Cell and gene therapies have significant potential to treat the most debilitating of chronic diseases, and will be hugely transformative for the pharmaceutical and biotech industry.

Over the past two weeks, PRiME partnered with Medicine by Design to host a virtual Cell and Gene Therapies Innovations Showcase, highlighting novel strategies and enabling technologies poised to advance the field. This two-day event featured talks from world renowned researchers from the University of Toronto (U of T) and its affiliated hospitals, Canadian industry leaders and exceptional trainees from our local ecosystem who represent the next generation of trailblazing scientists in the field of regenerative and precision cell-based medicines.

Day 1

The first day of the event focused on innovative cell and gene therapies currently in development, and the diversity of strategies being employed by Canadian scientists in this space. The potential for cell reprogramming in tissue-specific regeneration took the spotlight.

  • Shinichiro Ogawa (Affiliate Scientist, the McEwen Stem Cell Institute) spoke about his work developing targeted stem cell-based therapies for liver diseases.
  • Maryam Faiz (Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, U of T) talked about direct lineage reprogramming of mature cells for brain repair.
  • Dr. Christoph Haller (Cardiovascular Surgeon, The Hospital for Sick Children; and PhD Candidate, Michael Laflamme’s Lab, U of T) shifted focus to the heart, and demonstrated the potential of stem cell therapy for use in the preservation, recovery and regeneration of right ventricular function.
  • Immunotherapies were also highlighted, as Daniel Wang (PhD Candidate, U of T) presented the Kelley lab’s technology for microfluidic targeting of highly potent tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes.
  • Quinn Matthews (MSc Candidate, UofT) discussed the Pardee lab’s platform for automated functionalization of lipid nanoparticles for CAR T cell therapy.
  • A leader in engineering T cells is the Canadian biotech company, Notch Therapeutics. The company’s Co-Founder and Director of Research, Shreya Shukla, shared the company’s recent developments with the audience.
  • Platform technologies for cell therapies is also a focus for panCELLa and Andras Nagy (Founder and Director) described how the company is leading the way in developing safe off-the-shelf therapeutic cells.

Day 2

On Day 2, enabling technologies that support cell and gene therapy development were spotlighted.

  • In vitro systems that can model function are important tools in this respect to help bridge pre-clinical work and clinical trials. Penney Gilbert (Associate Professor, Institute of Biomedical Engineering, UofT) and her group have been working on pre-clinical culture models of human skeletal muscle function
  • Liliana Attisano (Professor, Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, UofT) has been developing human organoids for vascularization.
  • The growth and differentiation of stem cells for reprogramming is another area of attention. Rony Chidiac (Postdoctoral Fellow, U of T), a 2019 PRiME Fellow, shared his work in Stephane Angers’ lab on therapeutic antibodies activating the Wnt signalling for regeneration.
  • Maria Abou Chakra (Research Associate, U of T) uses a computational approach to modelling differentiation and shared her work on the development of a virtual cell using computational algorithms.
  • Our company spotlights for the second day focused on ExCellThera and Aspect Biosystems. Maude Dumont-Lagacé (Associate Director of R&D and Special Projects, ExCellThera) discussed the company’s UM171 technology for cord blood expansion that accelerates immune reconstitution and increases donor availability.
  • Sam Wadsworth (Chief Scientific Officer, Aspect Biosystems) described microfluidic 3D bioprinting for designing and building human tissues as the next generation tool for cell therapies.

The event was a great opportunity to learn about the exciting research happening locally and nationally. It was also a chance for investigators and trainees of both PRiME and Medicine by Design to showcase their work and understand the potential partnership opportunities that exist in the ecosystem.

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