Since the beginning of the joint EIC-ERC collaboration to identify key emerging trends in Cell and Gene Therapy, I have been humbled by the wealth of ERC research results with innovation potential and excited by the opportunities of cross-fertilisation between the ERC and EIC project portfolios. This work culminated with the organisation of the first joint EIC-ERC thematic workshop in Cell and Gene Therapy on 29st June 2021, which has seen some of the best researchers in the field discuss upcoming trends and exchange opinions on scientific challenges and bottlenecks towards translation to the clinic.
The workshop started with an overview of the state-of-the-art in Cell and Gene Therapy science by Professor Luigi Naldini and my perspective on Cell and Gene Therapy innovation and global industry trends and opportunities. The thematic panel discussions and the final roundtable on bottlenecks currently being faced by SMEs bringing cell and gene therapy innovation to the clinic provided an exciting and challenging picture, of a scientific field that has made impressive discoveries in the last decade and continues to do so. The sessions were selected because they represent very dynamic areas in medicine today, where we can expect the development of transformative and effective treatments that in some cases would allow us to talk about cure rather than simple treatment.
From impressive progression to clinical practice of epithelial cell-based therapies for the skin and eye, to cancer vaccine development using dendritic cells and re-programming of glial cells to neurons, (stem) cell therapy promises (Session 1) to deliver new exciting developments for therapeutic applications. Major advances with organoid development, the recreation of complex immune system function in vitro and tissue reprogramming strategies will allow to model, diagnose and treat human diseases (Session 2). New vector for viral and non-viral gene therapy, including RNA-based technology, which have come under the spotlight thanks to the SARS-19-COVID vaccines, and are now investigated for new treatments against solid tumours and virtually across a wide spectrum of diseases. More on these and further conclusions can be accessed through the panel session slides.
The final roundtable , chaired by Brady Huggett, senior editor of Nature Biotechnology provided an insightful and passionate discussion on the roadmap from scientific results to innovation and commercialisation in Cell and Gene Therapy. The roundtable focused on the question of why Europe, a global scientific leader in Cell and Gene Therapy, lags in the investments and startups to bring the results to patients. The wide-ranging discussion highlighted the lack of risk capital and the under-development of an ecosystem that brings scientists and innovators together – issues that the EIC is set to change.
The participation of over 240 attendees from research institutions, companies and investors, with very positive feedback from the participants, demonstrates a strong appetite for the Cell and Gene Therapy research and innovation communities to gather, exchange critical information, and establish meaningful collaborations between them. We very much envisage this workshop to be the first milestone in a process that will allow the EIC to learn more about top research and breakthrough discoveries in the field, and the ERC to learn about technological developments and key industry trends in Cell and Gene Therapy. We look forward to harvest the benefits of this already fruitful collaboration in the near future.
Iordanis Arzimanoglou, PhD
EIC Programme Manager Health and Biotechnology