Learning About Industry from the Insiders at Phacilitate Cell and Gene Therapy World 2017

Author: Nicole Forgione, 02/08/17

In January, I attended Phacilitate’s Cell and Gene Therapy World in Miami, Florida. At this meeting industry leaders from around the world gather to discuss manufacturing, regulation and adoption of cell and gene therapies (C&GT). This was my first industry-focused conference, and it was a great chance to learn the ropes from experienced players in the C&GT space. Here are my top three take-aways from the meeting:

The C&GT Industry Is Showing Signs of Growth:

It is estimated that by 2020 the global C&CT market will have grown to USD $68 billion1. Increased demand for new therapies, in combination with regulatory changes and technological advances that make new treatments more accessible, will be the strongest drivers of growth. In one of my favourite talks Ed Field, of BioRestorative Therapies, gave a summary of the top 10 events in 2016 in the field, which provided strong indicators that this growth is happening. First, 2016 saw multiple company acquisitions of $500 million or more. These deals included the purchase of LifeCell by Allergan for $2.9 billion, and the purchase of Bamboo Therapeutics—a gene therapy company—by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for $695 million. The industry also saw an increase in the number of billion dollar deals, including a $2 billion collaboration agreement between Biogen and the University of Pennsylvania around developing new gene therapies.

Cancer Immunotherapy Is a Top Trend:

Three of the top 10 events in our industry this year happened in immunotherapy. Despite a high-profile set-back in 2016—the halting of Juno’s Phase II trial—immunotherapy remains an important area of focus. Cancer immunotherapy involves modifying a patient’s own immune cells to attack and kill cancer cells. This novel technique has shown the most success in clinical trials for blood cancer, and generated a lot of attention for its apparent ability to eliminate cancer in a subset of patients who do not respond to other treatments. Again, highlighting industry’s focus on immunotherapy, Dr. Carl June, from the University of Pennsylvania, was honored with a Translational Pioneer Award for his groundbreaking work in this area. To learn more about Dr. June and how immunotherapy works, check out this short film that is part of the Forward Focus series produced by GE Healthcare. Even though we are still learning about immunotherapy for blood cancers in clinical trial, industry is already looking to the future. Many companies are developing technologies aimed at using this technique for the treatment of solid tumors, like those that develop in the breast, colon and lung.

The Profile of Women in the C&GT Industry Is on the Rise:

One of the highlights of the meeting was a luncheon held to launch a new group – Women Offering Mentoring Education and Networking in Advanced Therapies (W.O.M.E.N). The impetus for starting this group was simple: some very smart and experienced women in our industry recognized there is a gap in professional development for women, and decided to do something about it. You can learn more about W.O.M.E.N, and its mentorship program, in a recent Signals post. The best part of this event was discovering that my female colleagues are a diverse and interesting group, with some amazing stories to share. Going around the room for introductions was as entertaining as it was inspiring. I’m looking forward to getting to know these women better and tapping into an amazing support network.

While this was not the typical scientific conference I’m used to, it was still a new, and great, way to learn. I exercised my networking muscles, made new connections, and was introduced to exciting possibilities in an expanding field.

1 Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, Tufts University. 2016.  Global Regenerative Medicine Market is Poised for Strong Growth. Impact Report: Analysis and Insight into Critical Drug Development Issues 18(4).

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Nicole Forgione

Nicole Forgione

Nicole Forgione manages key relationships with industry and proposals for government funding at CCRM. A strong grounding in academic research helps her to understand the science behind new technologies in cell and gene therapy that CCRM is working to commercialize. Dr. Forgione obtained her Master’s degree from the University of Toronto (U of T) in the Department of Zoology and continued graduate studies at U of T in the Department of Cell and Systems Biology, where she completed a PhD in developmental neurobiology under the supervision of Dr. Vince Tropepe. Dr. Forgione went on to pursue studies in translational science with Dr. Michael Fehlings at the Krembil Research Institute in Toronto. Her post-doctoral work focused on animal models of spinal cord injury and cell based therapy for spinal cord regeneration. Nicole’s interest in science communication started early, with an undergraduate double major in English and Biology from Wilfrid Laurier University. Now she focuses her writing on anything and everything related to regenerative medicine technology. Follow Nicole on Twitter @DrNForgione.
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