Harvard, MIT spearhead $50M manufacturing center to speed cell, gene therapy R&D

Cell and gene therapies have seen success in diseases like blood cancer and spinal muscular atrophy and hold promise in many others. But researchers working in the space can be held up by a manufacturing bottleneck. Harvard University and MIT are working to change that; with other Massachusetts life sciences players, the universities are setting up a new manufacturing center, slated to open in 2021. 

The duo will work with local hospitals, major companies and state officials to create a center for “advanced biological innovation and manufacturing,” The Harvard Gazette reported Monday. The nonprofit center will be supported by more than $50 million from its partners. 

The public-private partnership aims to bridge a gap between “overburdened commercial manufacturers” and the researchers who need engineered cells and viral vectors for their work, the Gazette reported. The 30,000-square-foot site will have areas for innovation as well as manufacturing, including lab space for late-stage research from academic labs or startups. Still unnamed, the site will open at the end of 2021. 

RELATED: ElevateBio uncloaks with $150M to build cell and gene therapy biotechs 

“There’s an incredible need and a major bottleneck in delivery of many of these methods—as well as [high] cost,” Arlene Sharpe, a professor of comparative pathology at Harvard Medical School told the Gazette. “So having a nimble facility that’s able to think about DNA, RNA, peptides, cellular therapies is a great thing at this point in time.” 

In addition to ramping up cell and gene therapy research, the project will also connect people in academia and industry and help experts pass on cell-manufacturing skills to others in the Boston life sciences workforce. 

“We have to be sure that we are constantly feeding the industry with talented people who know the right things, so personally, I am very excited about education programs,” Emmanuel Ligner, president and CEO of GE Healthcare Life Sciences, said to the Gazette. “Initiatives like [this center] are essential to advancing the industry because they help organizations build on one another’s advances. For example, the full potential of cell and gene therapies will only be realized if we collaborate to address challenges, such as manufacturing, improving access, accelerating innovation, tackling cost issues, and then sharing our learnings.” 

Harvard, MIT and their partners aren’t the only ones working to ramp up research in this area. In May, ElevateBio launched with $150 million to build a group of companies centered on cell and gene therapies. It provides a centralized R&D and manufacturing team for its portfolio companies to bring cell and gene therapies “from bench to bedside." 

In addition to addressing the manufacturing bottleneck, ElevateBio tackles the limited supply of professionals with a particular kind of expertise. Instead of hiring a different set of R&D, manufacturing and clinical development folks for each company, ElevateBio’s portfolio companies will share those teams.