Insights from the Phacilitate Cell & Gene Therapy World Conference

Despite winter storm Jonas dumping more than two feet of snow in a few intense hours, plenty of hardy souls managed to brave the weather and transportation chaos to arrive in Washington, D.C. for the Phacilitate conference. For those that missed the event, below are five insights we took away from the meeting.

Once in D.C., conversation soon turned from the weather to the energy of an industry that’s starting to see light at the end of the commercialized tunnel. There was much talk about a bright future and how it might unfold for the cell and advanced therapies industry through new business alliances, novel go-to-market strategies, and next generation technology. From the many conversations we had, and presentations we attended, there were a number of messages that came to the fore:

1. Partner up!

There was much discussion and recognition that leveraging complementary skills is the fastest way for the industry to move forward. Partnering is potentially the key to successful go-to-market strategies, implementation teams can assist with FDA compliance for approvals and finally there are partners enabling the flexibility to manufacture at commercial-scale to meet market demand.

The CCRM – GE Healthcare – FedDev Ontario announcement of a $40 million investment to accelerate the development and adoption of cell manufacturing technologies that improve patient access to novel regenerative medicine-based therapies had many talking and was a shining example of a creative partnership that offered substantial hope to moving the industry forward.

Immediately following Phacilitate, Invetech also announced a collaboration with Celyad SA to realize the commercial cGMP production of C-Cure®.

2. The industry outlook is broadening

The breadth of topics presented and discussed expands every year and this year was no exception. We have moved from early days of a focus on efficacy and successful navigation of clinical trials, to discussions around sample collection, therapy manufacturing, needle-to-needle logistics and industry partnerships. One interesting example this year was Cell Therapies’ Tim Oldham discussing new strategies for autologous therapies in emerging markets and the complexities at the front end of gathering patient samples and applying rigor to the qualification of sites to deliver therapy to patients.

3. Plan for manufacturing flexibility

Much discussed at the conference was the need for more flexible manufacturing solutions adaptable to a variety of cell types and unit processes. There appears a level of acceptance and understanding that for scaling out autologous therapies, the model of tying up many expensive pieces of equipment due to long process times is not the way to go. The wide variety of therapies—many of which utilize similar processes but differ widely in their application in manufacturing—are driving an urgent need for modular flexible cGMP manufacturing equipment to drive down costs and enable more patients to be treated in the same facility.

4. Technology creates opportunities

A potential future where the manufacture of therapies is akin to the Point of Care diagnostics market was envisioned by a number of companies – offering decentralized processing for autologous therapies with an emphasis on user friendly equipment. While a more accurate term might be “point of treatment,” it was exciting to hear of a not-too-distant future where patient therapies may be delivered in sophisticated decentralized treatment centers. There is a still a way to go before the industry fully comprehends the requirements that this model might need, but the energy is there to make it happen.

5. This industry has an exciting future!

Richard Grant, Global Vice President of Cell Therapy at Invetech, gave a keynote presentation focused on the future of the industry and how it may develop. His presentation imagined a world 10 years from now and how it has been transformed by the successes of the cell and advanced therapy industry. To create this bright future, Richard shared a number of thoughts on what the industry needs to do now to get there, including collaborating to drive down the cost of treatment, encouraging global convergence amongst regulators, and together move to becoming a commercially viable industry and changing the future of healthcare.

Watch the recording of Richard’s presentation below. 

Until next year

Despite the weather challenges this year, we must say well done to all concerned—from the organizers to the attendees. Each year, we learn more about the progression of this exciting industry and look forward to Phacilitate 2017 in Miami!