6 min read April 2022 — Invest: spoke with Audrey Greenberg, co-founder of the Center for Breakthrough Medicines, to discuss the immense value Montgomery County and Philadelphia brings to the life sciences sector, both in investment and innovation. “Center for Breakthrough Medicines (CBM) provides preclinical through commercial development, manufacturing and testing of cell and gene therapies. CBM offers process development, plasmid DNA, viral vector and cell therapy manufacturing, and analytical services all under one roof to accelerate the development and commercialization of advanced therapies,” Greenberg said.
What makes Montgomery County a great location for the Center for Breakthrough Medicines?
Attracting and retaining talent is key to CBM’s growth, and Montgomery County offers the perfect environment for us to do so. We are surrounded by parks, trails, waterways, historic sites, entertainment, dining, cultural offerings and the finest public and private schools in the country. University City, the Jersey Shore, and the Poconos are just miles away offering urban exploration, beaches and mountains. This is coupled with an amazing suburban lifestyle including mission critical transportation infrastructure with easy access to our international airport, robust cold chain networks, the pharma belt, top-notch restaurants, hotels, and housing at various price points. The King of Prussia Mall and Town Center offer dining, shopping, and recreation.
CBM is in the center of the most advanced healthcare in the region. Philadelphia is the birthplace of our nation and the birthplace of cell and gene therapy, providing a rich history as well as an ecosystem of life science companies, including large pharma, startups, academic and training institutions and advocacy organizations. Merck, GSK, J&J, AmerisourceBergen, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Main Line Health plus a growing number of leaders in cell and gene therapy are located here.
The future of medicine is in Cellicon Valley. The Greater Philadelphia Region has seen an unprecedented increase in venture capital funding with $8 billion raised in 2021 and 43.5% year-over-year growth from 2020 to 2021. This is higher growth than the Bay Area, New York, Boston and Los Angeles and second only to Miami in deal value growth. One of the biggest problems facing cell and gene therapies is access to development services, manufacturing capacity and advanced analytics. Cell and gene therapies require specific expertise, equipment, raw materials, distribution networks and training.
Our region provides a full spectrum of capital and services, allowing companies born here to stay here, with access to:
- A high concentration of world-renowned research institutions
- 45-plus cell and gene therapy companies
- 1,852 general life sciences companies
- 70,000-plus life science workforce with 10,000 CGT experts
- 10% employment growth
- $133k-plus average salary
- Transportation infrastructure, including cold chain
- 20 million SF of lab space at affordable price points ($45 psf vs $120 in Boston)
- VC funding
- Lifestyle assets, such as mountains, ocean, restaurants, culture, history, entertainment, recreation
- Affordable cost of living
- First FDA approved cell therapy
- First FDA approved gene therapy
- The No.1 region for CGT NIH funding with $1.2 billion in total NIH funding
There is a tremendous talent pool in the Greater Philadelphia, with over 70,000 life science employees working in our region, 10,000 of which have cell and gene therapy experience. In Montgomery County specifically, we are located in the heart of “Cellicon Valley” as it is becoming known globally. Penn Medicine leaders such as Carl June, MD and Jim Wilson, MD are considered CGT pioneers, and research from their labs resulted in the first FDA-approved cell and gene therapies. Dr. Andrew Weisman invented mRNA used in the approved COVID vaccines in his lab in University City at Penn.
Having this vibrant ecosystem of life science experts is very beneficial to our organization and
the greater MontCo region.
The Delaware Valley region also boasts substantial freight transportation as well as one of the world’s largest deep-water container shipping ports. There’s also a great deal of investment happening at the seaport, airport and in the highway system.
The proximity to Philadelphia is a huge advantage because it is such a major hub of academic and commercial cell and gene therapy innovation. In addition to the talent pool and transportation infrastructure, there are 15 major medical hospital systems in the region. Penn and Drexel are among the largest NIH funded institutions in the country. There is also the incredible engine of Pennovation Works at Penn, which is the University’s business incubator and laboratory space where technologies are transferred out of the university.
What role does Center for Breakthrough Medicines play in fostering a strong life sciences ecosystem in the county?
We have entered a therapeutic revolution spurred by the ability to identify the cause of and cure, rather than treat, disease. These biotech innovations coupled with the abundance of capital and FDA fast-tracking has created robust and unprecedented demand for lab space, manufacturing capacity and CDMO services, particularly in advanced therapies.
Center for Breakthrough Medicines is an important part of the ecosystem, driving companies born here to stay here by providing scalable manufacturing solutions to expedite the path to FDA approval without compromising quality. Current therapeutic platforms are nascent, developed in academic labs, challenged by the ability to efficiently scale, replicate and effectively manufacture their therapies. While the science behind these platforms will need to change over time, regulators need to keep pace.
Close collaboration with regulators is required to develop a path to approval. Manufacturing solutions for advanced therapies require seamless and robust tech transfer processes to avoid delays in process development and inefficient scale-up models; this is a current gap that needs to be addressed. Center for Breakthrough Medicines offers solutions to help efficiently scale up manufacturing so that patients can get the cures they so desperately need.
Center for Breakthrough Medicines is located at Discovery Labs, a 3-million-square-foot life science real estate portfolio. Our neighbors and co-tenants include Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Jefferson Health, AmerisourceBergen, GSK, University of Pennsylvania, Life Sciences of Pennsylvania, Neuexcell Therapeutics, Seed Therapeutics, Wuxi Biologics and Tosoh Biosciences. CBM is strategically located in the heart of MontCo with abundant lab and office space, providing cohabitation and collaboration with other innovators to create a vibrant and fertile environment to drive life science innovation.
What have been the key milestones for the Center for Breakthrough Medicines over the past year?
The Center for Breakthrough Medicines was launched in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. Over the past few months, we’re up to nearly 350 employees from only 100 at the end of 2021 and 20 at the end of 2020. Our process development, testing and analytical development labs are all online, and we are delivering 700,000 square feet of GMP production space and will hire 2,000 employees.
We’re also sponsoring the next generation of analytical developments and assays. We have $350 million that was infused into the company by SK, Inc. the second-largest holding company in South Korea. Beyond the investment, they are a great partner from a strategic and cultural perspective. Their backing will go a long way in future years to funding all of our planned growth.
What subsectors of life sciences do you see having the most growth over the next decade?
Advanced therapies, medicines based on genes, tissues or cells, offer the greatest area of growth in life sciences. The emergence of genomic tools, lower costs and AI that provide the ability to assimilate large data sets and ID new targets are key trends driving this growth. CAR-T cell therapy, AAV gene therapy and mRNA were all invented in University City at Penn, right in our backyard. In vivo gene editing is also an area to pay close attention to in the coming years.
We are also moving from treating rare monogenic diseases to seeing great progress in treating complex, polygenic diseases. As of the end of 2021, nearly 60% of the 2,400 ongoing regenerative medicine trials targeted prevalent diseases, clearly demonstrating the sector’s continuing evolution expanding to common cancers, diabetes and Parkinson’s. 2022 is likely to be a record year for the approval of new gene therapies and 2023 shows promise of an approval for sickle cell and the first-ever CRISPR therapy. The current capital markets are challenging but the scientific foundation upon which our sector rests remains strong.
Scientific progress requires government support, innovative companies run by stellar management teams and a robust capital environment.
What is your outlook for the Montgomery County life sciences sector over the next five years?
My outlook is very positive as Philadelphia continues to increase in the rankings on all life science cluster reports. Cell and gene therapy was born here in Philadelphia with the first approved advanced therapies coming out of Penn and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Extensive innovation is occurring at our academic institutions and over 45 cell and gene therapy companies have spun off. I imagine that doubling in the next two to three years. Unfortunately, the American population is not getting healthier or younger and the need for cures and treatments continues to grow. Montgomery County is the perfect location for life sciences companies to hatch and grow.
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