Spark breaks ground on $575m gene therapy innovation center in Philadelphia

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Groundbreaking ceremony held on Tuesday February 28 © Spark Therapeutics
Groundbreaking ceremony held on Tuesday February 28 © Spark Therapeutics

Related tags Huntington’s disease Roche Spark Therapeutics Gene therapy

Spark Therapeutics, a Roche company, has officially started work on its US$575m gene therapy innovation center in West Philadelphia. The center is expected to be completed by 2026.

First announced in December 2021, the facility will be based at Drexel University’s campus in the heart of Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood. Spark said then there would be opportunities for collaboration with Drexel University and Philadelphia’s life sciences community.

Unveiling plans for the more than 500,000 sq ft (46451.52 sq. m), six-story build, the company said the site will serve as Roche’s flagship center of excellence for gene therapy manufacturing globally. The new space will provide more in-house manufacturing capacity and will allow cross-functional teams and partners to focus on gene therapy work, added Spark.

“As one of the US’s leading biotech hubs, there is no doubt that Philadelphia will play a crucial role in the advancement of cell and gene therapies,” said Severin Schwan, CEO, Roche back then. “Spark’s gene therapy innovation center creates endless opportunities for collaboration, talent development and research investment, and we’re proud to make a long-term commitment to the city and add Philadelphia to the Roche map.”

Spark, which Roche acquired in 2019 for US$4.8bn, won the first approval for a gene therapy​ for an inherited form of vision loss in 2017, Luxturna.

Luxturna was a major part of the appeal for Roche in the Spark deal, but its pipeline of hemophilia treatments was also attractive for the Swiss company. Last month, though, saw Roche report​ that its pharmaceuticals division recorded impairment charges to intangible assets of CHF 2.8bn (US$2.97m), which the pharma giant said were driven by reduced sales expectations and the latest research data. Among those were cancer drugs as well as gene therapies acquired through its purchase of Spark.

Schwan told analysts on a call​ on February 2: “Just a word on the impairments. For Spark, it is primarily a matter of delays. Timelines have moved out actually for the whole field, but we are impacted as well. So, Spark is part of that.”

Huntington’s Disease tie-up

Meanwhile, in January, Spark revealed it was teaming up with Neurochase to develop that developer’s proprietary delivery technology for use with selected gene therapies for rare CNS linked diseases.

“There continues to be high unmet medical need in treating CNS disorders, and at Spark we see the significant potential of gene therapy to provide new treatment options for patients,” said Federico Mingozzi, chief science and technology office at Spark. “Neurological conditions are known to be challenging to target and treat, and we look forward to collaborating with Neurochase toward our goal in improving delivery of AAV-gene therapies to the brain. Leveraging our combined expertise further supports Spark’s ongoing research and development of gene therapies for diseases affecting the CNS, like Huntington’s Disease.”

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