Four leaders working to advance the cell and gene therapy sector in Greater Philadelphia were featured speakers at a virtual program hosted by the Science Center on Venture Café and sponsored by the Philadelphia Metro chapter of Women In BIO (WIB), and Integrated Project Services (IPS). The presenters (in order of appearance) included Claire Greenwood, Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s regional CEO Council for Growth; Kate McNamara, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp.; Michele Washko, CEO Council’s Cell & Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative; and Janine Squire, IPS, who shared updates on the growth of the industry for the September 24 program, “Making History – Again: Philadelphia has Signed a New Declaration of Cell & Gene Therapy.” The audience for the online program, which is now archived on the Venture Café website, was welcomed by Renee Stewart, Women In BIO, and the discussion was moderated by Ana Maria Collins, head of global marketing for IPS.

The CEO Council’s Claire Greenwood set the stage for the talk, describing the emergence of cell and gene therapy in the region, including sharing the history of the research that was nurtured in Philadelphia more than 25 years ago, and the robust business formation that resulted in more than 30 cell and gene therapy companies calling the region home today. The JLL 2020 U.S. Life Sciences Outlook ranks the Philadelphia Metro area number six among top life sciences clusters in the country, up two spots from last year, she noted, and Startup Genome named Philadelphia number eight in the world on its 2020 list of emerging ecosystems. A strong talent pool; large number of colleges, universities, medical and pharmacy schools; and surging investor interest are all fueling the momentum. Life sciences and cell and gene therapy are a key focus of the just-launched Recharge and Recovery Initiative, with the 140-member task force reinforcing the tremendous potential of these sectors, she said.

As senior vice president of PIDC, Kate McNamara oversees development and operations at the Navy Yard’s 1,200-acre, mixed-use campus. Cell and gene therapy is a subsector of life sciences that has been growing exponentially, she said, and the Navy Yard is one of the hubs providing real estate growth. Prospecting inquires come from other states and countries, with companies interested in locating in the region to take advantage of the ecosystem here, she said.

Among the companies located at the Navy Yard that she spotlighted was WuXi AppTec, with nearly 400,000 square feet across four buildings, including one that opened this summer. WuXi AppTec’s 760 employees at the Navy Yard support early phase clinical manufacturing and testing, non-viral cell therapy manufacturing, and late phase/commercial viral manufacturing and testing.

Iovance Biotherapeutics chose the Navy Yard as the location for its $125 million manufacturing facility after a national search, she said, and will employ more than 200 employees when fully occupied. The 136,000-square-foot facility supports clinical and commercial production of autologous TIP (tumor infiltrating lymphocytes) products. The selection of the Navy Yard by Iovance drew a lot of attention to Philadelphia from other companies in the sector, she said. “It sends a really strong message to the market that we can deliver this.”

To meet demand, PIDC identified 109 acres for new development, and in June, selected Ensemble Development & Mosaic Development Partners as developer. A master development plan over the next 10+ years is focused on providing spaces for life sciences and other commercial projects. Among the most common things PIDC hears from prospects is, “talent, talent, talent,” which is critical for attracting and keeping companies, she said. Prospects are also seeking residential space, and that development is part of the master plan.

The talent topic was a natural transition to Michele Washko, program director for the CEO Council’s Cell & Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative, who listed a talent and inclusion strategy as one of four key pillars of the Initiative. She briefed participants on the results of a workforce talent study commissioned by the CEO Council, Science Center, and University City District’s West Philadelphia Initiative that predicts significant growth in the sector over the next 10 years. Other pillars of the Initiative include shared storytelling, and providing services to emerging and scaling companies. Washko described the region as an R&D powerhouse and center for a robust number of emerging companies, and talked about efforts to advance the region’s manufacturing sector, outlining two studies the CEO Council collaborated on last year. The “Cell and Gene Therapy – Greater Philadelphia Critical Infrastructure Needs Assessment” conducted with Ninigret Partners and “Market Assessment of Life Sciences Laboratory Space in Philadelphia” with PIDC recommended strategic investments to create new lab, process development, and production spaces. The reports formed the foundation for the work that is happening now, she said, in cooperation with IPS and PIDC, and is addressing the fourth pillar of the initiative – critical infrastructure. The Initiative, which launched in January 2019, is supported by 11 investors, not all of which are life sciences companies. Partners such as Aramark and Comcast, she said, recognize that when the life sciences and health care sectors do well, we as a region do well.

Janine Squire, commissioning/validation project manager for IPS, helped define cell therapy and gene therapy for the audience, and outlined considerations for facility design and implementation, with a focus on containment and cleaning as well as the flexibility of the space as process requirements and technology are ever-changing. She mentioned the overall process for cell & gene therapy, from the sample reception (apheresis) from the patient or donor to the isolation and activation of cells, gene transfer, expansion & harvesting, formulation, and cryopreservation to protect the product.