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A Site Selection Web Exclusive, February 2016
WEB Exclusive story

The Cellular Approach

GE and partners establish a new stem-cell therapies center in Toronto.

"We believe that supporting this new, world-class facility will have significant benefits for innovative health-related technology in Canada and around the world," said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to a room full of admirers at the GE announcement in January. "It will also generate new jobs and make Ontario an even stronger competitor in the biotech industry.”

Canada aims to get its fair share of the enormously promising stem-cell therapy sector.

In January, GE Healthcare, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) announced the building of a center for advanced therapeutic cell technologies in Toronto with an investment of CA$43.8 million from GE and FedDev Ontario. "CCRM and GE will welcome partners from pharma, biotech and cell therapy companies to bring this initiative to life," said a GE announcement that perhaps unintentionally resurrected the company's longtime advertising slogan, abandoned in 2003.

With $3 billion in funding and approximately 300 active stem cell programs in its portfolio, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is another major global player in stem-cell research, with a new strategic plan that aims for 50 new clinical trials in the next five years. Here, endocrine cells (insulin, blue; somatostatin, red; glucagon, green) develop in human islet-like structures following transplantation of a ViaCyte product into rodents. ViaCyte has several CIRM grants to develop a stem cell-based therapy for type 1 diabetes based on this work.
Image by Kuniko Kadoya, PhD at Viacyte, Inc. courtesy of CIRM

The global market for cell-based therapies is expected to surpass the $20-billion USD mark by 2025, with an annual growth rate of 21 percent, said GE. But Frost & Sullivan pegs the market at $40 billion by 2020. No matter what the projections, the lucre is substantial, and so is, lest we forget, the promise of treatment. The main targets for cell-based therapies are high-impact disease areas with significant unmet need, including cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, musculoskeletal disorder and autoimmune diseases.

"Toronto’s concentrated and collaborative clinical infrastructure, combined with the strong guidance of the internationally-renowned CCRM, make it an ideal location for the center.”
— Kieran Murphy, CEO, GE Healthcare's Life Sciences division

“It is increasingly clear that cell therapies and regenerative medicine will transform healthcare globally, but successful industrialization is now crucial to widespread adoption," said Kieran Murphy, CEO of GE Healthcare’s Life Sciences business, at the Toronto announcement.

GE is used to setting up life sciences incubators and centers, such as the innovation villages it established recently in Cardiff, Wales, UK; and in Helsinki, Finland. This one, however, is extremely focused and high-level.

"This new center will enable us to work with cell therapy companies to push beyond existing technical limits and problem-solve," said Murphy. "Toronto’s concentrated and collaborative clinical infrastructure, combined with the strong guidance of the internationally-renowned CCRM, make it an ideal location for the center.”

Canada boasts over 400 stem cell scientists working in 68 research centers within, or affiliated with, 25 Canadian universities.

CCRM has a 6,000-sq.-ft. development facility used to both evaluate and advance technologies, and 40,000 sq. ft. in development for advanced cell manufacturing. CCRM will receive $20 million from the Canadian government, under its Advanced Manufacturing Fund (AMF), to establish and operate the center, once the CCRM meets the terms and conditions outlined in the contribution agreement. The funding will be used to support improvements to the new facility and the purchase of specialized equipment, as well as the development of at least five new patent applications, the commercialization of 30 new products or processes, and the creation or maintenance of 389 high-quality jobs by project completion in December 2018.

GE Healthcare likes the sharing approach. Welsh Minister for Economy, Transport and Science Edwina Hart and Kieran Murphy, president and CEO of GE Healthcare Life Sciences, opened the Life Sciences Innovation Village, a campus for growing businesses, in Cardiff, Wales, UK, last spring.
Image courtesy of GE

Launched in the city's Discovery District in June 2011, CCRM is the commercialization partner of the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the University of Toronto’s Medicine by Design.

"We have built a strong industry consortium of nearly 50 companies to help drive a collaborative approach to realizing the potential of regenerative medicine," said Michael May, president and CEO of CCRM. "GE Healthcare already plays a leading role in that consortium and the company’s deep knowledge of the bioprocessing industry, combined with its global scale and healthcare insights, makes it the ideal anchor partner for the new center. We greatly appreciate FedDev Ontario’s support in making this crucial initiative happen. Both partners are essential to the center’s success.”

Stem cells (green) could someday be used to treat cancer, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, Lou Gehrig's disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and retinitis pigmentosa, among other applications.
Image courtesy of Christina Tu / Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, UC Irvine

Adam Bruns
Managing Editor of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns has served as managing editor of Site Selection magazine since February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


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