HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 185
Houston innovator aims to scale cancer-curing cell therapies
It's almost unreal what can be done with therapeutics today, especially in the specialty of cell therapy.
"It feels like science fiction," says Jason Bock, founder and CEO of the Cell Therapy Manufacturing Center, or CTMC, a joint venture between National Resilience and MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Cell therapy is essentially personalized medicine, he explains. The process includes taking out a patient’s own immune cells, identifying specifically the T-cells, and engineer them to have them target cancer before expanding them and reintroducing them to the patient.
“The supply chain begins with the patient,” Bock explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “If the patient is going to be an integral part of the supply chain, one way to simplify your supply chain is to locate your manufacturing very close to where your patients are.”
That's where CTMC, located in the heart of the Texas Medical Center, comes in. Bock moved to Houston from the East Coast four years to stand up the program at MD Anderson. The founding thesis was to work with faculty members who have interesting ideas for biologics or cell therapies, help them industrialize them, and then bring them into the MD Anderson clinic to evaluate in patients.
Last year, the entity spun out into a joint venture structure with National Resilience, a company that was founded amid the pandemic to build resilience in the nation for complex biologics manufacturing — like vaccines, for instance — in order to expedite the process of getting these treatments to patients.
With access to patients established, how do you address scalability of this treatment in a field that's so customized?
While it might sound like a challenge to scale personalized medicine — it's a worthwhile challenge. Bock says that even though cell therapy is in its early stages still — the first treatment was approved by the FDA just five years ago — early studies have shown patients, who essentially have no other treatment options, can see life-saving results in as little as one treatment.
"We see in a large group of patients — 30 to 50 percent of patients — are cured with one dose," he says on the show.
CTMC has a 60,000-square-foot space two blocks away from MD Anderson. This critical lab space with 14 clean rooms was made available after its previous biotech tenant moved out. The setup can support up to 140 people, and the organization has grown to 80 people over the past few years.
Bock says CTMC is an engine for cell therapy research — one that can take a therapeutic from research to the clinic in about one to two years. Every year, he says CTMC can roll three to five therapeutics into the clinic phase.
And, Houston's an ideal place to do that.
"Houston has a chance to play a role in all aspects of cell therapy," he says, from discovery to the clinical side. "Some really interesting cell therapies that are in development were discovered here in Houston."
Bock shares more on how the impact CTMC is making on cell therapy advancement on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.