Government hopes new centre, Catapult, will put UK in the lead for cell and gene therapy
The forward-looking strategy by the government is set for success, providing it can translate its drug development and manufacturing lead into final local market access via the NHS.
The strategy is aimed at learning lessons from previous decades, where the UK failed to convert ground-breaking scientific innovation into marketable products ahead of other nations.
Keith Thompson, chief executive of the government-funded Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, says the most obvious example of this was monoclonal antibodies, which the UK played a lead role in developing but claimed only a modest share in their multi-billion dollar commercial success.
Thompson says the Catapult will help avoid the ‘invented here, exploited somewhere else’ syndrome.
Being opened today by business secretary Greg Clark, the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult is located in the biotech cluster in Stevenage, near London. It is already working with four biotechs working in so-called ‘advanced therapies’ – Autolus, Cell Medica, AdaptImmune and Freeline.
After having built the strategy over five years, Thompson is confident that the UK is “without doubt” the leader in cell and gene therapy in Europe.
“The UK is in a really good position, and we haven’t got here by accident. There has been sustained investment in the translational space, [and] capital [to support businesses] has played a role in that.
The architects of this strategy, including the government, should get credit for getting us to this position.”
Cell and gene therapy has often been noted as the life science sector’s most exciting field currently, confirmed by the US approval last year of the first two CAR-T drugs, Novartis’ Kymriah and Gilead/Kite’s Yescarta, plus Spark Therapeutic’s AAV-based gene therapy. Also working on the site is contract research specialist Thermo Fisher Scientific, helping to create an ecosystem of cell and gene therapy expertise.
The Cell and Gene Catapult has been backed by more than £60m in government funding, with 160 of its own in-house experts.
The venture is already helping these UK biotech companies to perfect their manufacturing processes and scale up fast.
The facility has manufacturing capacity for large-scale allogeneic production – up to 1,000 litres – and up to 1,000 litres in viral vector products. This makes it a unique resource and helps smaller companies scale up without having the resources of the big players such as Novartis and Gilead/Kite.
Once approved and a commercial hit, a product is likely to need its own dedicated factories, probably in more than one country – precisely the position the UK government wants to ‘catapult’ its biotech firms into ahead of international competition.