The field of cell and gene therapy (CGT) was born in Greater Philadelphia just two decades ago. Today, the region stands as a global CGT hub, ranked second among 14 U.S. regions.

As documented in a recent report, Leading the Way: Cell and Gene Therapy in Greater Philadelphia, commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia (the Chamber), more than 10% of the world’s CGT companies are headquartered in the region, with local institutions and cell and gene companies employing more than 7,000 regional workers.

In this month’s Momentum, we explore the future of Greater Philadelphia’s CGT industry, featuring insights from local life sciences leaders who are shaping its trajectory.

Continued Growth for the Region’s CGT Sector

Dr. Saar Gill, MD, PhD, Scientific Co-Director, Cell Therapy and Transplant Program, the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and Co-Founder, Interius BioTherapeutics, a cell and gene therapy company, said based on his observations of the next generation of researchers currently being trained in the region, as well as the steady pace of new company creation, licensing, and other ventures, he foresees Greater Philadelphia’s global status as cell and gene therapy hub will continue to thrive.

“The Greater Philadelphia region has already played a consequential role on the global cell & gene therapy stage, as measured by output from academic labs, biotechs, and big pharma. There is every indication that this will continue, with Philadelphia being one of the leading epicenters for innovation in this space,” Gill said.

Gwendolyn Binder, PhD, President of Science and Technology, Cabaletta Bio, participated in the Chamber’s Thursday, May 9, 2024, Leading Life Sciences: Exploring Growth in Greater Philadelphia, panel discussion on the region’s life sciences ecosystem, where she said Greater Philadelphia’s legacy of life sciences breakthrough discoveries put the region on the map, but collaboration is what fuels the sector’s success.

“The first gene therapy approved in the United States was developed in Philadelphia, as was the COVID-19 vaccine, and that was a pinnacle of human achievement: developing a novel platform in a novel virus pandemic within a year and delivering it to patients. That’s what this region can do. It’s really the ecosystem, that’s what Philadelphia offers,” Binder said.

John Swartley, PhD, Chief Innovation Officer, University of Pennsylvania, who also participated on the panel, highlighted that Greater Philadelphia excels at bringing technologies forward.

“When these discoveries emerge here, that shows the expertise is here, and if we’re smart and careful, the world kind of has to follow the path to our door because we’ve got the secret sauce, and we can use that to build opportunities and really benefit the region,” Swartley said.

Nurturing the Next Generation of Greater Philadelphia’s CGT Professionals

Aleister Saunders, Executive Vice Provost, Research & Innovation, Drexel University,  noted that students are showing interest in cell and gene therapy careers. As a result, Saunders said local cell and gene companies and higher learning institutions are actively partnering to develop the next generation of researchers and industry professionals.

Drexel recently launched a cooperative education program called CGT-TEAMS. This program provides undergraduate and graduate students with real-world experiential learning opportunities, including a six-month rotation with Bristol-Myers Squibb.

“The message is getting out to students – we have students telling us they want to work in cell and gene therapy and asking, ‘How do we do that?’,” Saunders said.

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker recently visited VintaBio, a gene therapy manufacturing company located in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard, where she learned about the company’s Biomedical Technician Training Program.

In a recent Q&A with Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Chellie Cameron, Mayor Parker shared her enthusiasm about the future of Greater Philadelphia’s cell and gene therapy industry and its impact on the city and region.

“People say, ‘she’s really gung-ho when it comes to life sciences and biotech’,” Parker said, adding, “Well, if you had the opportunity to see what I saw, you would know why I am so very excited.”

Help Fuel Greater Philadelphia’s CGT Sector’s Future

For information on how the Chamber supports the region’s cell and gene therapy industry, including information on the Cell & Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative, contact Bryan Tsao, Ph.D., Manager, Life Science & Healthcare Initiatives, at [email protected]