Novartis builds R&D and manufacturing site for T-cell receptor tech

By Fiona BARRY contact

- Last updated on GMT

Construction work begins on the Penn Medicine campus.
Construction work begins on the Penn Medicine campus.

Related tags: Immune system, Major histocompatibility complex, T cell

Novartis has spent $20m (€15m) on a centre for T-cell R&D and manufacturing at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics (CACT) on the Penn Medicine campus in Philadelphia will perform research into Chimeric Antigen Receptor technology (CAR).

CAR, sometimes known as artificial T-cell receptors, are engineered to graft the specificity of a monoclonal antibody onto a T-cell, transferring the coding sequence via retroviral vectors.

The tech allows a patient's T-cells to be reprogrammed outside of the body to target cancer cells when they are re-infused, a technique called adoptive cell transfer.

Novartis-Penn team

The 30,000-sq ft facility is the latest step in a 2012 alliance between Novartis and Penn Medicine, a $4.3bn (€3.3bn) medical centre comprising the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

The centre will focus on the discovery, development and manufacturing of personalised cellular cancer therapies through a joint R&D programme staffed by both Penn and Novartis.

"The past five years have been a time of explosive, exciting progress in the field of cancer cellular therapy,​" said Carl June, Director of Translational Research in Penn's Abramson Cancer Center.

"The results we've seen among the leukaemia patients we've treated using our 'hunter' cells have accelerated our expectations for the potential of these new therapies.​”

June said the CACT will explore the application of the same T-cell technology to other types of cancer.

Mark Fishman, President of the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, said the route from basic discovery to a usable therapeutic is becoming dramatically faster. “The number of opportunities to treat heretofore lethal diseases now is legion.  This new joint centre is testimony to the power that comes from merging academic discovery directly to the generation of new medicines.​"

The centre will be constructed next to the existing cancer therapeutics floor in the Smilow Center for Translational Research, allowing integration of their research operations. The site is expected to employ 100 biomedical staff and open in 2016.

Rooms will be used for vaccine and assay development and correlative studies of blood and other biospecimens for clinical trials.

In July this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) awarded Breakthrough Therapy Designation to Novartis’s stem cell platform, CTL019,​ developed by Penn.

Related topics: Bio Developments

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