Supported by a government grant of £9.43m ($10.7m), the CBC has been built at the health service’s NHS Blood and Transplant’s (NHSBT) base in Filton, in North Bristol, and replaces a smaller aging unit nearby. The site will support early phase clinical trials and pre-clinical work: with the NHSBT highlighting their potential in areas such as cancer, sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis and personalized therapies.
The UK currently has limited capacity to make the DNA plasmids and viral vectors used in the manufacture of gene therapies and genetically modified cell therapies, notes NHSBT.
In particular, there is insufficient manufacturing at the scale required by organizations wishing to undertake early phase clinical trials of these biotherapies. The shortage of UK manufacturing capacity means long delays for developers of gene therapies while they wait for production slots.
Researchers often need to seek the services of overseas manufacturers, which inevitably delays clinical trials and patients’ access to much needed innovative therapies, and often increases costs. The new CBC will change that by expanding the UK’s ability to make its own plasmids and viral vectors.
Dr Lilian Hook, NHSBT’s Director of Cell, Apheresis and Gene Therapies said: "The CBC is basically a factory – it manufactures the building blocks (or components) needed to produce gene therapies. Researchers and developers can ask us to manufacture the specific components they require."
"This will enable cutting edge research with the potential to develop cures for some critical diseases which can currently only be treated and often ultimately prove fatal. We’ll be supporting delivery of these curative treatments into the NHS [National Health Service], so patients can access them more quickly.
"The CBC will help the UK grow its cell and gene therapy industry in a rapidly growing international market. We won’t be designing the treatments but we will be manufacturing them to the right scale and clinical grade. Cell and gene therapy is growing area for the healthcare sector and of part of our direction of travel as an organization."
The NHSBT also highlights that the facility will mean more UK patients can take part in clinical trials as well as speeding up how long it takes to bring new treatments into the NHS.
The UK's 'hidden secret'
As part of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), the NHSBT’s remit covers organs, blood and blood components, stem cells and tissues: while its responsibilities also lie in commissioning and conducting research and development to improve outcomes for patients.
Steve Bates, Chief Executive Officer of the UK BioIndustry Association, said: "NHS Blood and Transplant is something of a hidden secret in the UK ecosystem in terms of its capability to manufacture cell and gene therapies. This fantastic new center will enable their capable team to better partner with companies in this key growth area of our life science economy."
Expanding the CBC’s work helps support the UK government’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, which aims to grow the UK’s manufacturing capacity for DNA-based therapeutics.