An existing center at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus that helps patients develop treatments based on their own cells is getting a $200 million boost with the hope of bringing those treatments to the public faster.
Chancellor Don Elliman said the Anschutz campus and the Gates Frontiers Fund would each invest $20 million per year over the next five years to transform the existing Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine into the much larger Gates Institute.
The Gates Frontiers Fund is affiliated with the Gates Family Foundation, a Colorado-based nonprofit, and is not affiliated with the Bill Gates Foundation.
The fund and campus in Aurora have also partnered on a manufacturing facility that reprograms patients’ immune cells to fight certain cancers. Alliman said he did not expect a new building to be needed for the expanded work of the institute.
Regenerative medicine is a broad term for treatment that attempts to use the body’s ability to heal itself. This can include reprogramming cells to replace dying tissue or fighting cancer, or treatments that insert a healthy gene to replace a faulty version that is causing disease.
It is quite early in the process that the leadership of the Institute has not chosen specific focus areas under the regenerative medicine umbrella.
Elliman said most of the $200 million will go toward hiring scientists, as well as support personnel to help new researchers and those already working on campus.
Once the institute is up and running, it will bring in new federal grants to support research and investment from biotech firms that can bring the treatment to market, he said.
“This investment is really a seed investment,” he said.
The institute’s executive director, Dr. Terry Fry, said it’s meant to help scientists with ideas that show promise to move toward testing them in humans in the laboratory.
He added that the process of manufacturing treatments and getting trials approved is more complicated for biological therapies than for standard drugs.
“There’s a phase in the development of that kind of project where investigator-scientists run up against a brick wall,” he said. “The role I see the institute playing is removing those obstacles.”
Fry, a pediatric oncologist, was one of the first researchers to work on chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy – immune cell reprogramming therapy. It was previously approved for children with leukemia, but is now also used for adults and other blood cancers such as lymphoma and myeloma. He declined to name the specific projects the institute will be working on, but said possible improvements in CAR-T could be within its scope.
The therapy takes a type of T-cell that kills cells infected with viruses or bacteria, and attacks cancer cells instead. Although it has improved survival for people with certain blood cancers, it doesn’t seem to work well against solid tumors at this point. It also requires taking T-cells from each patient to produce their own treatment, which is costly and slows down the process. Fry said researchers are working on how to make CAR-T work for more people and create an “off the shelf” option.
Fry said another general area the institute could work on is growing cells that are dead or defective. Most of that work involves adult stem cells that have been recaptured back into form, when they can become almost any type of cell under the right conditions.
For example, if stem cells could be primed to transform into insulin-producing cells, it could help patients with type 1 diabetes, which occurs when insulin-producing cells die, he said. said.
“It’s a really remarkable technology,” he said.
Fry said the institute won’t remove every obstacle in bringing new treatments to patients. Large-scale manufacturing and distribution will require partnerships with biotech firms, which are fortunately being established in increasing numbers in the Denver area, he said.
“I think this is the right time and the right part of the country for this type of institution”, he said.
Diane Gates Wallach, one of the Gates Fund’s co-trustees, said the new institution would further her father’s goal of accelerating the process of obtaining new discoveries in clinical practice, so that patients can benefit. . Since the Anschutz campus includes researchers and two hospitals, it makes sense to invest there, she said in a news release.
“A dynamic, innovative medical ecosystem is needed for such an institution to thrive and be successful,” she said.
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