Medicines Front Line Against the Outbreak

Contact:  Abbey Hunton, News Director, Penn Medicine, 215-796-4829, [email protected]

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Researchers at PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania have developed a model, known as “COVID-Lab: Mapping COVID-19 in Your Community,” which tracks COVID-19 transmission and tests positivity rates across all U.S. counties, and projects case counts for more than 800 counties with active outbreaks, representing 82% of the U.S. population and 87% of all identified coronavirus cases. The researchers built their model to observe how social distancing, population density, daily temperatures, and humidity affect the number and spread of COVID-19 infections over time across a county, accounting for test positivity rates and population characteristics such as age, insurance status, crowding within homes and diabetes prevalence. COVID-Lab’s projections forecast the number of coronavirus cases communities could experience over the next four weeks based on a three-day average of their current social distancing practices, defined by the change in travel to non-essential businesses as compared to pre-epidemic. This is just one tool in a toolbox of resources policymakers and decision-makers can use as they manage their COVID-19 response efforts.

The application of this model, which focuses on time-varying transmission rates during the early months of the pandemic in the U.S., was released on July 23, following peer review, in JAMA Network Open. You can read more about how the team validates their models for accuracy in this blog post. The data are publicly available in the form of interactive maps and graphs.

PolicyLab is a Center of Emphasis within the CHOP Research Institute, one of the largest pediatric research institutes in the country, with more than 30 highly regarded faculty and 60 staff focused on improving public systems, health care delivery and child health outcomes.

In “Where We Are Now,” a five-episode special series on CHOP CEO Madeline Bell’s podcast, five CHOP researchers talked about the COVID-19-related work they are leading – and about what gives them hope during this challenging time. Topics included the COVID-Lab modeling tool, a unique COVID-19 test developed in the CHOP labs, and a timeline review from the beginning of the pandemic to where we are now. The series aired in August and is available at

Contact:  Ashley Moore, Public Relations Manager, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 267-426-6071, [email protected]


The Gene Editing Institute at ChristianaCare continues its CRISPR/Cas research related to infectious disease, including COVID-19. The Gene Editing Institute will use its proprietary Gene Editing on a Chip system to identify the products of viral breakdown after therapeutic treatment. The novel system developed at the Gene Editing Institute enables the visualization of the broad range of breakdown products in cells after treatment with CRISPR. The system will be helpful in determining the most effective CRISPR molecule to completely destroy and inactivate viral products. This research will be led by gene editing pioneer Eric Kmiec, Ph.D., director of the Gene Editing Institute, and Brett Sansbury, Ph.D., who designed the innovative Gene Editing on a Chip system.

The Gene Editing Institute also recently announced a collaboration among scientists, educators and a life-science company to train the next generation of genetic scientists and technicians in the revolutionary CRISPR gene-editing technology. Through a partnership between ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute, Delaware Technical Community College and Rockland Immunochemicals, Inc, and funding from the National Science Foundation, ChristianaCare’s successful educational tool, CRISPR in a Box™, will be marketed globally. The gene editing tools in CRISPR in a Box are designed based on the pioneering discoveries of the Gene Editing Institute that are currently being used to explore next-generation medical therapies and diagnostics for diseases including cancer, sickle-cell anemia and COVID-19. These tools include the CRISPR/Cas complex, a target DNA molecule, mammalian cell free extract and a synthetic DNA molecule. The kit is designed for use in educational sessions in high schools, community colleges, universities, life sciences companies, and for remote learning.

Contact: Bill Schmitt, Senior Communications Manager, ChristianaCare, 302-327-3318, [email protected]


Aramark and Jefferson Health partnered on the launch of EverSafe™OS, a workplace safety digital product that offers tools and resources to a variety of businesses, including restaurants and retailers, guiding them with data and recommendations on reopening and sustaining operations in today’s environment. The proprietary web-based service and mobile app packages Aramark’s safety standards and operational excellence best practices with Jefferson Health’s expertise in infection prevention and improving health, assisting businesses and organizations with trusted information from industry leaders to develop a plan, assess and mitigate risk, make sound decisions, and sustain change.

Aramark also published a case study on “Embracing Telehealth for Nutritional Service During COVID-19,” which documents research Aramark conducted with Registered Dietitians on their use of telehealth prior to and during the pandemic.  

Contact: Erin Noss, Director, Media Relations, Aramark, 215-409-7403, [email protected]

About Greater Philadelphia’s Cell and Gene Therapy, Gene Editing, and Connected Health Initiative:

The Chamber, through its CEO Council for Growth, along with collaborating institutions, organizations and companies, has launched a multi-year initiative to leverage and promote Greater Philadelphia’s cell and gene therapy, gene editing, and connected health sectors. The objective of the initiative is to strengthen the region’s innovation economy through efforts including shared storytelling that builds awareness of the region’s assets, providing resources to start-up and scaling companies, assessing the talent needs of the sectors, and supporting the development of critical infrastructure for the sectors’ growth. The initiative is supported by 11 partner companies, institutions and universities in the Greater Philadelphia region. Partner companies include: AmerisourceBergen, Aramark, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, ChristianaCare, Comcast, Drexel University, Independence Blue Cross, Jefferson Health, Macquarie Group, Penn Medicine, and University of Pennsylvania.