Recent headlines have celebrated the first FDA approved gene therapy and CAR-T cell immune-oncology treatments, born in academic institutions based here in Philadelphia. But beyond Philadelphia’s identification as the Cellicon Valley, researchers in these institutions are making other discoveries that could lead to promising new therapeutics, diagnostics, and medical devices. These scientists are discovering, among other things, mechanisms of diseases and ways to intervene to affect these diseases. Some of these discoveries may not be as high profile as the cell and gene therapy based therapies, but they could be transformational and the basis for commercially viable products and platform technologies.
The academic scientists who make these findings may not always recognize the commercial viability of their discoveries and may lack the resources or the know-how to bridge the gap from an important scientific discovery to a company startup. Their academic institutions have active tech transfer offices that can help with the transition process, and there are locally based resources outside the universities that can facilitate company formation, but among the most important ingredients to the transition are entrepreneurial biopharmaceutical veterans that can recognize good technology and bring together resources to help bridge the gap from a commercially viable scientific finding to a commercializable program.
Fortunately Philadelphia is home to a large number of biopharmaceutical companies and service providers. As a result we have a rich supply of pharmaceutical veterans and consultants with backgrounds ranging from drug discovery and development scientists to commercialization and business development professionals. These are experts who can recognize exciting technologies and can put together a plan to access capital to leverage resources to bridge the translational gap.
There are a number of companies at various stages emerging from Philadelphia based institutions and I’ve had the opportunity to work with and interact with several of these start-ups. Most recently, I’ve been working with two scientists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine who are experts in the field of viral replication. They have identified a novel viral propagation mechanism and target with applicability to (among other types of viruses) deadly hemorrhagic viruses. We formed a company called Intervir and have been able to access funding through NIH SBIR/STTR program, the Wellcome Trust Foundation and we are now part of the Phase 1 Venture program at the Science Center. Intervir collaborates with the locally based Fox Chase Chemical Diversity Center, a commercial chemistry outfit staffed with pharmaceutical company experienced medicinal chemists who have designed potent and effective antiviral molecules.
This is a great example of what is available to scientists with promising academic research who are motivated to commercialize their finding. Intervir’s been able to leverage local support and global resources to help bridge the scientific discovery to a potentially commercial viable entity.
As Philadelphians, we should be proud to be home and the center of gene and cell-based therapy based companies. But at the same time we need to similarly celebrate the other transformational technologies emerging from our universities and research institutions that are potential starting points for commercially viable entities.