[MEET OUR PARTNER] Introducing The Cell + Gene Curator

[MEET OUR PARTNER] Introducing The Cell + Gene Curator

We are pleased to be working with the Medicine Maker and Cell + Gene Curator to accelerate the Phacilitate mission of helping to advance the next pillar of medicine. By collaborating and connecting our networks we hope to drive real change in the industry
In this Q&A, we spoke to James Strachan, Deputy Editor of The Medicine Maker and Editor of the Cell + Gene Curator newsletter about the hot topics in advanced medicine and he reveals his top story from 2021... so far.

Q. Tell me about your background and how The Cell + Gene Curator came about?
A. My background is in biomedical sciences and science communication. I remember, during my undergraduate degree, one lecturer talking about the prospect of engineering the body’s own cells to fight cancer. It sounded like science fiction – I certainly didn’t think it was less than 10 years away from being an approved product. But here we are! I joined Texere Publishing and The Medicine Maker magazine around five years ago. Back then, we were thinking in terms of small molecules and biologicals, which included cell and gene therapies. Now, given the rise of CGT, we see the pharma industry as a triad: small molecules, large molecules, and advanced therapies. We realized when looking for content for our Upfront news section that there were more CGT-related stories – be it new facilities being built, clinical updates, early-stage research or new collaborations – than we knew what to do with. I remember someone asking the question: wouldn’t it be useful if someone just collated – or curated – all the most interesting stories each week? This was the genesis of The Cell + Gene Curator.
 
Q. So, what exactly is The Cell + Gene Curator?
A. The idea behind The Curator is to deliver the week’s cell and gene therapy news – the latest discoveries, process innovations, and business deals – into a five-minute read. It’s aimed at professionals working in the cell and gene therapy sector. But we also want the Curator to be a hub for the community – somewhere to share ideas and opinions in addition to curating all the business and scientific updates. So I’m always keen to shine a light on the big issues facing the field, as well as reaching out to the individuals behind the news of a new manufacturing facility or new class of CAR T-cell therapy.   
 
Q. How do you keep up with all the developments in cell and gene therapy?
A. It’s easier said than done! I have a long list of sources that I check throughout the week – filing away anything that sounds interesting before whittling the stories down to the top 15 or so that make it into The Curator. But I find the easiest way to keep up with all the developments is to speak with people. I spend a lot of time reaching out to my network in the field to make sure I’ve got my ear to the ground. And we’re frequently developing longer-form CGT-related pieces for The Medicine Maker, which are usually based on interviews – and that’s an excellent way to keep up with what the experts and pioneers in the field are thinking (or worried!) about.
 
Q. What are the main hot topics and trends in advanced medicine?
A. Ever since the first CAR-T approvals in 2017, people started speaking about the shift from questions of scientific efficacy to manufacturing and commercialization – how do you scale a personalized, autologous cell therapy? Will the industry shift to a more decentralized manufacturing model? And how will payers afford the often very expensive one-off costs? Several years later many of these questions remain unanswered. But I think we’re increasingly seeing a return to questions of scientific efficacy, specifically, how can we crack solid tumors? There are a number of different approaches – many of which are allogeneic (or “off-the-shelf”) – being explored by researchers.

For example, we recently covered the University of California San Francisco’s SynNotch system, which they tested in glioblastoma. They found that SynNotch-CAR T cells could completely clear human patient-derived tumors from the brains of mice – safely and without recurrence (1). In a second paper, another set of researchers showed how components of the system can be switched out to target other cancers, such as ovarian and lung (2). Another fascinating approach comes out of the University of Pennsylvania, where researchers genetically engineered macrophages to kill solid tumors in both mouse models and human samples (3).
We’re potentially talking about curative therapies for cancers that affect millions of people. And it shouldn’t be too long before we see some exciting clinical results.
 
Q. What has been your favourite story so far this year?
A. If I had to pick one, it’s hard to look past “gene therapy’s most remarkable achievement,” as Berkeley professor Fyodor Urnov put it. Donald B. Kohn and colleagues treated 50 children with adenosine deaminase deficiency, a form of severe combined immunodeficiency disease (often referred to as “bubble baby” disease), with an autologous lentiviral gene therapy. Overall survival was 100% up to 24 and 36 months. And of the 50 children, 48 are no longer showing symptoms of ADA-SCID (4). It doesn’t get much better than that!
 
You can find past issues of The Cell + Gene Curator, and a link to subscribe, here: https://bit.ly/3oPjXL9


References
JH Choe et al., “SynNotch-CAR T cells overcome challenges of specificity, heterogeneity, and persistence in treating glioblastoma,” Sci Trans Med, 13, 591 (2021). DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abe7378
A Hyrenius-Wittsten et al., “SynNotch CAR circuits enhance solid tumor recognition and promote persistent antitumor activity in mouse models,” Sci Trans Med, 13, 591 (2021). DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abd8836
M Klichinsky et al., “Human chimeric antigen receptor macrophages for cancer immunotherapy,” Nat Biot, 38, 947-953 (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41587-020-0462-y
DB Kohn et al., “Autologous Ex Vivo Lentiviral Gene Therapy for Adenosine Deaminase Deficiency,” NEJM (2021). DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2027675