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BLOG: Cell & Gene Therapy, 21st Century Medicines

The recent announcement of the licensing of the first engineered cellular therapy (CAR-T) for the treatment of late stage leukaemia, is milestone for cancer therapy and the development of a 21st century approach to disease treatment. Over the last few years we have seen a wide and far reaching advancement in our understanding of disease processes at a cellular and genetic level; our capability to diagnose diseases; leading to new therapeutic approaches promising not only treatments but actual cures for some of the serious and life threating conditions found today. Some of the most promising clinical successes have been seen in the area of cell and gene therapy, where spectacular results have been realised not least for the treatment of cardiovascular, orthopaedic and neurological disease with cell therapy, the treatment of genetic diseases through gene therapy as highlight by the licencing of the first CAR-T therapy the ability of engineer cell to treat not only leukemic, but an increasing range of other cancers. The potential of these treatments has attracted increased attention in academia, industry and investors across the globe with over £10bn being invested in companies in 2015 and over a hundred products in clinical trials.  Within the UK, we have a number of world leading hospitals, universities and companies’ working in this area and the government has sought to build on these successes to develop world leading capabilities inside the UK. The Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult was established to support academic and industrial researchers to translate these products from the bench to the market place and more recently identifying Advanced Medicinal Therapy Products (AMTPs) as a priority area within its industrial strategy.

Keele University was an early adopter of Regenerative Medicine (RM) approaches and has become a Centre of Excellence within the UK for Cell and Gene Therapy, through the cell therapy programmes at the Institute for Science Technology and Medicine (ISTM). These involve multiple research and clinical programmes at the Royal Stoke University Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent, the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital in Oswestry and through Cobra Biologics, based on the Keele Science and Innovation Park, a world-leading Contract, Development and Manufacturing Organisation (CDMO) of gene therapy DNA and vectors to a global client base.

ISTM is an EU Centre of Excellence for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine and has enjoyed success as a partner in postgraduate RM training centres along with Loughborough and Nottingham University and also as partners in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Councils (EPSRC) Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in RM; attracting significant investment from the Government into this field including from the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult. ISTM currently manages ~£6M in RM research grant income from the UK government. Current ISTM spinout companies in the RM field include Mica Biosystems, Nanotherics, and Oscell.

Cobra Biologics employs over 90 people at its Keele facility with sales of over £6m, 95% of which is coming from outside of the UK. The CDMO has been awarded over £3m in grant funding to support investments in gene therapy and recently announced a £15m investment programme to expand its gene therapy vector manufacturing capabilities. 

These successes deliver not only investment and jobs to the area, but also the opportunity for local people to be involved in bringing transformative and life-saving medicines to patients within the UK and across the globe.

For further details of the Cell & Gene Therapy: 21st Century Medicines event on Wednesday 6th December, and to register for FREE, click here.

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