PHILADELPHIA (December 17, 2020) – The Greater Philadelphia region’s reputation as a center for the cell and gene therapy and connected health industries grew in 2020, driven by breakthrough research from industry pioneers, strong capital investment, and real estate projects meeting specialized land, building, and lab development needs for start-up, scaling and relocating companies. Further evidence of the momentum comes from a workforce talent study announced this year that predicts strong growth over the coming decade for the sectors.
According to research from biopharma database company DealForma (as of December 9, 2020), the Greater Philadelphia region saw 49 life sciences investment deals in 2020, valued at more than $12 billion, including six in the cell and gene therapy space totaling $4.5 billion. The growth is driving real estate development, including new projects announced for University City, the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and King of Prussia, Pa. The region is now home to 36 cell and gene therapy research and development companies. The workforce for cell and gene therapy and connected health is projected to grow between 35 percent and 94 percent in the next 10 years, using mid-range growth estimates. The region’s world-renowned research institutions continue to contribute to breakthroughs in research that are improving and saving lives.
The momentum is catching the attention of third-party validators, according to the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s regional CEO Council for Growth, which is leading the region’s multi-year Cell & Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative to build awareness for the region’s assets in life sciences. Hickey and Associates includes Philadelphia on its list of 2020 Top 25 Global Innovation Hubs, reflecting the city’s innovative activity across biotech, medical science and pharma sectors. Philadelphia advanced to #6 in the 2020 JLL Life Sciences Real Estate Outlook, up from #8 in the 2019 report, with JLL noting both venture capital investment and Philadelphia’s extensive pipeline of talent as two key factors distinguishing the region. Data from the November 2020 Life Science Market Report by Colliers International, “Converging for Cures,” pointed to continued discovery, significant venture and private equity investment, and M&A announcements as drivers of the region’s growth.
“Greater Philadelphia’s assets in talent, research, and commercialization have positioned our region as a global epicenter for cell and gene therapy, where breakthroughs, innovations and technology are creating new pathways for treating and curing diseases, and improving and saving lives,” said Claire Greenwood, executive director, Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s regional CEO Council for Growth. “The mission of the Greater Philadelphia region’s Cell & Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative, launched in 2019 with 11 partner organizations, is now more important than ever as we work to rebound from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The current success and future potential of the cell and gene therapy industry in the Greater Philadelphia region will be a main focus of the Chamber’s Recharge and Recovery Initiative,” she said.
More details on 2020 accomplishments in research, investment, and real estate development, as well as information on the projected job growth in the cell and gene therapy and connected health sectors, follows.
“Greater Philadelphia is known for discovery, from the birth of cell and gene therapy in the region more than two decades ago, to the first FDA-approved cell therapy and the first FDA-approved gene therapy here in 2017,” said Greenwood. “In 2020, our research pioneers and world-renowned research institutions have continued to make significant contributions globally, with their response to SARS-CoV-2, including in the areas of vaccine development, innovations in telemedicine, and contributions to workplace safety.”
Among the region’s research accomplishments this year are contributions to COVID-19 research and response.
- Penn Medicine scientists have been investigating a variety of vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Through research conducted in Penn laboratories beginning decades ago, Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and Katalin Kariko, PhD, an adjunct associate professor at Penn and a senior vice president at BioNTech, discovered in the early 2000s that introducing certain chemical modifications into messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) molecules can greatly increase its therapeutic potential—a discovery that plays a critical role in two of the leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates, which rely on the use of modified mRNA being separately developed by Moderna and Pfizer / BioNTech.
- 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 test positivity rates across all U.S. counties. It 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 levels. 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 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.
- Doctors at Jefferson Health and Penn Medicine have used telehealth to improve the quality and accessibility of patient care during the coronavirus pandemic. They recently briefed media on efforts to train doctors and patients in the use of telemedicine tools; discussed how they are remotely monitoring and managing chronic diseases and COVID-19-related symptoms; and shared how telemedicine is being used to benefit underserved communities. (NOTE: Recordings of the two media briefings are available. Use the contact information above to request the recordings.)
Of the 49 life sciences investment deals the region saw in 2020, the six in cell and gene therapy totaled $4.5 billion. The types of deals ranged from loans, to convertible debt, to stock offerings and an IPO. Among the cell and gene therapy investment deals are Passage Bio’s $216 million IPO, announced February 27; Imvax’s $112 million Series C financing, announced July 16; Amicus Therapeutics’ $400 million loan, announced July 17; and the $1.8 billion in common stock and convertible notes issued by Radnor-based Avantor, Inc. The investment growth in cell and gene therapy in the Greater Philadelphia region is reflective of the sectors’ growth globally. A report from the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM), titled “Innovation in the Time of COVID-19: ARM Global Regenerative Medicine & Advanced Therapy Sector Report” stated, “Despite the immense economic challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, investors remain bullish on the potential of cell and gene therapies – and the sector as a whole is on track for a record-breaking year.”
Real Estate Development
Both JLL and Colliers noted significant real estate development in their reports, recording projects in geographic clusters including University City, the Navy Yard, and Suburban Philadelphia.
In its Outlook, JLL noted the following developments in University City:
- One uCity Square – In Q4 2019, Ventas and Wexford Science & Technology broke ground on a 390,000-square-foot lab and office development. Cambridge Innovation Center, Integral Molecular, and Century Therapeutics signed long-term leases.
- 3535 Market Street – Limelight Bio moved into 25,000 square feet.
- One Commerce Square – Passage Bio increased its footprint by 29,000 square feet.
At the Navy Yard, JLL reported:
- 300 Rouse Boulevard – Iovance’s East Coast headquarters, 136,000 square feet
- 400 Rouse Boulevard – A 95,000-square-foot building for WuXi AppTec, its fourth building at the Navy Yard
- 2500 League Island Boulevard – a proposed 110,000-square-foot life sciences building proposed by Gattuso Development Partners
The Navy Yard announced the identification of 109 acres for new development, and the selection in June of Ensemble Development & Mosaic Development Partners as developer. A master development plan over the next 10+ years focused on providing spaces for life sciences and other commercial projects
In January, The Discovery Labs and Deerfield Management Company formed The Center for Breakthrough Medicines, a Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization which will occupy 680,000 square feet of The Discovery Labs biotech, healthcare and life sciences campus in King of Prussia, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia.
In October, WuXi Biologics announced the opening of a process development and testing lab in King of Prussia, partnering with The Discovery Labs and Integrated Project Services to lease and renovate the 33,000-square-foot facility.
Results announced this year from an independent study to analyze the current workforce landscape and assess the future talent needs of the Greater Philadelphia region’s cell and gene therapy and connected health sectors found that this workforce is expected to grow between 35 percent and 94 percent in the next 10 years, using mid-range growth estimates. The growth could be as much as 54 percent to 136 percent using high-range growth estimates.
According to the study, commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s regional CEO Council for Growth, the University City Science Center, and University City District’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, there were approximately 4,900 employees working in the Greater Philadelphia region at cell and gene therapy companies, CMOs, biopharma companies, research organizations or research hospitals in the cell and gene therapy fields, and more than 700 professionals with skills in connected health, digital health, telehealth or mobile health. The projected increases mean that in 10 years the Greater Philadelphia region will see 6,558 to 9,396 total cell and gene therapy sector jobs (using mid-range projections). Using high-range growth projections, the region’s total number of employees in the cell and gene therapy field could be 7,400 to 11,274 total jobs.
Looking Ahead to 2021
In 2021, the CEO Council for Growth and its partners in the Cell & Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative will continue their focus on assisting start-up, scaling and relocating companies by aiding in the development of critical infrastructure that ensures the smooth transition from concepts to products; undergoing talent assessment, attraction, and training to address workforce needs as the industry scales; and building an ecosystem that supports growing and retaining companies, innovators, and expertise in the region.
“The capital investment, real estate development, and job growth predictions are strong indicators of the momentum in the cell and gene therapy sector in Greater Philadelphia,” Greenwood said. “The region’s leading role in these fields will only grow as news of our talented workforce, R&D successes, company formation and capital attraction spreads.”