The University of Pennsylvania’s alliance with Novartis has unveiled plans for the construction of a first-of-its-kind Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics (CACT) on the Penn Medicine campus in Philadelphia.
The CACT will become the epicenter for research using Chimeric Antigen Receptor technology (CAR), which enables a patient's T cells to be reprogrammed outside of the body so when they are re-infused into the patient, the T cells have the ability to "hunt" and destroy the cancer cells. Clinical trials using this approach have made headlines around the world.
Plans for the 30,000-square-foot facility cement the Penn-Novartis alliance, a marquee component of Penn's efforts in translational sciences that expedite the development of novel therapies for diseases of all kinds. The collaboration was announced in August 2012, when the two organizations entered an exclusive global research and licensing agreement to further study and commercialize novel CAR therapies.
The CACT, which will be funded in part through a $20 million investment from Novartis, will be devoted to the discovery, development and manufacturing of these personalized cellular cancer therapies, through a joint R&D program led by scientists and clinicians from Penn and Novartis.
The CACT will be constructed as part of the master building plan for the rear of the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine on Penn Medicine's University City campus, atop of the eight-story Jordan Medical Education Center and South Pavilion Extension, which currently are under construction. The Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics will adjoin the existing cancer therapeutics floor in the Smilow Center for Translational Research, allowing it to be fully integrated with Penn Medicine's research and clinical operations. The center is expected to employ 100 specialized professionals in the biomedical field.
The new facility, slated for completion in 2016, will house technologically advanced rooms where patients' own immune cells will be reprogramed to fight tumors, roughly doubling Penn's capacity to investigate new uses for this cellular therapy technology and treat patients in clinical trials for a broad range of cancers. Functions of the space will include vaccine development, assay development and correlative studies of blood and other biospecimens to examine how trial participants respond to the therapies they receive.
In July 2014, the FDA awarded its Breakthrough Therapy designation to the Penn-developed CTL019, an investigational CAR therapy for the treatment of relapsed and refractory adult and pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The designation followed results from a study of nearly 60 patients with advanced blood cancers that had stopped responding to conventional treatments.
Researchers reported that the reprogrammed hunter cells produced durable remissions, persisting in patients' bodies for more than three years in patients who had relapsed/refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Among children and adults with relapsed/refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia—a fast-moving blood cancer that is especially deadly among patients who relapse after undergoing first-line therapies—89% of trial participants' cancers were put into remission within just a few weeks of receiving the new cells.